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What is a Clitorectomy?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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A clitorectomy, also called a clitoridectomy, is an operation that results in the removal of part of a female's genitals. Often referred to as female circumcision, it typically involves the removal of the clitoris but may include the removal of a female’s labia as well. There normally is no medical reason to perform this type of surgery. It is usually performed in places in which it is considered a cultural or religious tradition. For example, some cultural groups consider clitorectomy procedures an effective way to prevent females from enjoying sexual intercourse with men who are not their husbands or to make them clean and pure.

There is a good deal of controversy surrounding clitorectomies. Many people consider these operations barbaric and assert that they are unnecessary mutilation of the female body. Additionally, the surgeries are typically performed on young girls who are too young to give informed consent. Often, the surgery is performed against the girl’s will as well. While there are some countries in which clitorectomies are considered normal, it is against the law in many others.

Laws against clitorectomy procedures may help some girls, but they are not effective for preventing the surgery everywhere. In some jurisdictions in which the surgery is illegal, people perform them in secret. Often, the surgery is performed by people who do not have suitable training and use unsterilized tools for cutting. Many of these procedures are even performed without anesthesia.

While many of the arguments against clitorectomy procedures focus on the assertion that they are inhumane, there are also medical consequences of this type of procedure. In some cases, for example, a female may develop excessive bleeding or an infection because of the procedure. Sometimes her body may even go into shock.

There are also long-term effects that a woman may suffer because of a clitorectomy. For example, she may suffer from pain during intercourse or even have difficulty having sexual intercourse at all. Sometimes cysts and excessive scarring develop, and some women may also suffer from infertility as a result of the procedure. If she does get pregnant, she may even have trouble having a vaginal birth because of scar tissue.

Some people who opt to have clitorectomy procedures performed on their female children do not have the clitoris removed but instead opt to have it nicked. This procedure involves putting a small cut in the clitoris for the purpose of observing religious ritual. While this procedure is less traumatic to the body, it is still considered controversial.

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KoiwiGal
Post 3

@irontoenail - It's a real problem because it can be difficult to see that line. But that was an unnecessary major procedure being done for no medical reason. And it's a result of systematic misogyny. There is no natural way that a girl is going to decide to have a clitorectomy, any more than a boy would ever decide to cut off his penis.

I think people see the word "circumcision" and think it is equivalent to male circumcision, which it isn't at all. It's incredibly traumatic and even if a qualified doctor does it, there is still a massive risk of scar tissue and damage.

irontoenail
Post 2

@bythewell - I remember watching a TV program a while ago where they had a woman from a culture like that who had moved to the States and wanted to have the procedure done, albeit in a hospital and with proper doctors and surgical equipment.

Unsurprisingly, she wasn't able to find a doctor who would perform clitoridectomies, and she tried to get it done illegally with predictable consequences.

It does make me wonder at what point we draw the line between peoples' ability to decide for themselves what they want done to their bodies.

bythewell
Post 1

This is such a terrible practice. There really isn't anything good that can be said about it. I was living in a country where a large portion of the population thought this was a good idea and the fact that many of the small girls that I taught had had this done to them as toddlers made me feel ill.

Usually I think that people should be allowed to follow their ritualized mutilations (such as stretching earlobes or scarring their faces) as long as they are done in sterile ways and to people old enough to give consent (or at least people who have hit puberty).

But female circumcision is just so harmful in so many ways, I can't see any reason to keep it.

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