Female Genital Mutilation: anything to keep a man

On a visit to Djibouti (Horn of Africa) in 1965, I came upon a report on female genital mutilation prepared by a French doctor attached to the Foreign Legion. It described the hideous practices perpetrated on young Somali girls by their female relatives.

90% young girls face FGM in Northern Sudan

It recorded how the child aged between 6-12 years old would be held down by her mother and aunts while the gede (grandmother) sliced off the head of her clitoris with a knife, or a often just a rusty razor. Infibulation was also frequently performed when the labia were cut and the edges sewn together with thorns. The unfortunate’s legs were then bound until the raw labia fused leaving only the tiniest aperture for menstruation and eventual penetration on her wedding night.

Few men were capable of taking a girl thus excised and it was necessary to cut her genitalia open for intercourse. Next day according to local custom, the man would parade through his village displaying his bloodied knife— to show everyone he had taken possession of his wife. The badly scarred woman could not give birth normally requiring surgical incision and re-stitching which had to be repeated with each subsequent birth.

Aisha the beautiful servant-girl where I stayed was terrified of the practice as indeed were a majority of girls facing this heinous custom to provide greater pleasure for the man, but my article (translated from the French) and offered to several London media outlets was considered too graphic for publication.

While female genital mutilation is now officially condemned by the UN, the practice continues even in hygenic western surgeries. But it is a wicked practice and women such as the US educated Miss Ahmadu trumpeting her enthusiasm (on  SBS  Insight of 19th February) after undergoing the procedure in Sierra Leone, does the cause to condemn FGM a huge disservice.

Representation of a Pharaonic  circumcision Egypt

As for the Victorian woman gynaecologist on the programme saying that boy babies are circumcised — “what’s the difference ” — well this is simply ignorance since it is clinically proven that a penis with the drooping foreskin is a potential carrier of several STD’s as well as AIDS.

In London recently I put the validity of male circumcision to a sexual diseases specialist at St Georges Hospital who said there was no question about it. He emphasised that all sensible parents should circumcise a baby boy as soon as possible after birth when the procedure involves nothing more than a little snip (which having witnessed several circumcisions as a nurse, I can vouch is correct).

I’m pleased that Miss Ahmadu enjoyed her experience, but it would be interesting to seek the view of the famous Australian gynaecologist — 84 year old Dr Catherine Hamlin— whose Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia is filled with women who have suffered appalling childbirth trauma often resulting from sexual mutilation practices perpetuated by women on women to ensure their husband does not seek sexual satisfaction with another.

And finally to compare the current trend for labiaplasty with FGM is nonsense.A woman seeking genital reconstruction is making her own decision which in most cases stems from vanity and an equal desire to please her partner who is the only one who sees  “down there”.


Labiaplasty showing before and after reconstructive surgery


About Travels with My Hat

Australian photojournalist and author. Used London as a base for nearly forty years while freelancing in the Middle East, Arabian peninsular, Africa and South Asia. Have written and illustrated more than a dozen books and travel guides. Operates a well regarded religious images stock photo library: www.worldreligions.co.uk. Live in Leura in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney.
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37 Responses to Female Genital Mutilation: anything to keep a man

  1. I had the impression from the 2 women on the panel that their experience was done in superior conditions, unlike more remotely situated women/girls, and perhaps having a higher income allows this. I would have liked to hear what a woman from a low/no income family had to say. There was too much emphasis on ‘culture’ re FGM whereas the reference to being ‘tight’ summed it up neatly: it’s all for the man.
    As for labiaplasty, as you say, it’s simply vanity, unless it has become uncomfortable eg due to childbirth.

  2. CO says:

    Yours is a very good point about the different conditions a girl from a well-to-do family might experience compared to those of child from a poor family in the bush. And you can be sure the latter FGM is still carried out in conditions little changed from 50 years ago in Djibouti…

    Yes, there was an emphasis on culture because the practice is very much a cultural tradition as opposed to a religious requirement. The Imam who was invited to the debate backed this up although it is curious that the majority of countries where FGM is a custom do happens to be Muslim majority states eg. Somalia, North Sudan, Egypt, Nigeria and speakers also mentioned Indonesia although I personally have not heard of it being performed there.

    And you are right about it being primarily to tighten up the female aperture since this is fundamentally what FGM is done for —to provide pleasure for the man (although I cannot imagine how he can get satisfaction from the pain he must inflict on his bride/wife).

