Sex is never the same: men's perspectives on refusing circumcision from an in-depth qualitative study in Kwaluseni, Swaziland

Glob Public Health. 2015;10(5-6):721-38. doi: 10.1080/17441692.2015.1004356. Epub 2015 Feb 5.


Faced with an HIV prevalence of 31% among 18- to 49-year-olds, Swaziland developed a male circumcision policy in 2009, following compelling scientific evidence from three randomised controlled trials. Utilising United States Agency for International Development funds, the state set out to circumcise 80% of adult men in 2011. Only 8667 of the targeted 150,000 men were circumcised during the campaign. This paper presents findings from a 2012 to 2013 in-depth qualitative study among Swazi men. Methods included 13 focus group discussions, 20 in-depth interviews, 16 informal interviews and participant observation. We argue that the campaign's failure can be partly explained by the fact that circumcision was perceived as a threat to Swazi masculinities, a factor hardly considered in the planning of the intervention. Results show that men believed circumcision resulted in reduced penis sensitivity, reduced sexual pleasure and adverse events such as possible mistakes during surgery and post-operative complications that could have negative effects on their sexual lives. Given the conflicting state of scientific data about the effects of circumcision on sexuality or sexual pleasure, this study addresses important lacunae, while also demonstrating the need for more research into the relationship between sexuality, masculinity and health interventions seeking to involve men.

Keywords: HIV; Swaziland; male circumcision; masculinities; sexuality.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Circumcision, Male / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Data Collection / methods
  • Decision Making
  • Eswatini / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • HIV Infections / transmission*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Prevalence
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Viral / epidemiology
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Viral / prevention & control*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Viral / transmission*