World Health Org Testing Non-Surgical Circumcision Devices

SCIENCE FRONTIER—Those who remember the difficulties Rocco Siffredi went through in 1995 when he decided to get circumcised for "hygiene reasons" can take heart: The U.S. government has approved a non-surgical method of circumcision, and the World Health Organization will be testing its use in at least nine African countries where STDs—particularly HIV—are highest.

As part of President Obama's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, 2,500 men in Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda will receive the circumcisions free, using both a non-surgical system, PrePex, as well as some others that require minor surgery, as will a similar number in Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, those paid for by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The PrePex system consists of two plastic rings which clamp a person's foreskin between them. The rings are held in place by a rubber gasket, which increases pressure on the foreskin until the tissue dies for lack of blood circulation and falls off after about a week, though some minor snipping may be required to remove the remainder of the dead tissue.

There continues to be controversy about the usefulness of circumcision, though an article in Zambia's Mail & Guardian claims that, "Research has shown that medical circumcision, involving the removal of the entire foreskin, can reduce men's risk of acquiring HIV from women by up to 60 percent. Longer-term follow-up studies have shown that this preventive benefit increases with time—a South African study in Orange Farm near Johannesburg found that circumcision reduced the rate of new HIV infections among circumcised men by 76 percent over a three-year period."

An attempt to place a law banning circumcision for anyone under 18 on the November ballot in San Francisco failed, and family therapist Dr. Marty Klein discussed the measure last year on his blog, arguing that those who see the operation as "mutilation" are misguided, urging "anyone feeling damaged by their circumcision to get as much therapy as necessary, as much good sex as possible—and to keep their self-admittedly damaged psyches away from public policy. Guys, pleasure and intimacy await—as soon as you make friends with your penis. The ballot box is not the place to work out your self-loathing."

On the other hand, according to the Mother Jones article, Siffredi called his decision to get circumcised "catastrophic," claiming that with a foreskin, "you can feel much more fun."

But as Klein noted, "Studies around the world show that circumcision reduces urinary and other infections, has no negative sexual effects, and is rarely dangerous when done using simple public health guidelines. There is absolutely no evidence that the sexual experiences of circumcised and uncircumcised men are different for them or their partners (outside of partners’ simple personal taste, of course)."

So if you're thinking about losing that flap of skin, now it's easier than ever to do it.