Clitoridectomy or clitorectomy is the surgical removal of the clitoris. It is used rarely as a therapeutic medical procedure, such as when cancer has developed in or spread to the clitoris. Most removals of the clitoris occur as female genital mutilation (FGM), defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as "all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural, religious or other non-therapeutic reasons". This procedure is also ritual practice in certain tribes in Africa.
An estimated 125 million women have had clitoridectomies in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the practice is concentrated. Most of the surgeries are for cultural or religious reasons. FGM is often seen as a rite of passage that makes girls eligible for marriage, and is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and beauty, seen to rid girls of their "unclean" and "male" body parts. Clitoridectomies are performed on intersex newborns to make their genitalia more "understandable".
Cliterodectomies may be performed when there is concern about a person's ability to engage in heterosexual sex that enables reproduction. Anne Fausto-Sterling writes of a woman who had a clitoris large enough to penetrate a vagina, but also had a vagina that could be penetrated by a penis. Fausto-Sterling says this bodily situation is disruptive to current norms about sex that exist because of the pervasiveness of heteronormativity, and says surgeons are preocuppied with the ability to bear children after surgery.
In intersex infants
Suzanne Kesler write in Lessons from the intersexed that clitoridectomies are performed on clitorises that are classified as larger than typical, and may be seen as ridding potential normative females of embarrassing phallic structures. The procedure is also condoned by the parents of intersex infants who exhibit grave concern for the ambiguity of their child's genitalia. The procedure is also necessary because a large clitoris challenges the normative female aesthetic because it is "imperfect and ugly".
Another aspect of the normative clitoris is aesthetic. A lack of ambiguity of genitalia is seen as necessary in the assignment of a sex to infants. The idea of ambiguity is shifting, however, since what one sees as ambiguous varies from person to person.
In order for a penis to be considered normal, it had to pass two tests of adequacy. First, if it would allow the boy to be able to pee standing up and feel "normal" and second, the adult man's penis would be large enough for vaginal penetration, which normalizes a heterosexual experience. According to one study of 100 newborn boys, penis size ranged from 2.9 to 4.5 cm. Patricia Donahoe expresses concern about penises 2.0 cm long and says that one less than 1.5 cm long and 0.7 cm wide would result in a female gender assignment. However, many doctors offer advice to parents based on their general observations of the newborn's genitals.
Redirecting female sexual behavior
Sarah Rodriguez, writing in Female circumcision and clitoridectomy in the United States, says the history of medical textbooks has indirectly created accepted ideas about the female body. Furthermore, medical and gynecological textbooks are also at fault in the way that the clitoris is described in comparison to a male's penis. In fact, the importance and originality of a female's clitoris is underscored through these contrasting descriptions: "This equation can be seen as a representation of the clitoris as a less significant organ, since anatomy texts compared the penis and the clitoris in only one direction". She says a male's penis created the framework of the sexual organ, which has been considered analogous, to a female's clitoris.
Rodriguez posits that American society has included a male's sexual organ into the understanding of a female's clitoris in the rising notion of the vaginal sex model. Along with understanding the functionality of a clitoris comes with considering a female's sexual response to clitoral stimulation. Contrary to popular belief, most women have stated that they reach orgasm through direct stimulation of the clitoris. However, penetrative sex, also known as the 'male heterosexual response' is considered as normative and thus has created an expectation of how women should act sexually. Rodriguez says that the idea in Americans that a vaginal orgasm was mature and healthy while a clitoral orgasm was not forced a view to not identify the clitoris as a sexual organ. As a result of the confusion regarding whether a healthy female orgasm was clitoral or vaginal, physicians provides surgical procedures such as clitoridectomy.
Four types of female genital mutilation have been identified by the World Health Organization, including Type 1, the clitoridectomy, which involves "partial or total removal of the clitoris and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris)".
In the clitoral reduction for intersex newborns, the surgeon cuts the shaft of the elongated phallus and sews the glans and preserved nerves back onto the stump. In a less common surgery called clitoral recession, the surgeon hides the clitoral shaft under a fold of skin so only the glans remains visible.
One aspect of a normative clitoris is size. In a study in the American Journal of Perinatology, the clitoral length of eighty-two infants was found to range from 0.2 to 0.85 centimeters, and the width of the clitorises ranged from 0.2 to 0.6 centimeters. In another study, the clitorises of infants that were surgically reduced ranged from 1.5 centimeters to 3.5 centimeters before surgery. It is common to use food terminology such as "pea" or "small bean" to discuss normative sizes of clitorises.