    Fear of losing her husband after she becomes slack following many births, is also common among the Bedouin nomads. There used to be a terrible practice in the UAE known as “salt packing” when poor uneducated women would pack their vaginas with salt so that their labia would seal together and provide a smaller opening for the penis. On a visit to Dubai in 1975, I saw two Bedu women lying in hospital with electric fans blowing on their genitalia in an attempt to help cool the searing pain.

    Finally and I’m afraid this will sound crude, but many men — and not only those of Muslim persuasion — prefer anal intercourse because of the tight rear aperture. I am informed that this is a popular method in Brazil and it would be interesting to know how many wives of any nationality or religion, allow their husbands to penetrate them anally. It being a different situation in sexually restrictive societies — notably Islamic — where anal intercourse is almost the “norm” in order to preserve the women’s hymen until sex is officially sanctioned by marriage.

    Thank you.

  3. FGM , as with most things, income will definitely have an impact on how it is handled and the young girl or woman is treated. What a horrible practice for the pleasure of man. I enjoyed the article and the above responses.

  4. CO says:

    Thank you Diane. I appreciated your feedback as this ritual, perpetuated by women on women, for the male, is as sad as it is horrific. It should not be
    waved away as a cultural practice–as if to say it should be accepted as such.
    God alone knows how girls from poor bush communities must suffer. Education, education, education.

  5. Linda George says:

    I work closely with women and men from cultures that Practice FGM. Women tell their stories and the suffering they endured at the time of the practice, and later the ongoing problems in their relationships, as well as pregnancies, delivery and throughout the rest of their lives. However, men whom we have worked with, have also emphasised that they are not happy with the practice. The idea that men enjoy sex more with a circumcised woman is not quite accurate. The men have said that their sexual relationship has been affected by the trauma and pain the wife has endured from the procedure, and has led to less sex and less intimacy, between couples, which has led to divorce or problems in marriages.
    If FGM does not affect the sexuality of woman, as the Miss Ahmadu trumpeting, then why is it being practiced. Why do anything to that part of the body if it does not affect women’s sexuality. The majority of women have been affected by FGM in a very negative and harmful way. For those who have not, they do not speak for the majority.
    To cut off any viable and healthy organ of the human body is mutilation. To interfere with a persons sexual organs to curb their sexual pleasure, while trying to enhance the pleasure of another, is a crime.
    FGM is done for many reasons. It is a form of control, violation of the human rights of a women to have a whole and healthy body. It is a form of torture and violence agains a girl child or woman.

  6. CO says:

    I was so pleased to read your comment Linda. I hope others will also read it. This is the truth about FGM and I remain irritated by Miss Ahmadu’s remarks about her experience which were astonishing as well as hugely misleading. The educated world must do all it can to inform women who continue to practice the custom in developing countries that it is wrong, wrong, wrong. And there you have it as per your post: a normal man does not enjoy sex in the knowledge he is inflicting pain. Those who do are no less than depraved. Thank you.

  7. Dr. James S. Layer says:

    While I agree that female genital mutation is a horrific practice in itself, I was disheartened to read some rather disturbing untruths being disseminated from your article. First, your assertion that male circumcision is necessary to reduce the chances of the spread of HIV/AIDS is not only ignorant but reprehensible. There are no known credible studies that show a correlation between the spread of HIV/AIDS between circumcised and uncircumcised males, and in fact in 2013 it is universally known that HIV transmission occurs through the contact of infected bodily fluids (semen, blood, etc., with the exception of saliva and sweat). Additionally, with modern conveniences such as running water and soap, most people take showers regularly, if not daily, eliminating the accumulation of smegma or other hygienic issues which eliminates the need for male circumcision. In fact, there is no correlation between having foreskin and higher STD transmission rates. The only countries that practice widespread male circumcision are predominantly Jewish countries or the United States. With the advance of modern science, we now know that is an equally outdated and horrific practice of mutilation that should be outlawed if performed on children of either gender and should only be left as an option for consenting adults or unless there is some strong unforeseen medical justification. Thank you.

    • Thanks for your comment on male circumcision. I was advised by a leading UK doctor who specialises in sexually transmitted diseases
      that circumcision was definitely recommended to protect men from STDs including AIDS.

    • Dr. Carl Castles says:

      According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Male circumcision reduces the risk that a man will acquire HIV from an infected female partner, and also lowers the risk of other STDs , peniIe cancer, and infant urinary tract infection. Several types of research have documented that male circumcision significantly reduces the risk of men contracting HIV through penile-vaginal sex.” On the other hand, it is true that there have been no peer-reviewed studies that show that circumcision is effective in reducing HIV transmission during anal intercourse. Some people may choose not to be believe the science, but why would the US government have a vested interest in lying about the positive benefits of male circumcision? I guess I’m not a good enough conspiracy theorist to come up with a reason, so I’ll just go with the science.

