A Bit Off the Top


Just as I'm in the middle of the terrific autobiography Kinski Uncut, a French/South African study of 3,000 South African men finds circumcision reduces the risk of female-to-male HIV transmission by 70 percent. The results were so dramatic that doctors have stopped the study for fear of penalizing the 1,500 men who had not yet had the procedure.


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  1. “Penalize,” eh?

    Was that a pun, or have I simply seen Kentucky Fried Movie a couple dozen times too many?

  2. Stevo:

    maybe it’s Beavis and Butthead you’ve seen a few times too many

    uh-huh, uh-huh-huh

  3. Penn & Teller did a Bullshit! show on circumcision recently. Interesting, as usual. Mostly performed for vanity and smell (ewwww).

    If this study is replicated and confirmed, maybe it can give a little more justification for the snip-snip.

  4. What happened to “The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS?”


    An expanding body of evidence challenges the conventional hypothesis that sexual transmission is responsible for more than 90% of adult HIV infections in Africa. Differences in epidemic trajectories across Africa do not correspond to differences in sexual behaviour. Studies among African couples find low rates of heterosexual transmission, as in developed countries. Many studies report HIV infections in African adults with no sexual exposure to HIV and in children with HIV-negative mothers. Unexplained high rates of HIV incidence have been observed in African women during antenatal and postpartum periods. Many studies show 20%-40% of HIV infections in African adults associated with injections (though direction of causation is unknown). These and other findings that challenge the conventional hypothesis point to the possibility that HIV transmission through unsafe medical care may be an important factor in Africa’s HIV epidemic. More research is warranted to clarify risks for HIV transmission through health care.”

  5. Could it be that the circumsized were more similar to each other than to the uncircumsized, perhaps they lived in a certain area or were all muslim or something?

  6. Curious,
    If you read the article what they did was they took a random sample of uncircumsized men, circumsized half of them, and then monitored both groups. I have major problems with any study that is aborted prematurly because the scienists feel that the point has already been “proven”. There are also major issues regarding how African Aids is diagnosed. In the end, you should get circumsized if you are an American because most Americans are and going with the flow helps you when it comes to getting laid. Besides, your a baby when they do it so what do you care? Adult circumsizion is a different story. That would freak me out.

  7. Agreed, scott. They’d have to use a freaking machete on this monster hammer.

  8. Clinical trials are routinely halted when it is no longer ethical to withhold treatment from the control group.

    Circumcision is MUCH less common in the US today than in prior generations. It is currently near 50% of newborns but I’m too lazy to dig up the reference.

    My MD friends tell all sorts of horror stories about circumcisions gone wrong.

  9. metalgrid – i’m circumcised, and had i any more sensitivity in that area during high school, i’d never have graduated

  10. That Kinski autobiography is a marvel, isn’t it? I have to get a hold of Uncut one of these days and see how that translation compares to my old copy of All I Need is Love.

  11. The protection apparently given by circumcision in this study might provide a clue as to why many different cultures across the world evolved the practice. Perhaps circumcision provides significant protection against many diseases in pre-industrial environments. The reduction in sexual stimulation might have also been a plus in certain circumstances.

    I think that most cultural practices, no matter how bizarre to modern eyes, had practical origins even if the culture itself no longer remembers the reason.

  12. This has the smell of poorly done science. I’ve read of other previous studies ‘proving’ circumcision reduced the probability of acquiring some disease, only to see later, more thorough follow-up studies showing that the actual culprit was cleanliness, i.e. guys who cleaned under their foreskin showed no difference vs guys who were circumcised.
    At times it seems like there is a pro-circumcision mindset among some doctors, who would willingly use bad science to support this barbaric practice. Unless someone can show a causal relationship between intact foreskin and an increased susceptibility to HIV, the study would simply have fallen for the ‘post hoc, ergo propter hoc’ fallacy. (‘After this, therefore because of this’.) [Or is it phallacy?]

  13. Slainte’,

    That’s exactly how I feel about the common operation of having wisdom teeth pulled. Sure, they set up a “consultation” for you, but that invariably ends with a dentist telling you unconditionally to have them pulled. They have a whole laundry list of reasons to have them removed, and if impact isn’t an issue, they will always cite that it is “difficult to clean” back there and could result in infection, gingivitis, etc. I wonder what percentage of adults with good oral hygeine actually still have their wisdom teeth intact? Just out of curiousity. I am supposed to have mine pulled, but I am always leery of anyone trying to usher me into doing anything, especially if it involves operation. So, for now, they stay.

  14. On the same topic (wisdom teeth consultations), my new dentist strongly recommends full anasthesia, even in consideraton of breathing and heart problems (if they don’t present too serious a complication). Gee, I wonder if that’s because full anasthesia costs way more than local anasthesia. I swear, even my doctors are looking to make a buck off of my carcass. Can’t they wait until I’m dead and then shake my pockets down for change?

