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Voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC)

Voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) is the removal of the foreskin from a person’s penis. 

It reduces the chance of a man getting HIV from having sex with a woman by 60%. 

Circumcised boys and men must also use other HIV prevention methods such as condoms or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) when having sex. 

What is circumcision?

Circumcision is a procedure that removes a fold of skin that covers the head of the penis, called the foreskin. It is carried out in lots of countries for religious, cultural or medical reasons. 

What is voluntary medical male circumcision?

On this page we talk about circumcision that is: 

  • ‘voluntary’ - when people choose to get circumcised 

  • ‘medical’ - when the procedure is done by trained medical professionals. 

Does circumcision reduce the risk of HIV?

Medical circumcision reduces risk of a man getting HIV from having sex with a woman by 60%.  

Does it reduce the risk of a circumcised man passing HIV on?

No. Circumcision reduces the risk of the circumcised man getting HIV from a woman. It doesn't reduce the risk of a circumcised man passing HIV on to a woman or man. 

Who can get it done?

VMMC can be carried out at any age. But the World Health Organization recommends VMMC for boys aged 15 years and older and men. It is particularly recommended for males at higher risk of HIV infection.

Why should I get circumcised?

VMMC is recommended in countries where there is a high burden of HIV. If you live in one of these countries and are having sex, circumcision can reduce your risk of getting HIV. It also reduces the chances of getting other sexually transmitted infections

Who should perform the circumcision?

Circumcision should always be done by a trained health professional in a clinical setting. Traditional circumcision carried out by a traditional healer or religious leader is often poorly performed. This means it doesn’t have the same HIV risk reduction. 

Do I need to test for HIV first?

Yes, it’s good to test for HIV and know your status before considering circumcision. If you have HIV, circumcision doesn’t reduce the chances of you passing HIV on to others.

How is circumcision done?

It is a quick, safe procedure with no long-term side effects. A special device is usually used which stops the flow of blood to the foreskin. Eventually the foreskin tissue dies and can be easily removed after one week. 

How long before I can have sex after circumcision?

Your healthcare provider will tell you how long you should wait to have sex after you are circumcised. It is usually about six weeks. 

How else can I protect myself from HIV?

Circumcision reduces but doesn’t eliminate the risk of HIV infection. So, stay smart and keep using other forms of protection like condoms or PrEP.

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How does circumcision prevent HIV?

Circumcision removes the foreskin which is a place that HIV can enter the body. The inner foreskin contains cells that HIV targets to enter the body. Small tears or genital ulcers on the foreskin can increase the risk of HIV infection. So, removing it reduces the opportunity HIV has to enter the body.

What countries is it recommended in?

VMMC is recommended in 15 eastern and southern African countries: Botswana, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. 

Why doesn’t traditional circumcision reduce the risk of HIV too?

Traditional circumcision does not provide the same HIV risk reduction as VMMC. This is because: 

  • traditional circumcision is often poorly performed, leading to pain, bleeding and infection 

  • the foreskin is often not completely removed 

  • it is associated with more risky behaviours such as ritual sexual practices after circumcision 

  • some men have more sexual partners because of the belief that HIV-positive circumcised men can’t transmit HIV. 

What else should be provided when someone gets circumcised?

VMMC isn’t 100% effective at reducing the risk of HIV. So, other HIV prevention methods should be considered for the male getting circumcised. These include: 

Does female genital mutilation (FGM) also prevent HIV?

No. In communities that do FGM and VMMC, some people wrongly believe that FGM can also reduce the risk of HIV transmission. In fact, FGM can increase the risk of HIV. If the same tool is used to cut many girls, there is a risk of transmission. Cutting the sexual organs of a girl also increases the risk of wounds occurring during sex which is an HIV risk. 

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  • Last updated: 18 March 2022
  • Last full review: 01 March 2022
  • Next full review: 01 March 2025
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