A blog post published last week, found here, explores an unintended consequence of female genital mutilation: the significantly increased risk of complications, death, and infant mortality during childbirth after undergoing female genital mutilation. While it’s been reasonably well known in the western world that FGM carries with it serious physical dangers, there’s another consequence of the practice that’s very much intended, and that’s the lessened ability of women to experience sexual pleasure after FGM.
A primary goal of FGM is respectability by means of sexual oppression. Because sexuality is such a taboo subject in regions where FGM is prevalent, and women’s sexuality even more so, to take away a woman’s sexual desire and her ability to experience pleasure is seen as a way of protecting her honor and reputation. This intact reputation is what makes her desirable to a husband, allowing her to lead a comfortable adult life, justifying the continuation of the practice.
A survey conducted at an obstetrics and gynecology clinic in King Abdulaziz University Hospital suggests that FGM may not be as effective at curbing women’s sexuality as it had been thought to be. Of the women polled at the clinic, half had experienced FGM and half had not, and it was found that women who had undergone FGM were no more likely to experience pain during sex or a lessened desire for sex. However, they were less likely to experience arousal, natural lubrication, and orgasm during sex. The study was published in The Guardian by two Saudi Arabian doctors looking to change the practice of FGM from inside the cultural sphere, in the hopes of accomplishing more than outsiders could.
Though FGM may not always accomplish it’s goal of curbing women’s sexual desire, it cannot be ignored that they have greater difficulty becoming aroused and achieving orgasm. Women subjected to FGM are being denied their right to their own sexuality and the message is clear nonetheless that they do not have ownership of their bodies.
Additionally, the survey conducted by the Saudi doctors is not representative of the experience of all women who have undergone FGM. Many women do endure pain during sex as a result of FGM, despite not being statistically more likely to. Despite the possibility of sex being agonizing for these women, they are still expected to have sex with their husbands in order to be dutiful wives. Time and time again, from the time they are cut as girls to the time they are obligated to have sex with their husbands as women, women’s agency over their bodies and their sexuality is taken away from them. In this regard, FGM accomplishes exactly what it sets out to: it takes away control.
Naturally, the impact of FGM on a woman’s sexual desire will vary immensely from woman to woman. Though surveys have found that many women are still able to experience orgasm, many women find that not only is sex not pleasurable, but it’s painful. Several Egyptian women gathered to share their own experiences with sex, with descriptions ranging from boring to painful. Women who were bored with sex spoke of accepting that it wouldn’t be pleasurable for them but pretending that it was for the sake of their husbands, and others who found it painful said they hate the experience. Women who lose their ability to experience sexual pleasure all too often come to view sex as a duty for the means of procreation rather than a shared experience, wondering why they would need to keep having sex after already having children.
Mariya Karimjee said of her own experience losing her virginity at the age of 27 “the pain was everywhere. I couldn’t figure out what hurt and where.” She had always feared that she would never be able to enjoy a sexual experience; her right to enjoy her sexuality had been stolen from her at the young age of seven. Stories like hers never cease to be heartbreaking because so many girls and women have this ownership of their bodies and their sexuality stolen. The message is clear that women’s bodies and lives are not their own, and this mentality won’t end until governments crack down on abusive practices such as this.
Randerson, James. “Saudi Doctors Work to Change Attitudes to Female Genital Mutilation.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 13 Nov. 2008. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.
Dean, Laura. “» Global Post: ‘I Hate It. It Hurts’ – Egyptian Women Talk about Sex after Female Genital Mutilation.” » Global Post: ‘I Hate It. It Hurts’ – Egyptian Women Talk about Sex after Female Genital Mutilation. N.p., 16 July 2015. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.
Kutner, Jenny. “What It’s Like to Have Sex After Undergoing Female Genital Mutilation.” Mic. N.p., 13 May 2016. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.