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Sexually Speaking with Alexis McCabe

Dear Alexis, I read your last article about male circumcision. I like that you mentioned the religious and cultural ties to the practice. I am currently researching female circumcision, something that I think many people know little or nothing about. I am curious to hear your views on the topic. What do you think about female circumcision? Should it continue because it is a cultural tradition?

-Curious about female circumcision

Dear Curious,

This is an excellent topic. Female circumcision does exist and is still practiced in some cultures today. Female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation (FGM), is the cutting of a girl’s genitals as a ritual of her rite of passage into womanhood. This practice is recognized in about 28 African countries and among some minorities in Asia as well.

There are three different types of FGM. Type I is known as a clitoridectomy, where the clitoris itself is surgically removed. Type II involves a clitoridectomy as well as the removal of the labia minora. Type III is known as infibulation, which involves the removal of the clitoris and labia minora, and the stitching together of the labia majora. This creates a hood of skin that covers the urethra and part of the vaginal opening, leaving only a small opening through which urine and menstrual flow may pass.

It is very uncommon during these procedures for sterile instruments to be used by trained doctors. Usually razor blades or broken glass are used to do the cutting without any pain-reducing medications, disinfectants or antibiotics. Besides the obvious pain and psychological trauma of these procedures, FGM can result in infections, excessive bleeding and pain, causing shock, gangrene and even death.

FGM was so common in the late ’90s that one study showed about 97 percent of married women in Egypt had some form of genital mutilation performed on them. To those who think FGM couldn’t possibly be happening in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that approximately 168,000 women who have been circumcised or were at risk of being circumcised lived in the United States.

Although many groups have been formed to combat the practice of FGM, and some governments (such as the Egyptian government) have even recognized and outlawed the practice, it still continues today because of its ties to many cultures. Mothers continue to allow such procedures on their daughters because they believe that if their daughters do not observe such cultural practices, they will be outcasts and will find it difficult to marry.

To answer your question, although it is important for us to respect everyone’s cultures and traditions, something must be done when these traditions inflict harm on those who practice them. FGM should not be practiced due to its violent, unnecessary and harmful nature.

-Be safe and have fun! Alexis