Background: Because a growing body of evidence suggests that male circumcision (MC) is associated with a reduced risk of HIV infection in Africa, it is being considered as a potential prevention tool to reduce the spread of infection. Its feasibility must therefore be assessed.
Methods: A community-based cross-sectional study was conducted among a random sample of 482 men aged 19-29 years and 302 women aged 14-25 years, all living in the Westonaria district, South Africa. The prevalence of HIV infection was 11% among the men and 30% among the women. Trained personnel administered standardized questionnaires.
Results: Two-thirds of the 108 circumcised men (CM) were circumcised during a traditional ceremony and one-third in a clinical setting; the latter reported less pain and adverse outcomes. More than 70% of the non-circumcised men (NCM) stated that they would want to be circumcised if MC were proved to protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STD). Twenty-nine per cent of the CM and 22% of the NCM believed that MC protects against HIV and other STD. Moreover, 30% and 18%, respectively, believed that CM could safely have sex with multiple partners. Multivariate analysis showed that CM were more likely to report many lifetime partners.
Conclusion: Although the level of MC in the area is relatively low, it is perceived positively. A significant proportion of the CM felt protected by their circumcision, a feeling unfortunately translated into unsafe practices. Our results strongly suggest that interventions including MC should carefully address the false sense of security that it may provide.