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Report offers no distinct guidance on circumcision

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Circumcised men tend to have more varied sex, study says

April 1, 1997
Web posted at: 9:25 p.m. EST

(CNN) -- Circumcision offers little advantage where health is concerned, but men who are circumcised tend to have more varied sex, a study published on Tuesday said.

The study, by University of Chicago researchers and published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, found "significant differences between circumcised and uncircumcised men in terms of their sexual practices."

"We were quite surprised to see such clear evidence, at least within the white population, that masturbation was correlated with being circumcised as well as engaging in oral sex and anal sex," University of Chicago researcher Edward Laumann said.

The study said 47 percent of circumcised men reported masturbating at least once a month versus 34 percent for their uncircumcised peers.

The difference in frequency cannot be explained, but it does "cast doubt on the Victorian-era notion that circumcision reduces the urge to masturbate," the study said.

Reduced sensitivity?

Critics of circumcision claim the study shows the procedure reduces men's sensitivity. The researchers themselves don't make that point, saying that the study doesn't explain the cause of the differences.

"By and large to do it [circumcision] as a routine practice for everyone doesn't strike me as sound practice from a health point of view," Laumann said.

Circumcised men were found to be nearly 1.4 times more likely to engage in heterosexual oral sex than uncircumcised men, the study reported. They also were more likely to have had homosexual oral sex and heterosexual anal intercourse.

The study was based on an analysis of data collected from a sample of 1,410 men, aged 18 to 59, in the United States, which has one of the world's highest non-religious circumcision rates.

No firm guidance

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The new report offers no firm guidance for parents to reach a decision on the question of whether or not to circumcise their sons.

Alex Enakifo and his wife Russa-Marie Oni decided to circumcise their boy, despite her objections.

The prevailing factor: "It's a family tradition that we all get circumcised," Enakifo said.

That's usually how it works, obstetrician Stephen Blank says. "Most families, the father or ... male children in the family have already been circumcised, so they don't want to appear as the outcasts of different from those other members of the family," Blank said.

The study found circumcised men have a slightly lower risk of sexual dysfunction, especially later in life.

Circumcision rates reached 80 percent in the United States after the World War II but peaked in the mid-1960s and have since fallen off amid debate over whether the practice has health value or adversely affects male satisfaction, the study said.

"The considerable impact of circumcision status on sexual practice represents a new finding that should further enrich such discussion," the researchers wrote. "Our results support the view that physicians and parents be informed of the potential benefits and risks before circumcising newborns."

Correspondent Andrew Holtz and Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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