American Circumcision of Males and Females

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Featuring Dr. Dean Edell

Some Historical American Female Circumcision medical papers:

Like its male counterpart, circumcision of females has two histories. First it is a ritual or customary practice among tribal societies (mostly in Africa) and some Islamic communities. Secondly it is a medical intervention, justified by Victorian (and, in the USA, some twentieth century) doctors in exactly the same way as they rationalised circumcision of boys: to deter masturbation, to treat obscure nervous disorders such as hysteria, neurasthenia and epilepsy, and thereby to promote health.


Given the similarities between the male and female genitals, the nature of the surgery and the justifications offered, it is surprising that male and female circumcision enjoy such strikingly different reputations, at least in Anglophone societies: the first, a mild and harmless adjustment which should be tolerated, if not actively promoted; the second, a cruel abomination which must be stopped by law, no matter how culturally significant to its practitioners. If you call circumcision of boys male genital mutilation, you are accused of emotionalism; if you fail to call circumcision of women or girls female genital mutilation you are accused of trivialising the offence. While the United Nations, Amnesty International and other international agencies spend millions on programs to eradicate FGM, they have never uttered a word against circumcision of boys.

It might be thought that the reason for this double standard lies in the greater physical severity of female circumcision, but this is to confuse cause with effect. On the contrary, it is the tolerant or positive attitude towards male circumcision and the rarity of female circumcision in western societies which promote the illusion that the operation is necessarily more sexually disabling, and without benefit to health, when performed on girls or women. It is, of course, also true that the term female circumcision is vague, referring to any one or more of a number of surgical procedures. These have been defined by the World Health Organisation as follows:

Female Genital Mutilation comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of female external genitalia and/or injury to the female genital organs for cultural or any other non-therapeutic reason.


Type 1: Excision of the prepuce with or without excision of part or all of the clitoris

Type 2: Excision of the clitoris together with partial or total excision of the labia minora

Type 3: Excision of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching/narrowing of the vaginal opening (infibulation)

Type 4: Unclassified (but may include):

  • pricking, piercing or incision of the clitoris and/or labia;
  • stretching of the clitoris and/or labia;
  • cauterization by burning of the clitoris and surrounding tissue;
  • introcision;
  • scraping (angurya cuts) or cutting (gishri cuts) of the vagina or surrounding tissue;
  • introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina;
  • any other procedure that falls under the definition of female genital mutilation given above.