The XX Factor

Will Routine Circumcision for Baby Boys Promote Teen Promiscuity?

Actually, not one enraged commenter on yesterday’s NYT article about the possibility of the CDC recommending circumcision as an HIV preventative raised that question. But the fierce opposition that still surrounds the HPV vaccination for girls centers around exactly that . If both procedures might make unprotected sex marginally safer, why is the conversation so different?

I’m not actually opposed to the CDC recommending circumcision-especially since the main effect of the recommendation would be that an always-optional procedure would remain optional, but be once again covered by Medicaid. Circumcision appears to reduce the risk of contracting the HIV virus through sex with an infected (female) partner by about 60 percent. The HPV vaccine prevents “some types” of genital warts which “may” cause cervical cancer. Neither’s a slam dunk, but both might make a night of unprotected sex a less risky proposition in the long term. And teens claim to consider the risks of HIV when making the decision about whether to have sex, while HPV remains low on their radar . So it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that being circumsized-along with a nice public health campaign promoting the reduction in risk-might make a teen boy feel even less mortal. But it didn’t come up.

Granted, circumcision is an actual procedure-one I’ve watched twice, and one that’s not accurately described by the word “snip.” And we’re talking about babies, not preteens, so the whole issue of sex seems less imminent. But still, a vaccine and a procedure with a shared goal of making unsafe sex just a little safer each caused a small but vocal minority to rise up in very different forms of protest. Girls might have more sex. Boys might feel less pleasure. Could the difference be any starker?

Photograph of a teenage couple by Stockbyte/Getty Images.