One of the most pressing health issues in the world is curbing the spread of HIV — the virus that causes AIDS. Previous research has indicated that men who are circumcised have a much lower risk of acquiring the virus when they have sex. But health officials have questioned whether adult men would be willing to be circumcised, especially if the men perceived that the procedure might affect their ability to perform sexually or enjoy having sex. Rose Hoban reports on a new study that may answer that question.
Epidemiologist Ronald Gray from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health led the original studies looking at circumcision and HIV risk. In order to convince skeptical men, he says they needed to know if men would be willing to be circumcised and what it would do to sexual performance and satisfaction.
So he and his colleagues in Uganda studied his subjects further. They used their data to assess whether circumcision affected men's ability to have intercourse, and the satisfaction with their relationships. He says researchers did that in two ways.
"One [way] was to compare the circumcised to the uncircumcised men," Gray says. He says they also compared the sexual satisfaction and function the men reported before circumcision to self-reported function and satisfaction afterwards.
Gray says they interviewed the men at the beginning of the study, and then at 6, 12 and 24 months after they were circumcised. He and his colleagues asked them about their sexual performance and enjoyment. They compared their answers with those of men who had never been circumcised.
"Very few men expressed dissatisfaction with sex, it was less than 2%," Gray reports. "And there were no meaningful differences before and after circumcision or between the circumcised men and the uncircumcised control men, either in degree of sexual satisfaction were problems such as maintaining erections were being able to penetrate during vaginal intercourse."
Gray says there is an added benefit to circumcision: reduction in the rates of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). "We are finding reductions in genital ulcerations in the men, reductions in herpes infections in the men," he reports, adding that there were benefits for the men's female partners, as well. "[They had] reduced genital ulceration as well as reduced Trichomonas infection, and another condition called bacterial vaginosis, which affects women."
Gray says the researchers had surprisingly little problem recruiting participants who were willing to be circumcised for their study. He says the men were anxious to find ways to reduce HIV transmission and they found that circumcision had a hygienic benefit as well.
His research is published in the journal BJU International.