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Female Genital Mutilation

By

Alicia R. Pekarsky

, MD, State University of New York Upstate Medical University, Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital

Last full review/revision Dec 2020| Content last modified Dec 2020
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Female genital mutilation is practiced routinely in parts of Africa (usually northern or central Africa), where it is deeply ingrained as part of some cultures. It is also done in some parts of the Middle East and in other areas of the world as well. It is reportedly done because women who experience sexual pleasure are considered impossible to control, are shunned, and cannot be married.

The average age of girls who undergo mutilation is 7 years, and mutilation is typically done without anesthesia. There are four main types of female genital mutilation defined by the World Health Organization (WHO):

  • Type I: Clitoridectomy—Partial or total removal of the clitoris and, in very rare cases, only the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris (the prepuce)

  • Type II: Excision—Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without removal of the labia majora

  • Type III: Infibulation—Narrowing of the vaginal opening by cutting and repositioning the labia to create a seal except for a small opening for menses and urine

  • Type IV: Other—All other harmful procedures done to the female genitals for nonmedical purposes (such as pricking, piercing, carving [incising], scraping, and cauterizing the genital area)

Sequelae of genital mutilation may include operative or postoperative bleeding and infection (including tetanus Tetanus Tetanus is acute poisoning from a neurotoxin produced by Clostridium tetani. Symptoms are intermittent tonic spasms of voluntary muscles. Spasm of the masseters accounts for the name lockjaw... read more Tetanus ). For infibulated females, recurrent urinary and/or gynecologic infection and scarring are possible. Females who become pregnant after female genital mutilation may have significant hemorrhage during childbirth. Psychologic sequelae may be severe.

Female genital mutilation may be decreasing due to the influence of religious leaders who have spoken out against the practice and growing opposition in some communities.

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