After birth, the foreskin protects the head of the penis (the glans) and prevents the external urethral orifice from abrasion and drying out. Following circumcision, the surface of the glans regularly thickens and calluses. This can lead to a constriction of the opening of the urethra, the most common complication associated with circumcision in infancy, occurring in up to 30 percent of cases. It’s not unusual for several operations to be required before affected children can empty their bladder properly.
The foreskin also plays a role in arousal. In contrast to the glans, which has deep sensitivity, the foreskin has what are known as tactile corpuscles which can only be found in similar density in the tips of the fingers, the lips and the eyelids. It’s therefore hardly surprising that the foreskin is considered a male erogenous zone. A significant majority of men who are circumcised in adulthood, and are therefore in a position to make comparisons, say they are less sensitive in this area after surgery. But that’s not the only reason why circumcision affects sexuality: Couples in which the man is circumcised uniformly report a loss of male secretions during sex and therefore greater friction and resulting pain. It can therefore be assumed that circumcision can indeed have a negative impact on sexuality and the sex life of both circumcised men and their partners. These findings are not new. Major studies and surveys have been conducted and published as far back as the 1990s.
But the direct consequences of an operation must also be considered. Post-surgical complications occur in between 0.19 and 2 percent of circumcisions, but rise to 11 percent for patients circumcised in infancy. These complications primarily involve secondary bleeding or infection. In rare cases the urethra or the glans may be damaged or even need to be amputated. I see such complications time and again at our clinic, even though they occur in less than one percent of medical procedures. They mean painful surgery for the child.
Medically, there is no evidence of advantages for boys. Therefore non-medically indicated circumcision is not in the child’s best interests either. This is the key argument against the inadmissible comparison of circumcision with a recognized vaccine. The effectiveness and therefore the utility of the vaccine for the child have been scientifically proven.
Whereas the supposed benefits of circumcision are non-existent:
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As Boyle and Hill point out, the men who were circumcised got additional counseling about safe sex practices compared to the control group, and then they had to refrain from having sex altogether for the simple reason that their lacerated penises had to be wrapped in bandages until their wounds healed – leading to what Boyle and Hill refer to as “time-out discrepancy” in the quote above. By contrast, the non-circumcised men got to keep having sex during the full two month period during which the treatment group was in recovery mode. Then, mystery of mysteries, the trials were stopped early. These issues pose serious problems for the scientific credibility of the studies. Taken together with the other flaws, here is why:
Let’s assume for a second that the circumcised men really did end up getting infected with HIV at a lower rate than the control-group men who were left intact—even though, as we will see in a moment, we have very little reason to believe that this is so. Why might that outcome have happened?
If you answered, “Because those men knew they were in the treatment group in the first place, had less sex over the duration of the study (because they had bandaged, wounded penises for much of it), and had safer sex when they had it (because they received free condoms and special counseling from the doctors), thereby reducing their overall exposure to HIV compared to the control group by a wide margin” then you are on the right track.
In fact, circumcised men, thinking themselves not at risk of AIDS, might be more likely to spread it:
Risk compensation will accompany the circumcision solution in Africa. Circumcision has been promoted as a natural condom, and African men have reported having undergone circumcision in order not to have to continually use condoms. Such a message has been adopted by public health researchers. A recent South African study assessing determinants of demand for circumcision listed “It means that men don’t have [to] use a condom” as a circumcision advantage in the materials they presented to the men they surveyed. [Yet] if circumcision results in lower condom use, the number of HIV infections will increase.