A small Kenyan study has found that more women than men feel HIV is a less serious threat after their male partners are circumcised; the study also made local news for finding that female partners of recently circumcised men found sex more enjoyable.
The University of Illinois' Chicago School of Public Health study of 51 young women - presented in December 2011 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at the 16th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually transmitted infections in Africa - found that most women were happy with the appearance of their partner's penis and enjoyed sex more after circumcision.
However, the study also revealed that more women than men were likely to perceive HIV as a less serious threat - 51 percent of men compared with 76 percent of female participants, and to feel that condoms were less necessary following circumcision - 4 percent of men compared with 51 percent of female participants.
A greater number of women than men said after circumcision, they were more likely to have more than one sexual partner - 22 percent compared with 2 percent of men, and to have sex without a condom - 28 percent against 2 percent of men.
The study was conducted in Nyanza Province, home to the Luo, Kenya's largest non-circumcising ethnic community and the focus of the country's male circumcision programme. Since 2008, more than 350,000 men have been circumcised in Nyanza alone; the government aims to circumcise 1.1 million men by 2013.
The study's authors say the findings highlight the need to involve female partners in the male circumcision process, which has a strong counselling component, impressing upon men the partial nature of the procedure's protection against HIV.
"If women do not have a good understanding of the partial protection afforded by male circumcision against HIV, they may view circumcised men as 'safe' or even HIV-negative, just because they are circumcised," said Nelli Westercamp of the University of Illinois School of Public Health, one of the study's authors.
"It is crucial to involve women in the male circumcision decision-making, whether through counselling or public health education specifically targeting women. Couples’ counselling before the procedure would perhaps be the most beneficial for women whose partners want to go for the cut," she added. "It will not only clarify the concept of partial protection, but also could make a difference in the men's healing process and time of resumption of sex after the procedure, if the woman is involved and supports the man through the process."
According to Ronnie Asino, the district project coordinator for the Nyanza Reproductive Health Society, community outreach programmes target both men and women on all aspects of male circumcision. "We have community outreach programmes where we hold sensitization forums to educate people, including women, on the various aspects of male circumcision," he said.
Asino noted that married men were usually accompanied by their spouses and were therefore more likely to benefit from couples’ counselling before the procedure. "Unmarried men will show up alone and it is them whose partners are more likely to miss out on the counselling provided," he added.
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