“Intactivists” to Picket OB-GYN Convention May 7-9
Anti-Circumcision Advocate Speaks to H.E.A.L.-S.D. May 1
by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
They call themselves “intactivists” and their cause is one most Americans don’t consider much of an issue at all: stopping the routine circumcision of U.S. male babies at birth. But a nationwide coalition of anti-circumcision “intactivists” is coming to San Diego May 7-9 to picket the annual convention of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) at the San Diego Convention Center downtown. Some of them are mounting a vigil outside the Convention Center all three days. The convention meets from 8:30 to 5:30 May 7 and 8 and 8:30 to 5 May 9, and the “intactivists” intend to be there at 8 a.m. each day and not to leave until the convention attendees do. Other “intactivists” will be inside, speaking to the doctors attending the conference and passing out leaflets explaining the case against routine circumcision.
As a warmup to the anti-circumcision movement’s annual protest at ACOG, circumcision opponent Pat Brown, a pioneer in the Queer liberation movement since 1969, will speak at the regularly scheduled meeting of H.E.A.L. [Health, Education, AIDS Liaison]-San Diego Tuesday, May 1, 7 p.m., at the War Memorial Building, 3325 Zoo Drive, room 2, on the Park Boulevard side of Balboa Park between Roosevelt Junior High School and the zoo parking lot. Brown’s presentation will focus on the ways circumcision interferes with sexual pleasure and the evidence that it increases, rather than decreases, a person’s vulnerability to sexually transmitted infections. Like many other anti-circumcision activists, he compares male circumcision to clitorectomy in women and says that, just as clitorectomy is now referred to as “female genital mutilation” and condemned through most of the world, so circumcision should be considered “male genital mutilation” and abolished.
“Respected studies published in professional journals over the past 50 years have proven repeatedly that genital cutting of both genders causes irreparable damage to the function and sexual sensation of both genders, thereby hobbling the interaction between the amputated and/or excised in the most soulful moments of the human race: the sexual act,” Brown explained. “It should be no surprise that the U.S. sells more lubricant and Viagra than any other country in the world, largely due to the fact that with the amputated foreskin go all of the nerves of fine sensation and palpations that trigger the normal apparatus.”
Brown will also challenge the current movement to circumcise millions of adult males in Africa based on research that claims this would reduce their risk of contracting the so-called “AIDS virus,” HIV, from female sex partners. The call is based largely on a much-publicized study conducted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a branch of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, in Kisumu, Kenya and Rokoi, Uganda. The trials, which began in September 2005 and were supposed to last two years, were ended early in December 2006 and claimed a 53 percent reduction in the HIV infection rate among circumcised men in Kisumu and a 48 percent reduction in Rokoi.
“Researchers have noted significant variations in HIV prevalence that seemed, at least in eastern African and Asian countries, to be associated with levels of male circumcision in the community,” the NIAID press release announcing the study results stated. “In areas where circumcision is common, HIV prevalence tends to be lower; conversely, areas of higher HIV prevalence overlapped with regions where male circumcision is not commonly practice.”
“These correlations require highly selective use of statistics,” said an analysis of the study posted on the anti-circumcision Web site www.mgmbill.org. “There are many exceptions: HIV is rare in Cuba, where circumcision is also rare, and common in Lesotho, where circumcision is common; and common among both the Zulu of South Africa, who do not circumcise, and the ¡Xhosa, who do.” The mgmbill.org analysis also pointed out that the rates of so-called HIV “infection” among the circumcised men in the study was 1.58 percent, as opposed to 3.38 percent among the uncircumcised men. “In other words,” the analysis argued, “you would have to circumcise 56 men to prevent one of them from contracting HIV in one year.”
Though the NIAID study was publicized worldwide, other research on the topic points to dramatically different conclusions. The Mishra study, presented at the 2006 international AIDS conference in Toronto, Canada, studied national health data from eight sub-Saharan African countries — Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda — and, once statistical controls were used to compensate for sociodemographic and behavioral factors, it found a lower rate of HIV seroprevalence in only one of the eight countries, Tanzania. In the other countries, “if anything, the correlation goes the other way,” Dr. V. Mishra, the study’s head, said in his presentation to the AIDS conference. In addition, he added, “circumcised men tend to have more lifetime sex partners, so there’s some [high-risk] behaviors that go with circumcision status.”
Another study, headed by D. D. Brewer and published in the Annals of Epidemiology [17:217-226], focused on the risk that virgins could be exposed to HIV from blood left behind by unhygienic circumcision procedures. In the three countries studied — Kenya, Lesotho and Tanzania — “circumcised male and female virgins were substantially more likely to be HIV infected [sic] than uncircumcised virgins,” Brewer wrote. Though the NIAID report claimed benefit for circumcision only when done under proper hygienic conditions, the mgmbill.org analysis argued that “once the meme ‘circumcision prevents HIV’ is loose in the community, this will be forgotten and circumcisions will be done under unhygienic conditions with shared instruments, quite possibly under duress.”
For more information on the anti-circumcision actions scheduled for San Diego in response to the ACOG convention, visit http://www.mgmbill.org/events.htm#acog2007acm. For more information on Pat Brown’s H.E.A.L.-San Diego presentation, please call (619) 688-1886 or visit www.healsd.org