Prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) has traditionally been one of the main selling points for circumcision of male infants and boys, both in the late nineteenth century and today - despite the facts that is adult men who get them and children don't. It seems that whenever a new disease involving the genitals appears, some people lose their heads and forget that diseases are not caused by normal anatomy, but by microorganisms abetted by human behaviour.
Based almost entirely on the dubious evidence of a single publication by the English syphilis expert (and posthephobe) Jonathan Hutchinson in the 1850s, Anglo-American doctors became convinced that circumcision would infallibly protect men from syphilis (the AIDS of that era). Beginning in the late nineteenth century, millions of baby boys in Britain, the USA and Australia were circumcised in the hope that it would overcome the health crisis then thought to be threatening the nation. As it turned out, circumcision had no impact on the incidence of syphilis at all, the prevalence of which was reduced by screening, early treatment, safe sex (especially condoms), and finally defeated when penicillin was introduced in the 1940s. The most important early measure in controlling syphilis was not medical at all but social: reducing the stigma attached to the disease so that people were no longer afraid to seek treatment. 
It is thus hard to see why circumcision would be a rational step even for a sexually promiscuous adult. Nearly all STIs (with the obvious exception of AIDS) can be quickly cured with antibiotics, and the few that cannot (such as genital herpes) are mild in effect and can be kept under control by other drugs. Chlamydia, for example, can be cured with a single pill, and even a serious disease such as syphilis is still eliminated from the body by a course of penicillin. An adult may choose to get himself circumcised instead if he thinks that would be more effective, but he or she has no right to impose that choice on sexually-inactive children.
In 2006 the United States journal Pediatrics published an article by David Fergusson et al purporting to show that circumcision reduced the risk of certain STIs (Chlamydia, genital warts, non-specific urethritis (NSU), gonorrhea and genital herpes, but not syphilis, genital ulcerative disease or HIV) by up to 50 per cent. The author’s modest suggestion that neonatal circumcision was thus a wise measure of public policy received massive publicity worldwide. Following a number of critical responses posted on the website of the on-line edition of Pediatrics, however, Fergusson was forced to moderate his claims, but the news services that picked up his breathless media release did not report the backdown, leaving readers with the false impression that a winning goal had been scored by the pro-circumcision team.
David M. Fergusson, Joseph M. Boden and L. John Horwood. Circumcision Status and Risk of Sexually Transmitted Infection in Young Adult Males: An Analysis of a Longitudinal Birth Cohort. Pediatrics 2006;118;1971-1977.
A year or so later another longitudinal study in New Zealand by Dickson et al found no such correlations. Although this was a much better study (because the sample size was much larger, the retention greater and the statistical analysis less shaky) it received almost no publicity. We shall try to make amends here.
Objective: To determine the impact of early childhood circumcision on sexually transmitted infection (STI) acquisition to age 32 years.
Study design: The circumcision status of a cohort of children born in 1972 and 1973 in Dunedin, New Zealand was sought at age 3 years. Information about STIs was obtained at ages 21, 26, and 32 years. The incidence rates of STI acquisition were calculated, taking into account timing of first sex, and comparisons were made between the circumcised men and uncircumcised men. Adjustments were made for potential socioeconomic and sexual behavior confounding factors where appropriate.
Results: Of the 499 men studied, 201 (40.3%) had been circumcised by age 3 years. The circumcised and uncircumcised groups differed little in socioeconomic characteristics and sexual behavior. Overall, up to age 32 years, the incidence rates for all STIs were not statistically significantly different – 23.4 and 24.4 per 1000 person-years for the uncircumcised and circumcised men, respectively. This was not affected by adjusting for any of the socioeconomic or sexual behavior characteristics.
Conclusions: These findings are consistent with recent population-based cross-sectional studies in developed countries, which found that early childhood circumcision does not markedly reduce the risk of the common STIs in the general population in such countries.
Reference: Dickson NP, Van Rood T, Herbison P, Paul C. Circumcision and risk of sexually transmitted infections in a birth cohort. J Pediatr 2008;152: 383-7.
National Health and Lifestyle Survey, USA, 1992 (N=1511)
“We find no significant differences between circumcised and uncircumcised men in their likelihood of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.” 
British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, Britain, 2000 (N=4762)
“We did not find any significant differences in the proportion of circumcised and uncircumcised British men reporting ever being diagnosed with any STI … We also found no significant associations between circumcision and being diagnosed with any one of the seven specific STIs.” 
