Infibulation is a procedure that involves closing or obstructing the genitals as a means to preventing sexual intercourse. Female infibulation involves removal of the clitoris, along with part or all of the labia minora. This is followed by stitching or narrowing the vaginal opening, leaving a small opening large enough to allow the flow of urine and menstruation. Male infibulation involves pulling the foreskin of the penis over the glans and fastening the prepuce, making an erection very painful or impossible. Female and male infibulation are also referred to, respectively, as female genital mutilation (FGM) and male genital infibulation (MGM).
Male infibulation originated in ancient Greece and Rome as a way to control sexual behavior among the slaves and protect them from getting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It was also done to preserve chastity among gladiators and athletes, who were thought to perform better when chaste. The Greeks also believed that infibulation would keep the voices of young singers from changing when they reached puberty. Today, MGM is a popular form of body piercing among young men, and it is said to enhance sexual performance rather than inhibit it.
Female infibulation is believed to have originated in southern Arabia; it then spread to Africa, where it is still practiced primarily on young girls once they reach puberty. The purpose is to reduce sexual desire, ensure that a young woman remains a virgin until marriage and increase sexual pleasure for the future husband. The experience of many women who undergo the procedure, however, involves painful or difficult intercourse. In some cases, the husband or one of his female relatives will enlarge the vaginal opening using a small knife to allow intercourse. Reinfibulation is also done each time the wife gives birth to a child.
In some African communities, FGM is a religious practice. In others, female genitalia is considered ugly or offensive, and removing external genitalia is believed to make a woman more hygienic and aesthetically pleasing. FGM is also believed to increase fertility. A woman who has been "circumcised" is considered more marriageable and more culturally and socially acceptable. Uncircumcised women are shunned, called derogatory names and denied access to certain positions and roles that "adult" women can occupy.
There is currently a global effort underway to bring an end to the practice of female infibulation because it is said to violate basic human rights of women. Young girls are often unsuspecting and unwilling participants. The procedure is done in unsanitary conditions and often compromises the health of these young women. Many have bled to death due to hemorrhaging, experienced post-operative shock and suffered from painful menstruation and infections. Those who survive FGM are often left with psychological scars that may never heal.