Following infant trauma, some individuals may develop dissociative
and aggressive behaviors and exhibit difficulties in recognizing
emotions.1,2 These traits are stereotypically associated with an
enhanced male endocrine configuration, represented by high
testosterone and low oxytocin levels, which have an impact on socio-
sexual cognition of the adult man.
Due to the painful experience of the surgery, circumcision may be
considered as a perinatal traumatic experience, especially when
performed without analgesics. Along with a marked increase of
cortisol, changes in mother-infant interactions have been observed
after circumcision, including disrupted feeding and weaker
attachment.3 This might lead to a reduction in oxytocin (OXT) which in
turn affects testosterone (T) availability.4 Thus, we hypothesize that
circumcision might lead to an enhanced male endocrine configuration
characterized by high T and low OXT.
To explore this possibility, we are currently running an online survey on
early-circumcised (EC) and non-circumcised (NC) American men.
American individuals have been chosen because circumcision occurs
in the perinatal period (first week of life), it is not related to cultural or
religious practices, and about half of the male population is
circumcised, thus making subject recruitment easy without ethical
issues. Psychometric measures included in the survey were stress, 5
empathy,6 trust,7 personality traits,8 attachment style,9 sociosexuality,10
and sexual desire,11 traits previously linked to OXT and T levels.
Our preliminary results (EC, N=75; NC, N=83) suggest that infant
circumcision seems to be associated with an increased attachment
avoidance (p<.01, d=.38) and decreased perspective-taking skills
(p<.05, d=.29) and trust (p<.05, d=.31). Although not significant in our
current small sample, EC scored higher in the sensation-seeking scale
(p=.16, d=.16). The two groups were not different in scales for
personality traits, perceived stress, and sexual libido (p>.05, d=.04),
yet, EC men score higher in sociosexuality (p=.001, d=.49), especially
in the desire facet (p<.001, d=.51). In the forest plot, the directionality
of effect size per each scale is displayed according to our hypotheses
(i.e., positive values = HA, negative values = H0), and the averaged
effect size is computed.
Discussion and Conclusions
EC men scored lower than NC in empathy, with a significant reduction in the dimension of perspective taking. We hypothesize that this might be
related to altered levels of circulating OXT and T. Previous works have shown that OXT selectively improves empathy accuracy,12 that OXT and
empathy toward a friend correlate,13 and that the OXT receptor gene polymorphism was associated with IRI scores.14 In addition, empathy towards
a stranger triggers release of OXT,15 while T is negatively associated with empathy scores.16 We found that EC scored significantly higher in
attachment avoidance, which has been previously associated with T levels.17 Individuals high on attachment-related avoidance do not trust others
and therefore tend to be self-reliant, independent, and non-affiliative. In fact, EC scored lower in trust and higher in sociosexuality. Trust is linked
positively with OXT and negatively with T.18 Sociosexuality, which is an orientation toward uncommitted sex, is predicted by T levels.19 Elevated T
levels might also be linked to sensation-seeking.20 These results point toward substantiating a trauma-related enhanced male endocrine
configuration in EC compared to NC men.
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