What makes a clitoris dangerous?

Estimates suggest that out of the 140 million people in the world whose clitorises have been removed via Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), 100 million are African. Three million African girls and women are at risk of undergoing the procedure annually. The countries with the highest rates are Sudan and Somalia, which unsurprisingly are two out of nine African countries that do not have a law prohibiting FGM. (Cameroon, DRC, Gambia, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria and Sierra Leone are the remaining seven.)

Just to be clear, there are different types of procedures from partial or total removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy) to removal of both the clitoris and the labia minora (excision) to the narrowing and repositioning of the labia- minora and/or majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation). I’m referring to them all by FGM. Not because of a tradition of western feminists calling it FGM, as some African scholars have taken issue with, but because of a tradition of African feminists doing so.

The most common causes given for FGM are “a mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities.” But that leaves me wondering still, why? Yes, social, cultural and religious factors keep the practice alive, but what is at the root of it – why do social factors dictate that a woman is more desirable after she’s undergone FGM and why do people use religion to justify it? 

To get to the bottom of it, we must ask, what makes the clitoris in itself so dangerous that millions of women are prevented from owning one?

I’ll tell you what. The clitoris is the only human body part that exists purely for the sake of pleasure. Unlike the penis, which is responsible for urination and whose reproductive function is tied to sexual pleasure, a woman’s clitoris has nothing to do with babies or pee. In other words, the scientific reason for the clitoris is simply to enable a woman’s orgasm. Of course this is a problem. Why is this a problem? Well, because it means that female anatomy is at direct odds with the idea that women’s primary sexual role  is reproduction. A woman’s biology presents a threat to the myth that a woman’s ultimate role is mothering, a myth which people are so fond of that to challenge it can be to risk your life.

I’m not saying that FGM is not intertwined with cultural/religious factors or that motherhood is not an essential aspect of womanhood. But when looking at the underlying causes of FGM, the relationship between sexuality and motherhood is key. It is not coincidental that many FGM practitioners believe that the clitoris is dangerous during childbirth, or, that FGM is a pre-requisite for the good health of a baby, or, that an unexcised woman cannot conceive. Such beliefs are demonstrative of the fear of women’s anatomy bringing her pleasure beyond procreation. I think this is significant.

What do you think? Would love to hear your thoughts as always.



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  • http://suleimanharuna.wordpress.com Suleiman Haruna

    Honestly, this makes a lot of sense. People tend to rally round the assumption of lechery (?) for any uncircumcised woman. But pray, how many women of ‘easy virtue’ have been found to be uncircumcised?

    • MsAfropolitan

      Hi Suleiman, I’m curious to hear more about the assumptions that you’ve heard people make about uncircumcised women if you don’t mind sharing. Are these comments made casually etc.

      • http://suleimanharuna.wordpress.com Suleiman Haruna

        Where I live, FGM is almost dead. There are extreme places where adult women, sometimes living in the US and Europe are known to return home and get circumcised. They see it as a part of life and not as a problem. Some of them are known to prostitute. But the key question is what happens afterwards? Are they able to get back to their trade? The place is Benin in Nigeria. Please do some research on that.

  • Akhumo

    Strange how we sometimes take our cultural/ traditional/ religious beliefs and practices for granted. As in, never questioning them or seeking the root causes for them. #pondering#… The struggle to free, educate and empower the woman is yet to get off the ground

    • MsAfropolitan

      Hi Akhumo, thanks for your comment. Long road ahead indeed. It seems that if our societies avoid eliminating oppressive customs we will in that same process avoid strengthening just customs too. Two sides of the same coin,

    • Tee tee

      Hhahahaha there is something ironic in this comment. Never mind her own personal pleasure, but sure let’s worry primarily for her husbands. Forgetting that many who do this, do so for reasons dating and relating to patriarchy and the need to control a woman’s agency / pleasure / or being in however a small way.
      Hmmm yeah, no, try that again, shall we?

