Female Circumcision as an HIV Preventative?

Not to open back up the great circumcision wars of 2007, but as someone who has written about experiments in using male circumcision as an HIV preventative, I feel obliged to recognize that the idea, it seems, has run amok. According to the UN's IRIN news service, Kenyan proponents of female genital mutilation are now claiming that the practice reduces women's likelihood of contracting the virus. Their rationale?

"When you are cut as a woman, you do not become promiscuous and it means you cannot get infected by HIV; even our men want circumcised girls who will not turn out to be prostitutes," said Grace Kemunto, a traditional circumciser.

I feel the need to make a bit of a mea culpa here. As encouraging as the studies were showing up to a 60 percent reduction in HIV infections among African men who had been circumcised as adults, I must now conclude that public health messaging must remain focused on safe sex and women's liberation. Transposing the experimental findings on men's circumcision and HIV onto women is especially dangerous, because FGM actually increases a woman's chance of contracting STIs — not to mention the devastating effects the practice has on a woman's ability to experience sexual pleasure:

FGM/C increases a woman's risk of HIV primarily through the use of a single blade to cut several girls during traditional circumcision. There is also an increased risk of hemorrhage, leading to a greater likelihood of blood transfusions becoming necessary during circumcision, at childbirth, or as a result of vaginal tearing during sexual intercourse, with an even higher risk in areas where a safe blood supply cannot be guaranteed.


cross-posted at TAPPED

2 thoughts on “Female Circumcision as an HIV Preventative?

  1. Basashi

    Typical. You don’t see the parallels between MGM and FGM. I suppose you would consider it unethical to even conduct a trail to see the benefits of female circumcision?

    It is interesting to note that all the risks you cite to a girl from female circumcision are alive and well with MGM.

    What’s truly horrifying are people like you.

  2. J_

    The same risk of infection exists during male circumcision. Slicing off sexual tissue from non-consenting minors – where the African male circumcision hysteria is going – will not stop this epidemic. The oft-quoted 50-60% reduction is for the ***2 year study period***. It’s not a lifetime risk reduction. So, after 4 years, about half the men spared of HIV in the first two years will be infected, and suddenly these numbers don’t start to look so good for individual outcomes.

    Everybody knows what the true risk factors are for HIV. If you have risky sex where HIV is epidemic, you can count on getting infected sooner or later. Telling African men that circumcision will make them safe is a cruel trick. It’s no surprise that pushing male circumcision will also result in higher rates of female circumcision.


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