  8. Alex Johnson says:

    I was reading some online news this morning regarding FGM, and one webpage leading to another, I ended up here at your blog. As a man, I find your comments about male circumcision to be extremely offensive. Here you are touting how horrible it is for Females to have their genitalia mutilated and yet its ok for it to be done to baby boys. HYPOCRITE!!!!! Just as I believe that I should have no say (being a man) as to what you can or can’t do to your own bodies (the right to an abortion), I had the right (as a man) to not be mutilated after birth – a right which was taken away from me because of decades of misinformation about circumcision. And I’m not trying to compare what is done for circumcision to what is done for FGM. They are not even close to being the same degreee – but the basic fact is – someone else took away a basic right of mine not to be mutilated. If I was given the option as a grown man, or even as a post-pubescent teenage to be circumcised for the so-called health benefits, I would have declined. But this is all moot now for me, isnt it? I thank those of you who have already commented about male circumcision. Oh and tell your UK sexual disease doctor friend, that opinions are like a**holes, everyone has one and most of them stink.

    • Strange isn’t it, that more than half the world’s male population are circumcised.

      • Circumcised Male says:

        What is wrong with you that you so flippantly brush off the views of men circumcised without consent as minors? You show a complete lack of empathy.

        There is something very weird about westerners who point a outraged finger at the African and Muslim cultures that subject their female children to genital cutting, while ignoring the subjection of male children to genital cutting that goes on in their own backyards. Clearly hypocritical, but what actually drives this behavior? I honestly can’t figure it out.

        Adults slicing children’s genitalia, regardless of gender, is absolutely bloody criminal – end of story.

      • Mark Lyndon says:

        I think everyone, male or female, should be able to decide for themselves whether or not they have erogenous tissue cut off their genitals. Only about 30% of the world’s men are circumcised.

  9. Stephen says:

    I am disgusted that you should think that male non consensual circumcision is OK. The fact is that in the USA it is a huge money maker for doctors who of course promote it as healthy. Evolution discards that which serves no purpose normally, so if havig no foreskin were a selective advantage, then foreskins would have diminished in size and even disappeared over time. Male circumcision is only ever OK if it’s done for genuine medical reasons such as phimosis.

  10. Most people won’t be familiar with phimosis which is when the foreskin is sealed over the glans.

    I agree you have a point about evolution and foreskins: perhaps it is still too soon for this to have become apparent.

    And again I say how come more than half the world’s male population are circumcised.

    Thank you.

    • Mark Lyndon says:

      I think most people have heard of phimosis. It’s quite rare though beyond puberty, and can usually be treated without surgery.
      According to WHO estimates, only about 30% of the world’s male population are circumcised.

  11. Mark Lyndon says:

    “He emphasised that all sensible parents should circumcise a baby boy as soon as possible after birth”

    This doctor’s views are very much at odds with these national medical organizations:

    Canadian Paediatric Society
    “Recommendation: Circumcision of newborns should not be routinely performed.”

    “Circumcision is a ‘non-therapeutic’ procedure, which means it is not medically necessary.”
    “After reviewing the scientific evidence for and against circumcision, the CPS does not recommend routine circumcision for newborn boys. Many paediatricians no longer perform circumcisions.”

    Royal Australasian College of Physicians
    “After reviewing the currently available evidence, the RACP believes that the frequency of diseases modifiable by circumcision, the level of protection offered by circumcision and the complication rates of circumcision do not warrant routine infant circumcision in Australia and New Zealand.”
    (almost all the men responsible for this statement will be circumcised themselves, as the male circumcision rate in Australia in 1950 was about 90%. “Routine” circumcision is now *banned* in public hospitals in Australia.)

  12. C.O, says:

    To say that male circumcision is comparable with female genital mutilation is rubbish.

    • Mark Lyndon says:

      The worst forms of female genital cutting are unquestionably worse than the usual form of western male circumcision, but the worst forms of male circumcision are also far worse than the lesser forms of female cutting. Over 100 males died of circumcision in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa last year, and there were at least two penile amputations and one castration.

      This site shows gruesome photos of the results: http://ulwaluko.co.za/

      Compare that with this:

      Why would the procedure in that link be illegal in most western countries, yet this is legal:

      US doctors who were promoting female circumcision till the 1960’s routinely compared it to male circumcision eg
      Circumcision of the Female
      C.F. McDonald, M.D. – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
      GP, Vol. XVIII No. 3, p. 98-99, September, 1958
      (“If the male needs circumcision for cleanliness and hygiene, why not the female?”)