      • Afro Narratives

        Thank you Tee tee. I read Nicholas’ comment and thought to myself ‘he’s made it about men – he just ignored the fact that the article is about ‘her’, her sex, her sexuality, her clitoris, her pleasure but no Nicholas just made the husband and by extension men and their pleasure the focus’. One step forward, five steps back.
        The comment misses the entire point of the article which you Tee tee have addressed – thanks.

        • Tee tee

          I wanted to just give a side eye comment like this **__** but i figured it’d make little sense so one or two words instead. That was glaringly missing the point of this article. I suppose many men think like Nicholas, a woman’s pleasure is default tied to a man’s. I wonder how masturbating and lesbians come in to this train of thought. Neither of these require men sexually necessarily? Sorry for going off tangent, Nicholas, you may need to have a re-think.

    • http://www.doreenakiyomoah.co.uk Doreen

      Well, one of the reasons for this is that if a woman enjoys sex, then there’s nothing to stop her from going around and having sex with whomever she pleases. It’s a way to ensure paternity, because (apparently) women are untrustworthy and will deceive men into taking care of children that aren’t theirs.

      Great article once again, Minna.

      • MsAfropolitan

        Thank you Doreen.

        The fear of women enjoying sex is extreme. And it’s worth pointing out how wonderful the female body is in the sense that, luckily, since the clitoris extends beyond the top of a woman’s vulva, depending on the extent of the mutilation a woman can still experience sexual pleasure anyway.

        And great point about paternity, this really is tied, controlling motherhood/sexuality to ensure the status quo of fatherhood.

        • Jeanetttes daughter

          Consider social malice, male envy and punishment as reasons,also. As inhumane as that may seem, there is no end to the things human beings do and have done to others in the name of nothing more than maintaining a cruel and profitable habit or tradition. No one asks why the tradition and the cruelty answer just seems entirely too simplistic, but maybe there is an element of unreason going on here that needs to be explored as well – a kind of mass or social neurosis or psychosis. The reason I bring it up in this context is because this so-called traditional (and ancient) practice was adapted in the early twentieth century by medicine in the West to stabilize “hysteria” in women. Simply put, remove the clitoris, a bundle of nerves that exists as far as we know purely for pleasure, and the hysterical woman will calm down. Now why is it that a pleasure center was related to “hysteria” in western women?

    • Tee tee

      It is because because it threatens the idea of female docility and perhaps that its power (the feminine and erotic) that is, will equal the same as men? Screwed up, but the bottom line is, that they wish to control full stop. She can have pleasure just not too much of it #sarcasm considering the procedure causes death in many cases or deep trauma.

  • http://www.chictherapyonline.blogspot.com chic therapy

    This was painful to read and it made me sick to my stomach.The key to issues like these is EDUCATION!

    • MsAfropolitan

      Long time, nice to see you @chictherapy

      Yeah education’s key and the good news is that FGM is decreasing in most parts of the continent but obviously still way too high.

  • http://perspectives-anotherwaytoview.blogspot.com Carolyn Moon

    Hi Minna, as usual your posts are thought provoking and you’re not afraid of controversy which is one of the hallmarks of an interesting and good blog. The phrase ” cultural imperialist” has been misused to describe how I feel about this subject. For the most part, I respect most cultures of the world although I don’t always agree with their practices. In this case, the inhumanity of the act and the pain involved as well as the subjugation of women in my opinion to breeders and nurturers as their worth to a society; remains daunting. It lends to a sense of powerlessness and emotional fatigue. It also advocates that women aren’t supposed to feel sexual gratification and that’s a domain exclusively for males. Some women are complicit in this given the male dominated societies they were and are reared in to this day. When Alice Walker wrote about this issue; she met resistance from women as well as men. I see it is a monumental task to completely end this practice. The awareness must start from within and possibly as we become more connected globally; matters of sexual gratification, promiscuity and cleanliness can be addressed by options other than removal of body parts!!! Peace…

    • MsAfropolitan

      Hi Carolyn, thanks for your comment. Yes there are people who are too busy reacting to western imperialism to hold a dialogue *within* our communities to consider FGM. While I think context is everything, there are no excuses for it. None.

  • http://www.zarachiron.com/2013/08/define-racism/ Zara Chiron

    This is something that I cannot even begin to wrap my head around.