Australian Study of Health and Relationships, Australia, 2001-2002 (N=10,173)
“No significant protective effect of circumcision is discernible for genital warts, chlamydia, genital herpes, gonorrhoea, non-specific urethritis or pubic lice.” 
1. For details of the nineteenth century campaign to enforce mass circumcision as a preventive of syphilis, see Robert Darby, Where doctors differ: The debate on circumcision as a preventive of syphilis, 1855-1914, Social History of Medicine, Vol. 16, 2003, 57-78; and his book, A Surgical Temptation: The Demonization of the Foreskin and the Rise of Circumcision in Britain (University of Chicago Press, 2005) Chapter 12.
2. Laumann, EO, Masi CM, Zuckerman EW. Circumcision in the United States. Journal of the American Medical Association 1997;277(13): 1052-7.
3. Johnson AM, Mercer CH, Evans B. et al. Sexual behaviour in Britain: Partnerships, practices, and HIV risk behaviours. Lancet 2001;358(9296): 1835-42; and Dave SS, Johnson AM, Fenton KA, et al. Male circumcision in Britain: Findings from a national probability sample survey. Sex Trans Infect 2003;79: 499-500.
4. Richters J, Smith AMA, de Visser RO, et al. Circumcision in Australia: Prevalence and effects on sexual health. Int J STD AIDS 2006;17: 547-54.
A large scale study of the relationship between circumcision and the risk of contracting a wide range of sexually transmitted diseases has found that circumcision makes very little difference, but that circumcised men are at greater risk of urethral infections such as gonorrhoea. Uncircumcised men are at greater risk for genital ulcers, but because urethral infections are far more common than ulcers, circumcised men are at greater risk of contracting an STD overall. For other infections, such as syphilis, herpes and human papilloma virus circumcision made no significant difference. The study by Robert Van Howe is what is called a meta-analysis: that is, it examines the methods and conclusions of previous published studies and surveys, and then systematically collates the results. In this case, Van howe identified nearly 100 studies and presented their findings in a series of tables, accompanied by commentary. It is one of the largest studies of the relationship between circumcision status and sexually transmitted disease ever published, with highly embarrassing conclusions for circumcision advocates, and particularly the American Academy of Pediatrics, which claimed in their recent policy statement that prevention of sexually transmitted diseases was a valid reason for circumcision of male infants. Compared with this analysis, the survey of the medical literature performed by the AAP’s “circumcision task force” is selective, unbalanced and skewed towards their bias in favour of circumcision. But as Van Howe comments, “the prevention of sexually transmitted infections cannot rationally be interpreted as a benefit of circumcision, and any policy of circumcision for the general population to prevent sexually transmitted infections is not supported by the evidence in the medical literature.”
ABSTRACT: The claim that circumcision reduces the risk of sexually transmitted infections has been repeated so frequently that many believe it is true. A systematic review and meta-analyses were performed on studies of genital discharge syndrome versus genital ulcerative disease, genital discharge syndrome, nonspecific urethritis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, genital ulcerative disease, chancroid, syphilis, herpes simplex virus, human papillomavirus, and contracting a sexually transmitted infection of any type. Chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital herpes, and human papillomavirus are not significantly impacted by circumcision. Syphilis showed mixed results with studies of prevalence suggesting intact men were at great risk and studies of incidence suggesting the opposite. Intact men appear to be of greater risk for genital ulcerative disease while at lower risk for genital discharge syndrome, nonspecific urethritis, genital warts, and the overall risk of any sexually transmitted infection. In studies of general populations, there is no clear or consistent positive impact of circumcision on the risk of individual sexually transmitted infections. Consequently, the prevention of sexually transmitted infections cannot rationally be interpreted as a benefit of circumcision, and any policy of circumcision for the general population to prevent sexually transmitted infections is not supported by the evidence in the medical literature.
Source: Robert S. Van Howe, Sexually Transmitted Infections and Male Circumcision: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. ISRN Urology, April 2013 (Article ID 109846); http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2013/109846 The full article may be read at ISRN Urology on-line.
Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, 22 June 2006, Markus Steiner and Willard Cates confirm that condoms offer the best protection against the whole range of sexually transmitted infections. After a review of current medical opinion and the various alternatives, they conclude that consistent condom use offers significant protection against most STDS, including syphilis gonorrhoea, chlamydia, herpes and HIV in both women and men, and against HPV (human papilloma virus – the cause of cervical cancer) in women. They recommend that more effort be made to encourage sexually active people (and especially those with multiple partners) to use condoms consistently
Markus Steiner and Willard Cates, “Condoms and sexually transmitted infections”, New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 354, 22 June 2006, pp. 2642-43
There is nothing new or surprising in this. It has been well known since at least the 1850s that condoms were an effective barrier against infection by syphilis, and the radical English doctor George Drysdale urged their widespread adoption. Unfortunately, in the prudish atmospheres of the times, his suggestion was regarded as immoral and likely to encourage promiscuity, and most of the medical profession continued to preach against condom use and to recommend chastity instead. As a result, syphilis spread rapidly and reached such epidemic proportions that a Royal Commission had to be established to investigate ways of controlling it.
Robert Darby, A surgical temptation: The demonization of the foreskin and the rise of circumcision in Britain (University of Chicago Press, 2005)
Peter Baldwin, Contagion and the state in Europe (Cambridge University Press, 1999)
J. Miriam Benn, Predicaments of love (London: Pluto Press, 1992)
A study of the remarkable sexual libertarian and condom pioneer, George Drysdale.Drysdale's amazing tract, Elements of Social Science: Physical, Sexual and Natural Religion, advocating free love, contraception to avoid unwanted pregnancy and condoms to avoid venereal disease, was first published in 1854. A complete text is available from Google Books.
Roger Davidson and Lesley Hall (eds) (2001), Sex, sin and suffering: Venereal disease and European society since 1870, (London: Routledge, 2001)
Jane Tolerton, Ettie: A life of Ettie Rout (Penguin 1992)
A biography of the courageous New Zealand woman who provided the diggers in World War I with safe sex advice and free condoms.
Use of condoms, along with regular check-ups, could have contained the syphilis epidemic long before the discovery of penicillin in the 1940s provided a reliable cure. It may be a long time before we have a cure or vaccine for HIV-AIDS, and in the meantime condoms offer the best and most reliable protection for those who are determined to brave the perils of sexual promiscuity - as the following article suggests.
Effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV transmission
Abstract The consistent use of latex condoms continues to be advocated for primary prevention of HIV infection despite limited quantitative evidence regarding the effectiveness of condoms in blocking the sexual transmission of HIV. Although recent meta-analyses of condom effectiveness suggest that condoms are 60 to 70% effective when used for HIV prophylaxis, these studies do not isolate consistent condom use, and therefore provide only a lower bound on the true effectiveness of correct and consistent condom use. A reexamination of HIV seroconversion studies suggests that condoms are 90 to 95% effective when used consistently, i.e. consistent condom users are 10 to 20 times less likely to become infected when exposed to the virus than are inconsistent or non-users. Similar results are obtained utilizing model-based estimation techniques, which indicate that condoms decrease the per-contact probability of male-to-female transmission of HIV by about 95%. Though imperfect, condoms provide substantial protection against HIV infection. Condom promotion therefore remains an important international priority in the fight against AIDS.
Steven D. Pinkerton and Paul R. Abramson, “Effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV transmission”, Social Science and Medicine, Vol. 44, No. 9, 1997, pp. 1303-1312
Steven Pinkerton and Paul Abramson, “Condoms and the protection of AIDS”, American Scientist, Vol. 85, July-August 1997, pp. 364-73
Roger Short and Malcolm Potts, “Condoms for the prevention of HIV transmission: Cultural dimensions”, AIDS, Vol. 3 1989, Supplement 1, pp. S259-63
This paper urges urging mass distribution of condoms to high risk groups in the Third World, especially areas of Africa with rates of HIV infection. This was before Dr Short got the bright idea that foreskins might be an easier target than the AIDS virus and became a fanatical evangelist for universal routine circumcision. In fact, circumcision may discourage condom use, for two reasons. The first is that circumcised men have less feeling in their penis (because most of the nerves have been removed), and a condom blunts sensation even further. Secondly, Australian researchers have found that normal (uncircumcised) men actually find condoms easier and more comfortable to use:
“Uncircumcised men were found … to be significantly less likely to report condoms slipping off than circumcised men. One possible reason might be that the increased bulk of the distal part of the penis provided by the presence of the foreskin helped to retain the condom.”
Juliet Richters, John Gerofi and Basil Donovan, “Why do condoms break or slip off in use? An exploratory study”, International Journal of STD and AIDS, Vol. 6, 1995, pp. 11-18
A common reason why condoms slip off is because the wearer loses his erection. The most likely reason why this occurs is because he is not getting enough sensation through the latex, and this blunting of feeling will be more severe if he is circumcised and thus deprived of the thousands of nerve endings found in the foreskin.
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