By Definition...

Mutilation: Mutilation or maiming is an act or physical injury that degrades the appearance or function of any living body, usually without causing death.

I have encountered many people who state that they are vehemently against female circumcision but that they are ok with male circumcision. When we broach the subject of it being mutilation, they are aghast that I would use such a horrible term to describe their choice to circumcise their son. Some even point out that they have had it done to their child and their child is fine (or, if it is a guy I am talking to, he is quick to point out that he is completely fine, so what's the big deal?). This post is going to offend some, but let's open this can of worms, shall we?

Of FGM and MGM

Female circumcision - an issue that, we in the childbirth field, should be more active in. I was recently asked if I had ever attended a woman who had been circumcised. My answer was no, but the question posed a strong culture shock. In the U.S., female genital mutilation is not as common as in other countries, not by a long shot. But, many women and their husbands have been relocating to the US, the world is getting smaller, and I may very well find myself assisting one such woman sometime in my career.

Beyond that, as a shadowy part of US history that we are not often made aware of, as recent as the 1950s, partial or total removal of the clitoris was prescribed in western Europe and the U.S. in response to hysteria, epilepsy, mental disorders, masturbation, nymphomania, melancholia and lesbianism.

Beyond even that, as an advocate of women's birth and sexual health options, I (we) should be more active in defending and supporting these women. Thus, this somewhat non-birth related post.

This is an educational, but disturbing video that I would be remiss not to share. It involves both childbirth as well as female circumcision (no mutilation shown occuring).

If you can stomach it, there is a great powerpoint presentation (can open as PDF as well) here that outlines the different types of female circumcision and the impact it has on women's health as well as the demographics and issues surrounding the practice.

Mona Eltahawy writes, in the Huffington Post article "Smashing the Silence", about her intimate knowledge of FGM in her families history and how her family has, thankfully, overcome it.

The reasons given for circumcising women are for religious obedience as well as aesthetic appeal. Thankfully, Uganda just recently outlawed female circumcision as they don't believe that either reason is justification of such a painful and non-consenting surgery. It is really interesting to read the debate/comments below this article.

The reasons I am showing these are, one, as stated before, we as women's health advocates should make our voices heard and stand up for the health, safety, and rights of these women, and two, because, as we work with newborns on a regular basis, we should be educating families to the similar reasons and risks that U.S. couples continue to circumcise their sons.

Type 1 circumcision of females is the only one that is the same as male circumcision. In both instances, it involves removing part or all of the prepuce (hood). In males, it removes it from the glans (head of the penis), whereas in females, it removes it from the clitoris. In both cases, these anatomical parts are created to be mucous membranes that are protected, kept moist, and sensitive, by these fleshy tissues (prepuce or foreskins).

In both cases, it results in less sensitivity (sometimes no sensitivity) because these tissues are no longer protected by these natural hoods and thus, dry out and become less sensitive. Some people will say "well my husband/partner has no problems with sensitivity" or "well my son is circumcised and has no problems". Fact: he has less sensitivity than he would have if he were uncircumcised - just as you would.

In both cases, there is risk of infection, hemorrhage, botched surgeries, and are done without the consent of the individual. In both cases, it is done for religious (Islamic, Christian, Jewish, etc..) reasons or aesthetic appeal (so the child will look like their same-sex parent and the others in their culture).

"In female circumcision, the goal is to ensure chastity by eliminating the girls' sex drive by removing the sensuous nerve endings in her external genitalia." ... "The loss of sensuous nerve endings and motion to the penis penile mobility is quite similar to this form of female circumcision. In some cultures one of the labia majora (outer labia) is also removed, the other outer labia is stretched over the wound, sewn, and holes punched through the now hidden female external genitalia for the passage of urine and menses. This is called infibulation.

Some girls have bled to death, died of infections or other complications. Some of our boys have bled to death, died of infections, gastric rupture or other complications. Damage is created in both cases.

Female circumcision is a custom. Circumcision of our baby boys is a custom. The American Academy of Pediatrics policy on circumcision concluded by saying "however, that it is legitimate for parents to take into account cultural, religious and ethnic traditions..." I disagree. In countries where girls are circumcised because of those reasons we shudder at the thought and consider the practice barbaric, so why is it okay to take those into consideration here." - Female Circumcision. Male Circumcision. Is There a Difference?, Compleat Mother

So, with all that said, do you agree that both male and female circumcision is genital mutilation? Should routine circumcision be stopped?


There is a great resource for parents that delves into the History of Circumcision as well as national trends, medical data, scientific scrutiny, and humanity rights.

