Female genital mutilation (FGM), or female circumcision, is defined by the World Health Organization as all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
FGM is typically carried out on girls from a few days old to puberty. It may take place in a hospital, but is often performed, without anaesthesia, by a traditional circumciser using a knife, razor, or scissors. According to WHO statistics, it is practiced in 28 countries in Africa, in parts of the Middle East, and within some immigrant communities in Europe, North America, Australasia.
The WHO estimates that 100–140 million women and girls around the world have experienced the brutal and very painful procedure, including 92 million in Africa alone. In many tribal communities the practice is believed to reduce a woman’s libido, thereby making her faithful and obedient to her husband. An official with the world’s largest and most influential Muslim clerical body, the Indonesian Ulema Council, said FGM is a religious obligation that should be done to control women’s sexual desires.
Although most westerners see female circumcision as savage abuse of girls, in the United States a similar practice, male circumcision, is still common place and culturally accepted.
Male circumcision is most prevalent in the Muslim world and Israel (where it is near-universal), the United States and parts of Southeast Asia and Africa. It is relatively rare in Europe, Latin America, parts of Southern Africa and most of Asia.
No medical organisation anywhere in the world recommends routine circumcision of boys – or girls. Many organisations state that there is no medical indication for male circumcision, including the RACP, the British Medical Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Circumcision removes tissue containing thousands of highly specialized fine touch receptors and nerve fibers. The loss of sexual sensitivity is proportional to the amount of foreskin removed. A tight circumcision that prevents movement of the foreskin during intercourse and other sexual activity is particularly damaging. Men circumcised as infants may be unaware of this, but many men circumcised as adults report a definite loss of feeling and versatility.
Infants experience excruciating pain during circumcision and for weeks afterwards, and they can show behavioral changes such as frequent crying, avoidance of physical contact, reduced feeding, and sleep disturbance.