Female Circumcision

What is female circumcision?
Female circumcision, also called female genital mutilation, involves removing part of a female’s external genitalia (reproductive organs). It is a cultural practice that began about 2,000 years ago in Africa. Female circumcision continues to be practiced by some tribal African cultures, as well as by some Middle Eastern and Indonesian cultures.

Why is female circumcision done?
In many cases, female circumcision is done as an initiation into womanhood. While the age at which the procedure is done varies with the culture, it generally is performed before the girl reaches puberty. Among the reasons for the procedure are to ensure that a female is a virgin when she gets married and to reduce the female’s ability to experience sexual pleasure, which decreases the chance of extra-marital affairs. Some cultures also believe the clitoris (the small mass of highly sensitive tissue located near the opening of the vagina) is dangerous and must be removed for health reasons.

In many cultures that perform female circumcisions, the procedure is done in conjunction with a rite or ceremony. The procedure often is done by tribal leaders, midwives, or older women in the village, most of whom have no formal training or surgical skill. In many cases, the procedure is done with crude instruments, such as non-sterile knives or scissors, and without any anesthetic.

How is female circumcision done?
There are three main variations to the procedure:

What are the benefits of female circumcision?
Most medical organizations agree that there are no clinical benefits to female circumcision. In fact, the American Medical Association, the World Medical Association, the World Health Organization, and other major health care groups oppose all forms of medically unnecessary surgical modification of female genitalia.

What are the risks of female circumcision?
There are many serious risks associated with female circumcision, including:

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. For additional health information, please contact the Center for Consumer Health Information at the Cleveland Clinic (216) 444-3771 or toll-free (800) 223-2273 extension 43771. If you prefer, you may visit www.clevelandclinic.org/health/ or www.clevelandclinicflorida.org. This document was last reviewed on: 11/1/2001

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