TW: Genital mutilation, nonconsensual procedures, sexual control, rape, painful sex
1. In Egypt, 91% of (cisgender) women and girls ages 15-49 have undergone genital mutilation (FGM).
FGM happens most often in Africa and the Middle East. How much is Egypt an outlier? There’s no way FGM is that common, right? Sorry to have to be the downer for your day, but here are the UN-gathered statistics: 98% of cis-women and cis-girls in Somalia ages 15 to 49 have been affected by FGM. 96% of those in Guinea, 93% of those in Djibouti, 88% in Sierra Leone. And the list goes on. That’s more than 125 million girls and women who have undergone the procedure, which would be the equivalent of almost 4 out of 5 women in the entire United States.
2. Circumcision of the penis doesn’t normally have much of an impact on sexual pleasure…for the person with the penis, anyway
Many studies have found that there is no evidence to show that people with circumcised penises feel significantly less sexual pleasure than those with uncircumcised penises. However, studies have shown that penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex with someone who has an uncircumcised penis is more pleasurable for the person with the vagina.
And 12% of cis-women having sex with a circumcised cis-man experience dyspareunia (pain during sex) compared with just 3% of those women who have sex with their uncircumcised partner. Most likely because friction is a thing that happens. People with vaginas are also more likely to orgasm during sex with someone with an uncircumcised penis.
That being said, there are still cis-men who say circumcision affects sexual pleasure. And circumcision is often done to infants who are unable to consent. Also, while the rate of complications during penile circumcision are low (.2% in the US), they do still exist. And the procedure is generally unnecessary (if general hygiene and safe sex are practiced).
3. FGM was once used on slaves in order to keep them from having children.
A slave who had undergone the procedure was generally able to be sold for more money. Some people believe this is how FGM originated, and many people believe this is why FGM is so common in Africa and the Middle East.
4. There are people who use penile circumcision as a reason to discredit feminist activism
Some people, including some Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs), argue that it’s unfair that many countries legally allow penile circumcision but not cis-female circumcision. Therefore those who fight only to eliminate female circumcision are being “reverse sexist.”
Firstly, it is possible to fight against two things at once (shocking, I know). Unnecessary and non-consensual medical procedures aren’t great for any gender. That being said, comparing penile to cis-female circumcision doesn’t make any sense. Here’s why: Female circumcision is a tool used to oppress women. It’s sewing the labia together in order to keep the person from having PIV sex until marriage. It has been said that Type III FGM (sewing the labia majora together) has continued in part because cis-men say they enjoy tearing the infibulation (the stitches) open. It’s cutting the outer clitoris for the purpose of limiting pleasure for the person. And FGM leads to a wide range of complications: infection from the procedure itself, urinary infections, tetanus, incontinence, painful periods, pelvic infections and/or pain, pain during sex, and infertility. FGM is a tool of control.
Penile circumcision is a “right of passage” for some religions, and in some cultures it is considered cleaner or more aesthetically pleasing to be circumcised. This does not mean penile circumcision is right, but it is crucial to factor privilege into the discussion.
You can be against both penile and cis-female genital mutilation. You can fight against both. You can recognize FGM is more harmful to those who undergo the procedure and decide you want to focus your energy on ending FGM — that doesn’t make you “reverse sexist,” it just means you understand the issue.
5. Some people think the clitoris, if not removed (well, the outer bit), will keep growing and will hurt an infant when it comes out of the vaginal passage during birth.
6. The true shape of the clitoris means cutting the outer part doesn’t fully eliminate sexual pleasure
Lick on that, patriarchy! Thanks to the clitoris’s amazing shape (which actually extends into the body), many people have been able to feel sexual pleasure post-FGM. Pierre Foldes, thanks to recent research into the anatomy of the clitoris, developed a method of increasing sexual pleasure for those who have undergone FGM. The process involves removing scar tissue from the vulva and lowering part of the internal extensions of the clitoris—this reveals the inner clitoris a bit more, which increases sensation to the area.
That Foldes dude said, “The medical literature tells us the truth about our contempt for women. For three centuries, there are thousands of references to penile surgery, nothing on the clitoris, except for some cancers or dermatology—and nothing to restore its sensitivity. The very existence of an organ of pleasure is denied, medically.”
Photo of Asseta and her daughter by Flickr user DFID – UK Department for International Development under Creative Commons 2.0