To circumcise or not to circumcise?

We speak to urologist Dr Muhammad Ahmed Barmania about the health benefits of circumcision and the misconceptions surrounding it. Three women also share their thoughts on the matter

A lot has been said about circumcision – on why men should circumcise for cultural, religious, personal or medical reasons. While the various reasons for religious and cultural circumcision are known and qualified, are there valid medical reasons to circumcise?

In terms of misconceptions surrounding circumcision, Dr Barmania says many men believe that circumcision will totally protect them from contracting HIV, STIs and STDs – this is false, he stresses.

“The first and biggest misconception I’ve found is the belief that getting circumcised will protect you from HIV,” he says. “Yes, it does decrease the chances, but it does not at all protect one from the disease.”
To circumcise or not to circumcise?
He says it’s important to understand that circumcision isn’t a preventative method, but rather that it minimises the chances of contracting viruses and infections.

As far as sexual intercourse is concerned, Dr Barmania says there generally is no difference in sensation and pleasure, contrary to the widespread belief that there is.

“Where sex is concerned, there generally isn’t much of a difference,” he says. “Most people don’t complain of experiencing anything different.”

“Circumcision also decreases the chances of getting cancer of the penis,” Dr Barmania adds. “But it’s important to note that in the bigger scheme of things, cancer of the penis isn’t a very common cancer. It’s one of the most rare cancers.”

According to the Cancer Association of SA (Cansa), the risk of developing penile cancer is three times higher for uncircumcised men and for those who are circumcised later in life. The organisation also found a strong correlation between the human papillomavirus (HPV) and penile cancer, stating that almost 50% of patients that develop penile cancer have been found to have the HPV infection.

“The main thing is that voluntary circumcision does decrease the chances of HIV contraction but is not a preventative measure,” Dr Barmania says. “Depending on whose data you’re looking at, there’s a decrease of between 30% and 60%. But sometimes the wrong message might be getting out – people think they’re invincible when they’re circumcised, which encourages the idea that uncircumcised men aren’t healthy, which is all false.”

Cynthia Mavuso* (28) says that she cares whether a guy is circumcised or not. For her, it’s about the way the penis looks.

“It just doesn’t look right when it’s not circumcised,” she says. “I’ve seen both types of penises and I think guys must just remove the foreskin.”

In terms of sexual pleasure, she admits it’s all pretty much the same, circumcised or uncircumcised. She’s just bothered by how the penis looks.

Unathi Mbuli* on the other hand is in complete disagreement. She says it isn’t really an issue for her, and that a man shouldn’t base his decision on whether to circumcise or not on what someone else thinks.

“I don’t really care whether a man is circumcised or not,” she says. “I’m indifferent about it. I also don’t think it’s fair for a man to cut off his foreskin for a lover, because it’s permanent. What if the relationship doesn’t work out, and there you are with no foreskin? Not because that’s what you wanted for yourself but because that’s what someone else determined for you.”

Unathi does, however, add that she’s unable to separate circumcision from religion and culture, saying that if she were to be with a Xhosa man or a Jewish man, she’d expect him to be circumcised. It would bother her if he wasn’t.

Nomphilo Simelane* says that while she feels it’s not her place to dictate whether men should circumcise or not, she believes there are health benefits to circumcision and that men shouldn’t neglect that fact.

“Because of the high levels of promiscuity among men, and some people not using condoms when engaging in sex, foreskin removal is a better decision because of the reduced risks,” she says.

What are your thoughts?

*Names have been changed.

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