WEDNESDAY, March 25, 2009 (Health.com) — Men who are circumcised are less likely to get sexually transmitted infections such as genital herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV), but not syphilis, according to a study of adult African men published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The finding adds to the evidence that there are health benefits to circumcision. It was already known that circumcision can reduce the risk of penile cancer, a relatively rare disease. In a previous study, the same research team found that adult circumcision could reduce the risk of HIV infection.
Efforts to increase the practice of male circumcision in areas with high rates of sexually transmitted infections, including Africa, could have a tremendous benefit, say the study’s authors. Genital herpes has been associated with an increased risk of HIV, and HPV can cause genital warts as well as a higher risk of anal, cervical (in women), and penile cancers.
In the United States, infant circumcision is declining. About 64% of American male infants were circumcised in 1995, down from more than 90% in the 1970s. Rates tend to be higher in whites (81%) than in blacks (65%) or Hispanics (54%).
Some opponents say the removal of the foreskin is an unnecessary surgical procedure that may reduce sexual sensitivity in adulthood. In Jewish and Muslim cultures, young or infant boys are routinely circumcised for religious reasons. Circumcision rates have traditionally been higher in the U.S. than in Europe, but the American Academy of Pediatrics currently says that the medical benefits are insufficient to recommend circumcision for all baby boys.
Next page: How the study was conducted