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Health

A circumcision compromise?

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanAugust 27, 2012 7:17 AM

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The New York Times has a piece on an update to the American Academy of Pediatrics position statement on circumcision (shifting toward a more pro-circumcision position of neutrality). In the United States the rates of circumcision for infant boys has gone from 80-90% to ~50% (there are regional variations, so only a minority of boys in the Pacific Northwest are circumcised). A few years ago Jesse Bering put up a post, Is male circumcision a humanitarian act?, where he actually wrote "Nobody knows where your child will live as an adult (perhaps Africa), or how rampant HIV will be there...." I like taking probabilities into account, but this is ridiculous. Let's ignore Jewish ritual circumcision, which has to be done in early infancy from what I know. The vast majority of the world's circumcised men live in Africa and the Muslim world, with a substantial minority in the USA and American-influenced cultures.* So you don't need to focus on infant circumcision at all. In Turkey circumcision is performed on boys who are considerably older. I understand that an 11 year old boy is not an adult, but if sexually transmitted diseases are your primary concern, then why not diminish some of the ethical concerns (granted, you will not abolish them) with surgery upon infants by pushing back the timeline? You could even push the age to 18 and still gain a lot of your preventive bang-for-the-buck in the United States. A substantial minority of 18 year old adults are virgins, and most of those who have had sex have not had many partners. In Africa free adult circumcisions have been reputedly popular in some areas, so I don't see the problem if adults are offered this procedure for free.** * South Korea and Philippines both have widespread circumcision due to American influence. Interestingly, a large number of Americans think that circumcision is a religious mandate for Christians. I've had Catholic friends explain it exactly this way, making it quite clear that the stereotype about Catholics not reading the Bible has a lot of validity. ** For the record, I do accept that in Africa male circumcision has some preventative value (there are also cross-country comparisons in Southeast Asia). But it seems like a totally irrelevant issue in most of the developed world. There's no difference in the AIDS epidemic in South Korea vs. Japan, because both are advanced developing countries, and a society-wide heterosexual AIDS epidemic seems to never materialize in such nations.

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