L’Chaim!

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And now for something completely different…

Although the modern circumcision procedure is often credited to (or blamed on) the longstanding Jewish ritual, the practice was found in many ancient cultures. These days, 79% or so of American men are circumcised, but in recent years the procedure has been scrutinized by many who wondered about the rationale for such mutilation (let’s not mince words here). Two of my closest friends struggled mightily to decide whether to have their newborn son circumcised, and in the end decided to do so mainly because the father was circumcised, and didn’t want the son to feel different from the father. Not a particularly compelling reason, they realized, but a decision had to be made.

As the above article (and many others on the web) attests, the ancient ritual was done for all sorts of superstitious or otherwise misguided reasons. But recent studies have shown that there does seem to be a good medical reason for the practice, and this view was bolstered by an AP article today-

LOS ANGELES – Circumcision not only protects against HIV in heterosexual men, but it also helps prevent two other sexually transmitted infections, a large new study found. Circumcised males reduced their risk of infection with HPV, or human papillomavirus, by 35 percent and herpes by 28 percent. However, researchers found circumcision had no effect on the transmission of syphilis.

Landmark studies from three African countries including Uganda previously found circumcision lowered men’s chance of catching the AIDS virus by up to 60 percent. The new study stems from the Uganda research and looked at protection against three other STDs. The findings are reported in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine.

“Evidence now strongly suggests that circumcision offers an important prevention opportunity and should be widely available,” Drs. Matthew Golden and Judith Wasserheit of the University of Washington wrote in an accompanying editorial.

So if you are a circumcised heterosexual man who has wondered whether your parents made the right decision (and what circumcised heterosexual man hasn’t, at least in passing?), you can rest a little easier today. As I’ve previously pointed out, sometimes irrationality, superstition, or just plain tradition happens to get things right.