New study adds to doubts concerning health benefits of routine circumcision Survey finds incidence of sexually transmitted diseases is higher

April 02, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

A new study has added to the criticism of routine circumcision, finding that circumcision does not lead to lower rates of sexually transmitted diseases as had been thought.

The incidence of two of those diseases was even higher among circumcised men.

However, sexual dysfunction was found to be slightly more common among uncircumcised men.

The study also found that circumcised men were significantly more likely to engage in a varied repertoire of sexual practices.

The study was the first systematic look at the effects of circumcision on disease and sexual behavior, according to a report in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.

The debate over the benefits and drawbacks of circumcision has intensified in recent years.

Several studies have reported lower rates of urinary tract infec- tions and sexually transmitted diseases in circumcised males.

But others have found reduced sexual satisfaction, prompting a backlash against circumcision.

The latest findings came from a nationally representative sample of 1,410 men 18 to 59 years old, interviewed in person in 1992 as part of the National Health and Social Life survey by researchers at the University of Chicago.

Circumcision is widespread in this country because doctors have long thought that it helped to prevent sexually transmitted disease, but the researchers found no evidence for that.

In fact, circumcised men in the study were more likely to report herpes and chlamydia infections.

The researchers could not explain why circumcised men had a higher incidence of some sexually transmitted diseases.

But Dr. Edward O. Laumann, the lead author of the study and the chairman of the sociology department at the University of Chicago, said his study was stronger than previous studies that reported the opposite results about sexually transmitted diseases.

The major finding of the new study is that there is a substantial relationship between circumcision and sexual activity.

Circumcised men in the study engaged in a wider range of sexual practices, such as oral and anal sex and masturbation.

For example, 81 percent said they had received heterosexual oral sex at some point in their lives, compared with 61 percent of uncircumcised men.

Laumann had two possible explanations for the variations.

One is that uncircumcised men, a minority in this country, may feel a stigma that inhibits them.

Another is that circumcision reduces sensitivity in the penis, leading circumcised men to try a range of sexual activities.

The study also found that circumcised men were less likely to experience sexual dysfunction, such as loss of interest in sex, anxiety about sexual performance or difficulty with achieving or maintaining an erections.

Since 1989, the American Academy of Pediatrics has been neutral on circumcision, leaving it up to parents and pediatricians.

But an academy panel is reconsidering that position in light of several recent studies, said Dr. Carole M. Lannon, the panel's chairwoman, and is expected to issue a statement by the end of the year.

Pub Date: 4/02/97

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