Additionally, I have blogged about this issue in What About Afterward, and encourage you to read that post (video has been fixed), as well as Circumcision Organization, Circumstitions (although this is a rather strongly worded/biased site - be warned), and Claims Explained

Additional MGM education sites:


Corin said...

FGM and male circumcision (MGM)...SAME THING. Absolutely. It baffels me completely that anyone can look at both procedures and say there is a difference. I saw on the news yesterday about the bill coming through to ban infant circumcision in the U.S. and was SO excited and hopeful. The newscaster said, "It'll never pass."

Well, even if it doesn't, the fact that it's making news programs and getting publicity is a huge step forward. I only pray that this barbaric treatment of baby boys ends.

Thanks for this great post.

Rini said...

Here's the thing: if my husband were MORE sensitive? I'm not sure I could keep up.

I just can't imagine the final outcomes (as seen in post-marital sex life) being the same, despite the similarities in the procedure or medical details.

Interesting post, nonetheless, and I look forward to checking out some of the links.

Sarah M said...

I totally agree that it is mutilitaion and really isn't right. But if we are going to make the argument that its bad because the child does not consent then we have to think about alot of other procedures too. Vacinations: the child does not consent, medications: the child does not consent. Children cannot consent to many of the things we put them through. Even going to the doctor. It is not their choice. The only reason I am considering circumcision is because I know that if my child does want to have it done later in life it will be more painful and will take longer to heal. It is a really hard choice to make.

Olga said...

I agree - the similarities between the two are striking, especially when you look at the reasons that are used to justify each procedure. The current bill is not likely to pass unfortunately, but I hope someday it will, and in the meantime gets people talking about it.

For the poster who is considering having it done because it would be painful later in life, how do we know if it would be "more" painful? Perhaps it's just as painful for the newborn but they just cannot express it? At least an adult can receive proper anesthesia and post-op meds that infants do not get.

My husband is intact and he is adamant that any sons we have will not be circed (no argument from me there!). He says that knowing first hand how many nerve endings are in his foreskin, he can't imagine not having it.

Sarah M said...

Olga- I honestly feel like it isn't a choice I can make for my son. My partner and I have discussed it and it will come down to his decision. I don't feel like I can choose since I don't have a penis and I don't know what its like. I can see a few pros and a ton of cons and so can he. So he will be the deciding factor in this.

Ameena said...

Female Circumcision Prevents HIV/AIDS

Stallings et al. (2009) reported that, in Tanzanian women, the risk of HIV among women who had undergone Female Circumcision was roughly half that of women who had not; the association remained significant after adjusting for region, household wealth, age, lifetime partners, and union status.

Female circumcision and HIV infection in Tanzania:
For better or for worse?
(3rd IAS conference on HIV pathogenesis and treatment)
International AIDS Society


Kanki et al. reported that, in Senegalese prostitutes, women who had undergone Female Circumcision had a significantly decreased risk of HIV-2 infection when compared to those who had not.

Kanki P, M'Boup S, Marlink R, et al. "Prevalence and risk determinants of human immunodeficiency virus type 2 (HIV-2) and human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) in west African female prostitutes
Am. J. Epidemiol. 136 (7): 895-907. PMID

Indie said...

Rini--I have heard it explained by men who have experienced both (i.e. circumcised in teen or adult years) that it would be similar to a color blind person saying that they don't want to see color because if their vision were any brighter they'd be blinded. The foreskin brings more depth of sensation.

Also, women who have been with both circumcised and intact (not circumcised men) report that they are more likely to reach orgasm with the intact men. The removal of the foreskin changes the mechanics of intercourse.

Indie said...

Sarah M.-- You know more about what it is like than your husband does. You (presumably) have not had your genitals mutilated. Your husband's were mutilated before he ever had a chance to see if he might like himself just the way he was.

That said, no man wants to be told that there is something wrong with his penis. By choosing not to circumcise a son, some men feel as if they are admitting that there is something wrong with them and that is a very difficult thing to accept.

But the thing is, I know of men who have had real problems as a result of their circumcisions. They don't go back to report it to their parents because they are embarrassed and it wouldn't fix the problem anyway. Some men have problems and never know that is is the result of their circumcision because that's the way they've always been.

Indie said...

By the way Sarah, I don't mean to attack you with what I'm saying. My viewpoint while pregnant with my first child was exactly what yours is. Our first was a girl so it was a moot point. In the years after her birth, I did a great deal of in depth study on the matter and was horrified by what I found. Our third child was a boy and by then there was no doubt in my mind or his father's mind that he would not be cut.


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