      More recently, the AAP’s Bioethics committee changed its policy on female cutting in 2010 saying “It might be more effective if federal and state laws enabled pediatricians to reach out to families by offering a ritual [clitoral] nick as a possible compromise to avoid greater harm.”
      They were forced to retract this about six weeks later:
      Dr Diekema, the chair of the committee said “We’re talking about something far less extensive than the removal of foreskin in a male”.

  13. http://linkis.com/www.aljazeera.com/ne/lOSmI

    GAMBIA joins 20 African countries who have banned female genital mutilation.

  14. Zeinab says:

    Firstly, I think it is better to avoid the use of judgemental terms such as ‘mutilation’ to describe a procedure that many women who have undergone the procedure do not consider harmful or disabling.

    Secondly, there are millions of circumcised women and girls who are very grateful for the tradition. They (we) find the actual procedure an emotionally intense rite of passage, binding us to generations of other women. And we find the impact on our sexuality and self image very positive.

    I was circumcised aged 13 so can easily remember how I looked ‘down there’ before being circumcised, and I think what’s there now is a lot more feminine and more elegant. The clitoris is like a small penis, very unwomanly. I am glad it is gone. The labia are ugly and can harbor bacteria and odor, so I am pleased they were cut away. And I remember becoming addicted to masturbation and ashamed of my weakness. Had I not been circumcised, I’m sure I would have progressed to being promiscuous with boys and men and would not have had the energy and focus to complete my studies and become a doctor.

    So you see, female circumcision is not the oppression you believe it is. To many of us it is a positive experience shared by women, that makes us strong.

    • CO says:

      The term “Female Genital Mutilation” or FGM is not mine. It is widely used when discussing the subject of female circumcision and in many cases, the even more drastic practise of infibulation.

      I am glad you are pleased with having had it performed, but I feel were many circumcised women/girls to see your comments, they might not only disagree with you, but they may also be a little shocked.

      And for confirmation of the terrible side effects of this heinous tradition, you might check with the Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia.

      This said, thank you for taking the time to express your feelings.

      • Zeinab says:

        Your mention of fistula leads me to believe you’re thinking of infibulation, which can cause this unfortunate condition, rather than circumcision, which can’t.

        For girls and women, circumcision is the removal of part or all of the clitoris and inner labia. This procedure does not cause fistula or problems with childbirth. It is a simple procedure with medical, moral and aesthetic benefits, that enjoys widespread support among women in Africa and elsewhere.

        In contrast infibulation is inherently harmful because it leads to the retention of bodily fluids, causes huge problems with delivery and can also lead to fistula.

        Western feminists wrongly associate the two customs to try to deprive women of colour of the right to enjoy our traditions. But they are not the same. I don’t object to them campaigning against infibulation, but I don’t think it’s acceptable for them to oppose circumcision/clitoridectomy, especially when they use the arguments against infibulation where they’re not applicable

    • Jules says:

      I agree that for a young girl undergoing circumcision it is without doubt as you say, ’emotionally intense’. FGM is indeed mutilation of the female body.

      The clitoris is not simply the small external nub but a larger internal part of the female body equivalent to the size of a male penis. “The clitoris … is no “little hill” as its derivation from the Greek kleitoris implies. Instead, it extends deep into the body, with a total size at least twice as large as most anatomy texts show, and tens of times larger than the average person realises, according to new studies by Helen O’Connell, a urology surgeon at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Melbourne.” (New Scientist, 1 August 1998).

      As I read your third paragraph I wondered if perhaps you were trying to feel better about having your clit lopped off and ‘ugly’ labia trimmed – many young people want to feel part of a group and I suspect you had no say in whether you underwent the procedure or not. The consolation of numbers? As for hygiene, I suggest that if your labia emited odor perhaps you needed to wash more frequently.

  15. Here is a new report from WHO on the long term affects of FGM.

    Read it and be aware.


  16. Denise Gerrard says:

    I can’t find the words to express my utter despair of this disgusting pratice .all for men who are so weak and insecure in their own sexuality . Everywhere in this world men are wanting to control our sexuality . Any woman who says she enjoys the fact Shes circumcised is brainwashed and in denial

    • Mark Lyndon says:

      1) it’s usually women who promote, defend, and perform female genital cutting though.