Society and culture
According to Kessler, the procedure illuminates the dual construction of gender: the social construction of gender and the surgical construction of gender. The binary of male and female is constructed socially, as well as in a corporeal sense based on the genitalia that is surgically produced.
There was a 2014 controversy over clitoridectomy on young women athletes as part of a "package" of surgery proposed when they are diagnosed with hyperandrogenism. A policy was introduced by the International Olympic Committee that regulated hyperandrogenism in female athletes, requiring medical investigation of women athletes who were alleged to have hyperandrogenism. Under this policy, four young athletes from developing countries had gonadectomy and partial clitoridectomy after they were identified hyperandrogenic. This policy strongly identifies what it means to be a “normal” woman. It implies that if a woman is “too” good at her sport, it must be because of the male hormone, testosterone, in her body.
Curbing female masturbation
Clitoridectomy was once used to curb female masturbation. Gynaecologists in 19th-century Europe and the United States removed the clitoris to treat insanity and masturbation. The first reported clitoridectomy in the West was carried out in 1822 by a surgeon in Berlin, Graefe, on a teenage girl regarded as an "imbecile" who was masturbating frequently.
Isaac Baker Brown (1812–1873), an English gynaecologist who was president of the Medical Society of London in 1865, believed that the "unnatural irritation" of the clitoris caused epilepsy, hysteria, and mania, and he worked "to remove [it] whenever he had the opportunity of doing so", according to his obituary in the Medical Times and Gazette. Peter Lewis Allen writes that Brown's views caused outrage, and he died penniless after being expelled from the Obstetrical Society.
In the West
During the nineteenth century in the West, female circumicism was done for psycho-sexual reasons. According to Victorian medicine, women were vulnerable to emotional disorders and mental diseases due to the nature of their reproductive organs. Their organs, particularly the clitoris was to be tempered. According to the medical theory if exciting the clitoris caused insanity, its removal would cure the neurosis". It was then that the surgical treatment called clitoridectomy was adopted. The application of clitoridectomy continues to exist in Western medicine, but is no longer used to cure female psycho-sexual disorders.
- "New study shows female genital mutilation exposes women and babies to significant risk at childbirth" (Press release). World Health Organization. 2006-06-02.
- "Female genital mutilation". World Health Organization. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
- Fausto-Sterling, Anne (2000). Sexing the body : gender politics and the construction of sexuality (1. ed., [Nachdr.] ed.). New York, NY: Basic Books. p. 48. ISBN 0-465-07714-5.
- Kessler, Suzanne J. (2000). Lessons from the intersexed (2. Paperback printing. ed.). New Brunswick, NJ [u.a.]: Rutgers Univ. Press. p. 43. ISBN 0813525292.
- Rodriguez, Sarah (2014). Female Circumcision and Clitoridectomy in the United States: A History of Medical Treatment. University of Rochester Press.
- Jordan-Young, Rebecca; Sonksen, P; Karkazi, K (28 April 2014). "Sex, Health, and Athletes". BMJ 348: g2926. PMID 24776640.
- Duffy, John (October 19, 1963). "Masturbation and Clitoridectomy: A Nineteenth-Century View". JAMA 186 (3): 246–248. doi:10.1001/jama.1963.63710030028012. PMID 14057114.
- Rodriguez Sarah W (Jul 2008). "Rethinking the history of female circumcision and clitoridectomy: American medicine and female sexuality in the late nineteenth century". Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 63 (3): 323–47. doi:10.1093/jhmas/jrm044. PMID 18065832.
- Elchalal U, Ben-Ami B, Gillis R, Brzezinski A (October 1997). "Ritualistic female genital mutilation: current status and future outlook" 52. pp. 643–51. PMID 9326757.
- Allen, Peter Lewis. The Wages of Sin: Sex and Disease, Past and Present. University of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 106.
- For the obituary, see J.F.C. "Isaac Baker Brown, F.R.C.S.", Medical Times and Gazette, 8 February 1873.
- Also see Brown, Isaac Baker. On the Curability of Certain Forms of Insanity, Epilepsy, Catalepsy, and Hysteria in Females. Robert Hardwicke, 1866.
- Atoki, M (1995). "Should Female Circumcision Continue to be Banned". Feminist Legal Studies 3.