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AIDS Hysteria's Littlest Victims

Tim Hammond
NOHARMM Progress Report 5,  p.1, December 1995

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See also: Circumcision & HIV a blog for debating the issues

Lately, a few misguided physicians have been irresponsibly promoting newborn circumcision as an AIDS intervention strategy. Critics of this strategy cite human rights considerations, yet are accused of using emotional arguments. Advocates of circumcision, however, are guilty of their own subtle manipulation of parental and public emotions surrounding AIDS (i.e., fear) to shore up declining rates of newborn circumcision. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 1993 more than 65% of male newborns in the Western states arrived home safely intact.

Frederick Hodges, historian and author of the soon-to-be-published book The Rape of the Phallus, acknowledges that current HIV scare tactics are consistent with past attempts by American circumcisers, who charge between $100 and $400 per surgery. Present day tactics, he says, hark back to 19th Century social thinking, which regarded parts of the male and female genitalia as functionless, intrinsically pathological and disposable. Victorian era circumcisers blamed the pleasure-producing prepuce (foreskin) for masturbatory insanity. In the 1920s and '30s, "experts" preyed on public fear of then incurable venereal diseases to justify circumcision. In the 1950s the foreskin was faulted with causing cervical and penile cancer. Now public concern about AIDS has unethical physicians once again scapegoating the male prepuce for profit.

Historically, the American military also advanced circumcision, initially to intimidate and control racial minorities, regarded in World War I armed forces medical journals as sexually uncontrollable and carriers of venereal disease. During World War II, Negroes in the military were blamed for spreading "V.D." and harming war efforts. Army and Navy physicians capitalized on these fears to promote circumcision of all soldiers, at times under threat of court martial. Massive circumcision in the military influenced similar civilian campaigns. Still today, Lt. Col. Thomas E. Wiswell is central to efforts promoting routine neonatal circumcision based on his retrospective studies of urinary tract infection, cited by prestigious national and international medical organizations as "methodologically flawed."

Did God or Nature create genital parts that are useless or in need of "perfecting"? Were male or female genitalia formed so as to present an intrinsic health danger to humans? Doubtful. Arguing then that newborn circumcision has a role in the fight against AIDS is at best ill-considered and ludicrous, and upon further examination, dangerous.

Genital mutilation is not the answer to health problems which are behavior-related.

No studies have conclusively or unequivocally proven a cause-effect relationship, i.e. that the foreskin is a genuinely independent risk factor for HIV transmission. The AIDS virus does not discriminate based on sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, or circumcision status. America has long had one of the highest newborn circumcision rates and one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world. Circumcision clearly does not confer protection from AIDS. To suggest so sends a dangerous message to circumcised males that they can ignore safer sex guidelines or relax their guard. It also insults men's intelligence to imply they are so incapable of having responsible sex that they should instead be subjected as infants to an amputative genital surgery. Lower HIV infection rates in Europe, where most men are intact, provide sufficient proof that men can be physically intimate and safe, even with an intact penis.

Further, HIV-vulnerable mucosal tissues similar to the male foreskin exist in the female, as in the vaginal walls, clitoral hood (female foreskin) and the inner labia. If mucosal tissues are at high risk, it is medically illogical, and self-defeating from a public health perspective, to subject only one sex to surgical prophylaxis. Genital mutilation is not the answer to health problems which are behavior-related.

In addition, a recent survey of circumcised men, Awakenings, raises serious AIDS concerns. In addition to a wide array of previously unstudied physical, sexual and psychological harm to males from this surgery they did not choose, the survey found almost 30% of circumcised respondents reported excessive skin loss leading to tight erections and abrasion during sex; 55% reported keratinization leading to progressive glans insensitivity (a potential factor in reluctance to use condoms); and 38% reported the need for prolonged or exaggerated thrusting to achieve sufficient stimulation for orgasm (resulting in abrasion and bleeding to themselves or partners).

We must not give AIDS the power to deprive weaker groups
of a universal right to their own bodies and choices.

Newborn circumcision as an AIDS prevention strategy offers no honest relevance to adolescent or adult sexual transmission of HIV. Lacking a true medical indication in the neonate (i.e., disease, injury or abnormality), physicians are obliged to refrain from this unethical surgical alteration of the unconsenting minor [the patient in truth], and advise the legal patient [parents] to reserve decision-making to their offspring when he reaches his majority. Neonatal circumcision inherently violates individual rights to body ownership and self-determination.

Similar human rights threats erupted earlier in the AIDS epidemic, when some misguided physicians promoted quarantine camps, massive public HIV testing, tattooing of people with HIV and even castration for HIV+ sex offenders, all of course "for the individual's good and that of society." AIDS activists have taught us that while we need to safeguard one another from viral exposure, we must not give AIDS the power to deprive weaker groups, in this case defenseless newborns, of a universal right to their own bodies and choices.

What does the medical priesthood gain from using these scientifically disguised scare tactics? Control? Power? Money? Whatever the answer, we adults need to stand strong against these present day charlatans who prey on fear to promote mutilation of the blameless genitals of children.

See also:
Blue_ArrowD096.gif (140 bytes)Circumcision and HIV infection: Review of the literature and meta-analysis newyellow.gif (902 bytes)  Published in 1999 in the International Journal of STDs and AIDS, this review of the combined raw data  finds that a man with a circumcised penis is at greater risk of acquiring and transmitting HIV than a man with a non-circumcised penis.

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