      “Over 500 Maasai women protest FGM ban”
      “They matched for 15km from Enkorika to Sajilioni singing pro-FGM songs, saying circumcision of girls is their culture and they are not ready to abandon it. “We cannot afford to abandon our rich culture. The Government should allow as to continue with it,” said Naomi Naserian, 67.”


      “More than 2500 Maasai women gathered in Kajiado to demand from the government the right to be allowed to practice Female Genital Mutilation (FGM.) In the rare assembly, the women asked the county commissioner to allow them to continue with the practice that is outlawed in the country arguing that it constitutes a vital part of the Maasai culture.”

      2) there are several studies showing that women enjoy sex after FGC, even after the most extreme forms.

      Pleasure and Orgasm in Women with Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) published in Journal of Sexual Medicine, Vol. 4, Issue 6, pp. 1666-78 (Oct. 23, 2007).


      From the Hastings Center report “Seven Things to Know about Female Genital Surgeries in Africa”:

      “Western media coverage of female genital modifications in Africa has been hyperbolic and onesided, presenting them uniformly as mutilation and ignoring the cultural complexities that underlie these practices. Even if we ultimately decide that female genital modifications should be abandoned, the debate around them should be grounded in a better account of the facts.”

      1. Research by gynecologists and others has demonstrated that a high percentage of women who have had genital surgery have rich sexual lives, including desire, arousal, orgasm, and satisfaction, and their frequency of sexual activity is not reduced.

      2. The widely publicized and sensationalized reproductive health and medical complications associated with female genital surgeries in Africa are infrequent events and represent the exception rather than the rule.

      3. Female genital surgeries in Africa are viewed by many insiders as aesthetic enhancements of the body and are not judged to be “mutilations.”

      4. Customary genital surgeries are not restricted to females. In almost all societies where there are customary female genital surgeries, there are also customary male genital surgeries, at similar ages and for parallel reasons. In other words, there are few societies in the world, if any, in which female but not male genital surgeries are customary.

      5. The empirical association between patriarchy and genital surgeries is not well established.

      6. Female genital surgery in Africa is typically controlled and managed by women.

      7. The findings of the WHO Study Group on Female Genital Mutilation and Obstetric Outcome is the subject of criticism that has not been adequately publicized. The reported evidence does not support sensational media claims about female genital surgery as a cause of perinatal and maternal mortality during birth.

    • CO says:

      Hello Denise

      Thanks for yr contribution.

      I was so pleased last week to read that the President of Somalia, where multiple FGM’s have been performed, has signed a local Somali women’s petition to ban this horrendous practice.

  17. CO says:

    This is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali born American writer and ex-Muslim speaking at Q&A during the Sydney writer’s festival:

    Subjected to female genital mutilation as a child, she urges people not to be “squeamish” about criticising those practices {FGM}.

    “This is what is happening to Muslim women,” she said. “If you have young girls who are subjected to forced marriage, it is not a marriage, it’s an arranged rape. It is a forced rape and I wish we were not squeamish about it. We were not squeamish about slavery, we were not squeamish about eradicating apartheid, and I wish that is one thing we would not be squeamish about.”

    Ali’s latest book, Heretic, argues for the reformation of Islam.

  18. Simon Pope says:

    Like several others I am shocked at the hypocrisy shown when it comes to genital mutilation of male children by those so opposed to that on girls.

    CO wrote: “To say that male circumcision is comparable with female genital mutilation is rubbish.
    ” and then in a following comment quoted Ayaan Hirsi Ali on female circumcision. The writer is obviously unaware that Ayaan Hirsi rightly considers male circumcision in most cases to be worse than female as considerably more sensitive tissue is removed:


  19. CO says:


    This is a very, very long article. Perhaps the Muslim ladies who attended the conference can explain why more and more African nations are joining western governments in banning FGM in any form. Nigeria being the most recent to declare it illegal.

  20. Jim says:

    I believe if consensual female circumcision [in any form], & is what a woman over age 18 wants; that it should be allowed & legal! Read many true stories where woman & her husband Wanted done. They were both happy w/ results, It’s her body & should be able to reconstruct or eliminate her ‘private parts’ as she wishes. Have seen actual photos of women had been done. All of them were very beautiful, & unique! We are all individuals w/ diff ideas, tastes, wants & needs. WE should never judge others of their legal choices.

  21. Truth be told says:

    All circumcision is approved by doctors who are sadist both modern and bush the whole point is to rob human sexual desire that stems from foolish ancient practices to make belief religious ritual in the name of obedience , then it becomes a money maker through selling sex pills and gadgets to boost your sensation because the skin covering the sensitive parts was all sliced and robbed the victim very vital senses, when it’s time for action !

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