August 16, 2004

*Female Circumcision, Part One

Female circumcision is one of those cringe-inducing topics most people assume only happens in religious-extremist cultures. The origins of female circumcision are less clear than male circumcision, but there are a few plausible theories.

One theory is that the female genitalia were purposely disfigured to make the girl or woman less attractive to males. This would help her maintain her purity, of course.

Another theory is that the removed tissue was an offering to the fertility god(s) to ensure the woman would give birth to many children. This was the original purpose of male circumcision, after all.

Abraham--whom you may recognize from Christianity, Islam, or Judaism--has ties to the beginnings of female circumcision. As one Muslim legend has it, around 2000 B.C., God commanded Abraham to cut out his wife Sarah's clitoris. After the circumcision, she finally bore Abraham's child, Isaac.

A different legend has it that Sarah herself circumcised Abraham's mistress, Hagar, in a jealous rage. Supposedly this mutilation began the Egyptian practice of female circumcision.

Most historians agree female circumcision simply emulated the tradition of male circumcision. It was a way to mark the female's sexual maturity. In most practicing cultures, the surgery was part of a ritual to prepare the girl for her first sexual intercourse. Often the hymen would be ruptured at the same time the girl was circumcised, and the blood would be collected. The blood and removed skin were both offered up to the fertility god(s).

Of course, surgery was done without the benefit of anesthetic, so it was excruciatingly painful. Sometimes girls would struggle so forcefully that the operation turned fatal. The removal of the clitoris and labia was more invasive than the removal of a male's foreskin, and girls who didn't bleed to death faced a heightened risk of infection, as well.

Cutting the labia minora caused scar tissue to form and tighten the entrance to the vagina. The fact that this heightened males' sexual pleasure did not go unnoticed, and prostitutes took advantage of surgical mutilation for this reason. The smaller vaginal opening became a problem during childbirth, however, and another operation was needed to accommodate this. Often the woman would then undergo yet another surgery to retighten the vagina after giving birth.

Fun for everyone, eh? I'll have a look at modern female circumcision later this week.

Posted by Jennifer at August 16, 2004 10:30 PM


Owie! Owie! Owie!

Don't even chalk the look later this week up to 'by reader demand'!!!

Posted by: Wind RIder at August 17, 2004 08:43 AM


That's just horrific. The labia too? Oh my word.

Posted by: Jim at August 17, 2004 10:35 AM

Having a teenage daughter, I would submit that the new ritual is belly button piercing...Don't understand that either, but it could explain the new fashion of "low cut" jeans that young women prefer

Posted by: Jeff at August 17, 2004 11:16 AM

If you really want to know more about this than you care to ever know read, Possessing the Secret of Joy, by Alice Walker.

Posted by: Tom at August 17, 2004 02:18 PM