Friday, November 9, 2012

Circumcision and Female Genital Mutilation

Please check out the newly developed and very easy to use genital mutilation comparison sheet before reading this post...

True for BOTH Male Genital Mutilation and Female Genital Mutilation
Sometimes called "circumcision"
Involves the cutting of part of the person's genitalia
Alters the appearance of the person’s genitalia
Typically causes some bleeding in the genital area
Is often carried out without the consent of the person being cut
Is supported by religious groups who believe its practice is important to their faith
Is often described as a way to ensure "cleanliness" of the genital area
Is sometimes described as a rite of passage
Religious proponents say criminalization of the procedure infringes on the practice of their faith
Negative effects are often downplayed by those that practice the procedure and those that have allowed it to be practiced on their children
Reduces sensation/pleasure during sex
Proponents claim it keeps various bad things from happening to the child
Proponents express worry that if they don't cut the child it will affect how desirable the child is to the opposite sex

True for Male Genital Mutilation only
Legal in the United States
Profitable for US medicine
Endorsed by some US doctors

True for Female Genital Mutilation only
Illegal in the United States
Not profitable for US medicine
Not endorsed by US doctors

Why do so many people take issue with comparing the US male circumcision phenomenon with female genital mutilation that takes place in other parts of the world?  The procedures are far more similar than they are different.  To maintain that "circumcision" in the US is so much different than female genital mutilation is downright ethnocentric.  Americans think it's different because they need it to be different.  This is part of the cognitive dissonance that always permeates the circumcision debate.  Americans who believe circumcision is a good thing for children believe so in part because it is what they know, it is the "right" thing, culturally speaking, to do.  All the poorly supported medical research is just an excuse for them to do something they wanted to do anyway.  (I'll bet if a doctor did research “proving” that keeping your son's hair short will help him do better in school, TONS of people in mainstream America would say that's why they cut their son's hair.)  Thus when someone like me tries to tell them, "Hey did you know they do the same kind of thing to girls in other parts of the world?" they vehemently deny that it can't possibly be the same thing at all.  People who cut female children are disgusting and backward but somehow those that cut male children are enlightened.  To accept that these procedures are essentially the same thing is to accept that circumcision is a cultural practice and, as with many cultural practices, the people that practice them don't see them as culturally correct practices they see them as TRUTHS that are essential to survival.  To accept that circumcision isn't a simple truth, that's it's not something they HAD to do is so frightening, so horrible they will go to any extreme to protect themselves from this reality.  It is essential to all the cultural mores that define who they are and how they function in daily life to maintain the belief that female genital mutilation and male genital mutilation are two radically different things.  Well, I hate to break it to ya… They’re not!

Let's be real: People have been cutting genitalia for thousands of years.  Lots of different superstitions, religious beliefs, and cultural ideas have grown up around both male and female genital mutilation over the years but the essence of the practice remains the same: mutilators forever alter the child’s appearance and his/her future sexual experiences.  Those who facilitate or support mutilation of either sex do harm to children who can’t advocate for themselves.  If you’re going to be one of those people I say at least be consistent and support female genital mutilation too.  Women and men are supposed to be equal after all.


  1. Concise- I like it! Well written! I have 3 intact boys and reading this post created a pit in my stomach and made my palms sweat :( I am forever grateful to my sister who simply asked me if I was going to circumcise. Just that question set us both on a path of true enlightenment!

    1. Glad you liked the post. It's interesting: I think that most people if they stop and really, truly think about what circumcision is and discuss it with trusted friends and loved ones they often realize it is NOT something they want for their child. The problem is so many people have walls built up to keep from even thinking about it, much less discussing it. I've met people who I can tell don't want to talk about it because for some reason they think they "have" to do it and they don't want to think about it because that would lead to them feeling uncomfortable. They just want to do it and forget about it. This is the power of cultural influence unfortunately.

  2. Circumcision of a newborn is wrong, that is a fact. It is a procedure done to a non-consenting minor that will affect him and his future sexual partners for the rest of his life. I am glad when people un-friend me on Facebook for this reason, they are not friend worthy if they don't agree. Keep on posting and putting out this information.

    1. Agreed. The fundamental issue is the lack of consent, something that should be required for a "procedure" that will affect the appearance and sexual experiences of that person for the rest of his life. Speaking of consent I recently learned there is a petition set up asking the Obama administration to protect minors from genital cutting. You can view/sign it here:

  3. Great essay. When will the horror end?

    (mama of 4 natural boys ages 13, 16, 18, & 20)

    1. Thanks Samaire. Your four intact boys and all the other intact sons being brought into the world every day move us that much closer to a time when Americans will look back on circumcision with horror and absolute incredulity.

  4. Very good article. Yes, a big part of the vehement insistence that FGM MUST be MUCH worse than MGM is that, as a culture that circumcises, we don't want to believe there is any equivalency. Another aspect is ignorance of anatomy--females have many fine-touch nerve endings spread over the vulva. In men that entire mucosal surface and its fine-touch nerve are concentrated in the prepuce and to a lesser extent the glans penis. If you don't understand the embryology and anatomy, you are likely to believe that homologous appearing structures have the same neurological structure. However, the foreskin is not analogous to the hood of the clitoris... it is analogous to the female prepuce, much of the glans, labia minor and external portion of the vagina. Misunderstanding the anatomy compells people to make uneducated statements about the two procedures. Of course, there is a political reason too. If people accept that FGM is equivalent to MGM, then maybe people will not empathize with the victims of FGM. As an aside, one of the perverse ironies of the FGM vs. MGM debate is that in many cultures that practice FGM the cutting is done at the girls request as a right of passage. Whereas in the West we generally cut up newborn babies years before they could consent.

    1. I think you're right that ignorance about anatomy has something to do with this. I think mainstream US culture can still be very Victorian about sex. Many people get uncomfortable talking about how these different structures work yet, oddly, are all too happy to shout about why some of them "need" to be removed.