The contraction of HIV is constant issue of consideration and debate throughout the gay community, but when protecting against the spread of it, should we consider alternative methods other than safe sex?
No, is the answer to that question, but not according to Miriam Stoppard, who wrote this awful piece of journalism for the Daily Mirror Online, infuriatingly titled ‘Why circumcising adult men is one of the most effective ways of protecting against Aids.’
This article offended me so much, with its startling inaccuracy and potential to misinform readers, that I tweeted it to Dr Christian Jessen, a British celebrity Doctor who presents various Channel 4 medical programmes, including Embarrassing Bodies and Supersize v.s. Super-skinny. He became so annoyed by the article that he left a very long comment correcting some of the inaccuracies Stoppard made (the comment can be seen by clicking the link to the article).
The first problem, of many, with the article is that circumcision is supposed to ‘cure’ AIDS. There is no known cure for AIDS, and if circumcision did cure AIDS, we would have been circumcising each and every man the second they were born. Here is how Miriam claims this works: ‘It’s thought that, by removing the foreskin, a route of entry for the Aids virus is closed off.’ Hmm. Removal of the foreskin does not close anything off, as far as I am aware. A layer of impenetrable material over the penis, such as latex, however, may help close a ‘route’ for AIDS contamination, but this apparently never occurs to Miriam, who has been trusted to write an article for a high profile tabloid website.
The second, and perhaps more strikingly obvious mistake, is that she refers to the spread of AIDS, not HIV. We all know, from basic education that HIV is spread and then it develops into AIDS, so there cannot be a cure for the spread of AIDS if it doesn’t spread in the first place. Circumcision therefore will definitely have no effect upon AIDS.
If we were to take this seriously for a moment (don’t laugh) then we should consider a few things. Firstly, it could be fair to say that the group of people considered of the highest risk of contracting HIV are gay men. Therefore we should consider the nature of the types of sex that homosexual men engage in. Firstly, during oral sex, there can only be one man at a considerable risk of contracting HIV, and that is the man performing it, and we can safely agree that his being circumcised will be of no help here (the man receiving may contract HIV from saliva, however this is quite low risk as HIV cannot survive for long outside of the body). Secondly, considering anal sex, both men are at risk of contracting HIV, but to say that certain men only ever perform anal sex and some only receive would be ignorant, to say the least. So we can agree that being circumcised will not stop you at all contracting HIV from performing anal sex.
We should also consider the title ‘Why circumcising adult men is one of the most effective ways of protecting against Aids,’ as we all know that the second highest risk group are intravenous drug users. You do not have to be a man, or have sex with a man to contract HIV in this manner. Also, I am not sure if Miriam is aware of this, but women can contract and spread HIV too, so the circumcision of an adult man may not make much of an indent on the world’s HIV sufferers, as 50%* of them are women, and remember, Miriam said that circumcision supposedly stops the ‘entry’ of the HIV virus, and not the spread of it.
Now I have to mention the inherently racist nature of the article. At one point Miriam actually writes,’ I have never heard a Jewish man complain of this’ (this meaning the lessened sexual pleasure after circumcision). One, to assume that the only people who become circumcised are Jewish men is stereotyping to say the least, and two, a Jewish man can never experience both states of circumcision and non-circumcision. If he, or any other man of any religion or no religion, has experienced both after being circumcised in later life, I am sure he would have something to say, and not to Miriam Stoppard.
Now we have reached the biggest, most mammoth problem with the article: the spread of appalling education and ignorance. If an impressionable young man, gay or straight saw this, and actually took it as face value, then it may affect the way he conducts himself sexually. He may actually go out and procure a circumcision in order to save money on condoms, and to save himself from any potential awkwardness whilst putting a condom on during sex (“hey, do you have a condom?” “No, I’m circumcised, let’s go.” “Erm, I hate to break this to you…”). After Dr Christian re-tweeted the link that I sent to him, my twitter feed became barraged with comments, mostly in agreement that Miriam Stoppard is colossally stupid, but also saying people had read it and believed it.
All jokes aside, this is serious. The spread of potentially harmful ‘news’ like this can cause ignorance, which is more damaging to the spread of HIV than anything. Ignorance causes unsafe sex and a general disregard for serious matters, because this is a very serious issue, and I’m talking globally serious. The world has been in a state of HIV pandemic for years, so why aren’t we screaming from the rooftops, ‘WEAR A CONDOM, FFS!’ ‘DON’T SHARE NEEDLES!’ Are people taking the HIV pandemic as seriously as they should do? Are the HIV adverts of the 80’s a forgotten nightmare, along with the scary hair-do’s and questionable clothes?
HIV is 100% incurable, but 100% preventable through the use of condoms, and not circumcision.
*Statistic taken from http://www.avert.org/worldstats.htm