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The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services says that HIV affects roughly 1.2 million people in the United States. There are options available to help prevent HIV transmission and contraction. Using a condom or other barrier method while engaging in sexual activity is one of the most effective ways.

According to the current literature, penile circumcision, whether done as an infant or later in life, may reduce the chances of contracting HIV for men who have penile-vaginal sex; however, circumcision may not be as effective at reducing HIV transmission for men who have sex with men (MSM).

In this article, we will explore what penile circumcision is and if this type of circumcision may reduce the chance of contracting HIV for some people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that adult male circumcision can reduce the chance of contracting HIV by up to 60 percent in men who have penile-vaginal sex. However, for MSM, when engaging in sexual activity, condoms or other barrier methods are effective ways to protect against HIV and STIs. This reduction in risk was shown in three randomized clinical trials conducted in Africa.

In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy statement outlining the beneficial nature of male circumcision in lowering the chance of HIV, among other sexually transmitted illnesses (STIs). While they stopped short of recommending universal penile circumcision, they did say the procedure would be made available to all parents who would like to choose it for their male infants.

In 2014, the CDC followed up with official recommendations for medical professionals regarding informing patients about the potential benefits of male circumcision in reducing STI contraction.

Since this time, a 2017 research review showed that the CDC has continued to support the benefits of male circumcision and the practice remains an important public health measure in some countries.

Penile circumcision is a procedure in which the foreskin, or the skin at the tip of the penis, is surgically removed. According to the CDC, more than 58 percent of male newborns were circumcised in 2010 in the United States, making it one of the most common neonatal procedures.

Infant penile circumcision is a relatively quick and easy procedure. In adults, penile circumcision is usually an outpatient procedure with around 10 days of recovery at home.

Here’s what you can expect to happen before, during, and after the procedure:

  • Preparation. Generally, preparation for the procedure begins by first prepping and cleaning the genital region. After cleaning the genitals, the doctor will inject anesthesia directly to the nerves around the penis to completely numb the area. Some individuals have general anethesia, so that they are unconscious during the procedure and do not feel pain.
  • Procedure. A 2013 research review showed there are three primary surgical methods for penile circumcision, including the dorsal slit method, shield and clamp method, and excision method. Although the procedure may vary depending on the age and underlying health of the person, each of these methods allows the doctor to safely remove the foreskin.
  • Recovery. According to the National Health Service, it can take roughly 10 days for the body to fully heal from a penile circumcision or longer if there are complications. In adults who have undergone the procedure, doctors recommend avoiding other activities such as strenuous exercise and sexual intercourse for at least 4 weeks.

As with any surgery, there are many factors that can affect the overall outcome of penile circumcision. However, penile circumcision is generally considered a safe procedure that may have many long-term benefits, including the prevention of certain diseases and illnesses.

Find more information about adult pentile circumcision here.

In another 2013 research review, researchers explored the potential protective benefits of penile circumcision against STIs including herpes simplex virus (HSV), human papillomavirus (HPV), and genital ulcer disease. They found that male circumcision among men who have penile-vaginal sex may reduce the prevalence of these STIs. However, regarding MSM, the authors state their results were unclear.

Research has suggested that penile circumcision may help reduce the chance of transmitting STIs to female sexual partners. However, the literature on the subject is mixed. A small 2019 research review showed that male circumcision may protect against the transmission of:

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a virus comprised of over 100 different strains, including multiple strains that can cause cervical cancer. Research has suggested that having a circumcised male partner may reduce the chance of developing the types of HPV that cause cancer in women who have penis-vagina sex.
  • Trichomoniasis. Trichomoniasis, caused by the bacteria Trichomonas vaginalis, is a common STI that affects millions of individuals each year. The same small 2019 research review above suggested that male circumcision may be associated with up to a 48 percent reduced chance of trichomoniasis contractions in their female partners.
  • Bacterial vaginosis. Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a bacterial infection caused by an imbalance in the bacteria within the vagina. Research suggests that male circumcision can greatly reduce the chance of BV in female partners.

While the literature does seem to demonstrate a protective effect of male circumcision for female partners, more research is still needed on the subject. Using condoms or other barrier methods during penile-vaginal sex is an effective way to prevent the transmission of STIs,

Penile circumcision is a relatively safe procedure, but it is not without risks. Although complications of penile circumcision are rare, according to a 2011 research review, potential complications may include:

  • bleeding
  • infection
  • trapped or concealed penis
  • redundant foreskin
  • excess skin removal
  • skin bridges
  • urethral narrowing
  • risks associated with anesthesia

Some people report a loss of sensitivity following penile circumcision. The research is mixed. A 2020 study compared 94 publications regarding penile circumcision. They report a consensus of “higher quality” studies that penile circumcision has minimal or no negative effect. However, more research is needed.

If you are concerned about the potential risks of penile circumcision, speak with your doctor or surgeon to learn more about these risks.

Penile circumcision is a common procedure that may have protective health benefits, including a reduced chance of HIV for men who have penile-vagina sex. Male circumcision may also have a protective effect for female partners by reducing the chance of multiple STIs, including HPV, bacterial vaginosis, and trichomoniasis. However, when engaging in sexual activity, condoms or other barrier methods are highly effective ways to protect against STIs.

CIrcumcision offers less protection for MSM; however, using condoms or other barrier methods is an effective way for MSM to protect against HIV and STIs as well.

As always, there are potential risks that accompany a surgical procedure like male circumcision, so speak with your doctor to learn more about the risks and benefits of this procedure for you.

Read this article in Spanish.