Clitoridectomy or clitorectomy is the surgical removal, reduction, or partial removal of the clitoris. It is rarely used as a therapeutic medical procedure, such as when cancer has developed in or spread to the clitoris. It is often performed on intersex newborns. Commonly, non-medical removal of the clitoris is performed during female genital mutilation (FGM).
A clitoridectomy is often done to remove malignancy or necrosis of the clitoris. This is sometimes done along with a radical complete vulvectomy. Surgery may also become necessary due to therapeutic radiation treatments to the pelvic area.
Intersex infants and other issues
Female infants born with a 46,XX genotype but have genitalia affected by congenital adrenal hyperplasia and are treated surgically with vaginoplasty that often reduces the size of the clitoris without its total removal. The atypical size of the clitoris is due to an endocrine imbalance in utero. This treatment raises human rights concerns, see below. Other reasons for the surgery include issues involving a microphallus and those who have Mayer-Rokitansky-Kustner disorder. Removal of the clitoris may be due to malignancy or trauma.
Clitoridectomy surgical techniques are used to remove an invasive malignancy that extends to the clitoris. Standard surgical procedures are followed in these cases. This includes evaluation and biopsy. Other factors that will affect the technique selected are age, other existing medical conditions, and obesity. Other considerations are the probability of extended hospital care and the development of infection at the surgical site. The surgery proceeds with the use of general anesthesia, and prior to the vulvectomy/clitoridectomy an inguinal lymphyadenectomy is first done. The extent of the surgical site extends one to two centimeters beyond the boundaries of malignancy. Superficial lymph nodes may also need to be removed. If the malignancy is present in muscular tissue in the region, it is also removed. In some cases, the surgeon is able to preserve the clitoris though the malignancy may be extensive. The cancerous tissue is removed and the incision is closed.
Post operative care may employ the use of suction drainage to allow the deeper tissues to heal toward the surface. Follow up after surgery includes the stripping of the drainage device to prevent blockage. A typical hospital stay can be up to two weeks. The site of the surgery is left unbandaged to allow for frequent examination. Complications can be the development of lymphedema though not removing the saphenous vein during the surgery will help prevent this. In some instances, foot elevation, diuretic medication and compression stockings can reduce the build up of fluid.
In a clitoridectomy for intersex infants, the clitoris is often reduced instead of removed. 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.
In the 19th century, a clitoridectomy was thought to curb female masturbation. Isaac Baker Brown (1812–1873), an English gynaecologist who was president of the Medical Society of London 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.
For a time female circumcision was done as a cure for insanity. Some practitioners of medicine in the Victorian era believed that mental and emotional disorders were related to female reproductive organs. Some thought that removing the clitoris would cure the neurosis. This treatment was discontinued in 1867.
Aesthetics may determine clitoral norms. A lack of ambiguity of the genitalia is seen as necessary in the assignment of a sex to infants and therefore whether a child's genitalia is normal, but what is ambiguous or normal can vary from person to person.
Sexual behavior is another reason for clitoridectomies. Author Sarah Rodriguez stated that the history of medical textbooks has indirectly created accepted ideas about the female body. Medical and gynecological textbooks are also at fault in the way that the clitoris is described in comparison to a male's penis. The importance and originality of a female's clitoris is underscored because it is seen as "a less significant organ, since anatomy texts compared the penis and the clitoris in only one direction." Rodriguez said that a male's penis created the framework of the sexual organ.
Human rights concerns
Clitoridectomies are the most common form of female genital mutilation. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that clitordectomies have been performed on 200 million girls and women that are currently alive. The regions that most clitodectomies take place are Asia, the Middle East and west, north and east Africa. The practice also exists in migrants originating from these regions. Most of the surgeries are for cultural or religious reasons.
Clitoridectomy of women with intersex conditions is controversial when it takes place during childhood or under duress. Intersex women exposed to such treatment have spoken of their loss of physical sensation, and loss of autonomy. In recent years, multiple human rights institutions have criticized early surgical management of such characteristics.
In 2013, it was disclosed in a medical journal that four unnamed elite female athletes from developing countries were subjected to gonadectomies and partial clitoridectomies after testosterone testing revealed that they had an intersex condition. In April 2016, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on health, Dainius Pūras, condemned this treatment as a form of female genital mutilation "in the absence of symptoms or health issues warranting those procedures."
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- Also see Brown, Isaac Baker. On the Curability of Certain Forms of Insanity, Epilepsy, Catalepsy, and Hysteria in Females. Robert Hardwicke, 1866.
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- Pūras, Dainius; Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (April 4, 2016), Sport and healthy lifestyles and the right to health. Report A/HRC/32/33, United Nations