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If I am circumcised, I cannot contract HIV through sex

Trials have shown that circumcised men have a decreased chance of contracting HIV. Circumcision does not, however, completely protect someone against contracting HIV.

Male circumcision has been practiced for centuries among certain groups for social and cultural reasons. South Africa has recently seen a push for medical male circumcision for the reason that it lowers men’s risk of contracting HIV through sex.

Male circumcision -the practice of removing the skin covering the head of the penis- reduces the risk of contracting HIV for multiple reasons.

The foreskin creates a moist environment in which HIV can live. Under the foreskin, the virus is also in contact with the area of the penis that is most vulnerable to HIV infection. Tears in the foreskin that are the result of sex can also act as passages through which HIV may enter the body. Removing the foreskin also results in a toughening of the head of the penis, making it more resistant to HIV (Avert, 2011).

The cells that make up the foreskin, called Langerhans cells, are more susceptible to HIV. However, Langerhans cells also make up other parts of the male genitalia which means that the risk of contracting HIV is still present. Although the shaft and urethra of the penis are areas which are more resistant to HIV infection, a man can still contract HIV via the cells present in these areas. (Dowsett and Couch, p. 36).

The period after a man is circumcised is also a time of increased vulnerability to HIV infection as the wounds resulting from the procedure have not had time to heal yet.

As male circumcision does not provide 100% protection from HIV, other steps toward HIV prevention should be taken. Using condoms, remaining faithful to one partner and abstinence are other methods of HIV prevention which lower men’s risk of contracting HIV far more than circumcision alone. Circumcision also does not protect one from contracting HIV through anal sex.

Unlike male circumcision, female genital cutting, also referred to as female circumcision, does not reduce a woman’s chance of contracting HIV from an infected partner. Although the practice of female genital cutting is also referred to as female circumcision, it should be noted that female genital cutting is highly controversial because it involves the removal of nervous tissue which subsequently affects female sexual pleasure (WHO factsheet).

Male circumcision also does not reduce the transmission of HIV from an infected man to an HIV negative woman.

Wits Journalism Anova Health

The project is jointly managed by the Anova Health Institute and the Journalism and Media Studies Programme at the University of the Witwatersrand. The project is funded by by the Health Communication Partnership based at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Centre for Communication Programmes and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief through the United States Agency for International Development under terms of Award No. JH/HESA-02-05 and through the Anova Health Institute through PEPFAR via USAID under Award No. AID-674-A-12-00015.