  15. smacky,

    The removal of wisdom teeth is necessitated by the success of modern dentistry. In the past (and in the 3rd world today) most people could expect to lose several of their adult teeth by their late teens or early twenties. The wisdom teeth then would grow in shoving the other teeth forward to fill the gap. (This can produce some bizarre effects in people that lose a lot of teeth in row.)

    Since people no longer lose teeth as they once did, the wisdom teeth now grow into a mouth full of teeth with no room left for them. The crowded wisdom teeth may grow sideways, up under the molars or even back into the jaw.

    If you want to save some money, just knock out a 4 teeth, left, right, top and bottom then your wisdom teeth will have plenty of room to grow in as nature intended.

    I recommend hockey.

  16. OK, how did the topic of this thread migrate from penises to smacky’s mouth?

    (I am going to feel so terrible after posting this. Reeeeal matoooor.)

  17. Re: circumcision, I’ve read a few studies that contradicted the conventional wisdom that it reduced sensitivity all that much. IIRC, the study focused on men who were circumcised as adults, and found little to no difference in sensitivity. Might be bad science, but it’s just as likely that the opposite is true, and that the science proving reduced sensitivity is bad.

    Regardless, I’d rather not have been circumcised. Maybe in ten years, stem cell research can help me . . .

  18. Of course, this is just anecdotal evidence, but I have one circumcised penis and one uncircumcised penis, and as far as I can tell, they’re both about equally sensitive.

  19. Given that a fairly small number of men is going to develop AIDS in a given year, a 70% difference is at the margin of differentiability. It’s no grounds to halt a test.

  20. OK, how did the topic of this thread migrate from penises to smacky’s mouth?


    I should’ve seen that joke coming a mile away, but I didn’t. Kudos on actually eliciting a hearty *chuckle* from me tonight.

    Now to adress my second comment:

    Holy shit!!! You have two things?!?! I have to meet you. Just to see this.

  21. Male circumcision may or may not have anti-HIV benefits, but the totally unnecessary practice of female circumcision should probably be dealt with, first.

    The London-based Minority Rights Group International lists the following short- and long-term effects: tetanus, hemorrhages, septicemia, and cuts in the urethra, vaginal walls, bladder, and anal sphincter, chronic vaginal and urinary infections, massive scarring that can impede walking, large cysts, fistuals, incontinence, painful intercourse and menstruation, vulval abscesses, sterility, increased vulnerability to the AIDS virus, and of course, deaths under the knife.

    Pre-modern attitudes about women getting any sort of pleasure from sex, rather than any health issues, seem to motivate most parents to mutilate their girl children. Yuch.


  22. Speaking as an uncircumcised male: A friend of mine, upon learning that I am uncircumcised, asked whether he, being circumcised, had lost anything important. I replied: Well, obviously I have nothing to compare it to, but I can say that there *are* nerve endings in the foreskin, and they *do* provide pleasurable sensations. His response: “Goddamn it!”

    In my admittedly limited experience, I’ve never had a woman I was with complain about my being uncircumcised, so I’m unconvinced that being circumcised “helps you when it comes to getting laid.” I will say that I suspect it makes masturbation slightly easier… other than that, I doubt there’s much practical difference in terms of getting one’s knob polished.

    It’s not something I ever paid that much attention to growing up, but I have to say that as an adult, the more I’ve learned about the subject, the more grateful I am to my parents for *refusing* to have me circumcised, at a time when it was the standard practice. If anyone reading this is debating whether to circumcise their own son, I hope they’ll keep my experience in mind.

    As for any anti-HIV benefits, my response is: Wear a condom.

  23. I love H&R! You can learn so much.

    smacky, thank you for not taking umbrage.

    Holy shit!!! You have two things?!?! I have to meet you. Just to see this.

    You mean “Just to see them.” And bring a girlfriend. A very close friend.

    I’m kidding, of course. (Although it’s unoffical Star Trek lore that Vulcans have a forked set. I think some earthly reptiles do.)

    But it would be cool if the Midwest contingent could get together in, say, Chicago and get drunk someday.

  24. I’m down for Chicago sometime. I might be going there in a week, but it’s not definite.

    I figured out a way to populate the US voting population with Libertarians: all male libertarians can get an operation to add another member to their genetalia. Then they can impregnate the female population at twice the rate of the non-libertarians. Raise the offspring in a lassaiz-faire incubator/environment, and pow! Libertarianism will transcend third party status.

  25. I couldn’t get to Chicago as soon as next week, anyway, but sometime. After I get an e-mail address that I can post here, coordinating such gatherings will be a lot more practical.

    Also, I just looked up the word of the day: hemipenes, the dual reproductive organs of male lizards and snakes — usually tucked inside the body (within the opening known as the cloaca, which is also used for waste-venting, and egg-laying in females) until it’s time for saurian love.

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