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Circumcision surprises

Published:Saturday | April 21, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Dr Douglas Street , Contributor

Circumcision is an old practice that has been getting some new attention. We know about it as a religious practice of Jews and Muslims. The Jewish and Muslim males have circumcision down as a religious requirement.

Some people have it done for medical reasons; some for sexual reasons, while some just like how it looks, but the medical benefits of circumcision may surprise you.

Circumcision is a procedure where the foreskin of the penis is fully or partially removed leaving the head of the penis (glans) uncovered. The modern way to do it is under anaesthesia - either local or general - because it is a painful procedure even in the newborn. Healing usually occurs in a week but sexual intercourse and masturbation should be avoided for about four weeks.

Circumcision leaves the glans more exposed and as a result it will then be rubbing continually on the clothes covering it causing it to become somewhat desensitized (less sensitive). So men who have been circumcised may, therefore, get less sensation from having sex, which may be good or bad depending on the situation.

It may be done in cases where there is persistent difficulty in pulling back the foreskin of the penis (phimosis). This may be done in adults or children. Circumcision also reduces recurrent urinary tract infections; and recurrent inflammation of the foreskin and/or glans may be treated by circumcision as well.

Reduce risk of cancer

More interestingly, though, circumcision has been found to reduce the risk of cancer of the penis. This is a rare type of cancer so it is generally not recommended to be done for that reason. Furthermore, it would need to be done in infancy to get this benefit.

According to studies conducted by World Health Organization (WHO)/UNAIDS, there is compelling evidence that male circumcision reduces the risk of heterosexually acquired HIV infection in men by approximately 60 per cent.

Three randomised controlled trials have shown that male circumcision provided by well-trained health professionals in properly equipped settings is safe. WHO/UNAIDS recommendations emphasise that male circumcision should be considered an efficacious intervention for HIV prevention in countries and regions with heterosexual epidemics, high HIV and low male circumcision prevalence.

It is thought that this is because the virus enters the male body through the fragile inner lining of the foreskin. This doesn't work for anal sex though and it doesn't help to reduce the transmission of the virus from male to female as this is usually transmitted by the deposit of semen into the vagina.

I must hasten to say, however, that it doesn't mean that condoms are not required in circumcised males as transmission is still possible!

Dr Douglas Street is a general practitioner and has private practices at Trinity Medical Centre, Trinity Mall at 3 Barnett Street in Montego Bay, and Omega Medical Centre at Plaza de Negril, Negril. Send feedback to