    I will never be able to understand it. To be honest. I don’t even want to understand it. I don’t think this practice needs to be understood. It just needs to end.

    So many young girls die every year having this monstrous and unnecessary act performed on them.
    I could not even look at the image. It just makes my blood boil and my heart ache!

    Nobody could ever come up with a good enough explanation, reason or justification as to why this practice is something positive and needs to continue. Nobody!

  • http://asanempokasghanaway.wordpress.com Asanempoka.Zebra

    I am not sure that was how it all started.
    For years I have been stuck on the issue that women’s circumcision is not okay but men’s circumcision is. Male circumcision is even now being practised in many African countries as a way of preventing HIV infection as the penis becomes less sensitive and develops a thicker skin. This is from the UN and NGO’s etc, NOT cultural practices. I have therefore questioned whether I would do my own son. Is it up to my husband only? If all you are doing is taking off the foreskin then is that type of female circumcision okay, but going that not? To me one cannot be abhorrent whilst the other not but I have no answer for that yet aside from the fact that I find FGM unecessary and often absolutely inhumane.
    Apparently it happens all over Northern Ghana but you’d never know because it’s not even discussed or mentioned. I’ve never seen nor heard of it in all my years there but statistically and culturally it exists in a level that includes the clitoris only, not the labia majora etc. That’s my understanding anyway.
    I have always thought it began with men’s fear of women’s pleasure. It can be such a powerful thing and that is a problem where patriarchy is concerned.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Good point. But the equivalent of the male foreskin is the clitoral hood though not the clitoris itself. Some women take off the hood to enhance pleasure, hoodectomy it’s called.

      There is a ritualistic element to some circumcision practises that could be beautiful to preserve, the initiation to adulthood, sexuality and all that. Through dialogue that element alone could be modernised but there is so much control of women’s bodies involved that I wonder if that’s possible anymore.

  • akhumo

    It is a sad state of affairs to consider that in the grand scheme of things the governments are led by individuals who are supposedly “educated”. Surely there needs to come a point where common sense and Science challenge certain aspects of our cultures, traditions and belief systems.

    As a young black Zulu woman, whose roots are deeply embedded in strong cultural and tribal traditions, I have questioned these with basic aspects of my (very limited) Scientific knowledge as well as aspects of other cultures and how they explain our carry out their practices.

    The gist of my conclusion? Age-old traditions and practices are based on the environment and existence (or lack thereof) of information and reasons as to why things are what they are.

    Sadly, women have been classified as being beneath their male counterparts, and if anything shared the status of children in the African household to a certain extent, and this mentality has been embedded in them and the way they carry as well as see themselves.

    Sex and sexuality remains taboo in many households to date. It is something we are all aware of but seldom ever talk about, but one clear message is almost always tangible: women dare not enjoy sex or even express this verbally and openly. it is almost an abomination to do so, yet at the same time in preparation for marriage you are advised by elderly women that you need to avail yourself for the pleasure of your intended.

    So who is really to blame when said women have multiple partners or “sleep around”? Question is, who are they sleeping with? Men who also just happen to sleep with numerous other women themselves.

    Forgive me as I digress, but this does take me the stigma Sex Workers face each day. If there is no market for sex, then I sincerely doubt these women would avail themselves for gain. It is the demand that creates the market. So if nobody wanted (to buy) sex then nobody would sell it either!

  • Adaorah

    I love that you’ve addressed the fact that a woman’s pleasure is almost a taboo ( especially in africa) and how FGM in part amplifies that. In the words on Nina Simone ‘It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day’, sex should no longer be hubristic, hedonistic, authoritative and sidelined when it comes to women, we are human beings too and we deserve pleasure.

  • Sly2014

    I have a girlfriend in which her libido was so high such that sex is so frequent and occurs at almost any slightest opportunity. Clitoral stimulation enhances her sexual feeling significantly. She wasn’t circumcised. Though, I enjoyed it too but I think the impulse is too much for her. My previous girlfriend was a like a pack of wood during sex. She was circumcised as a baby. I didn’t like the experience

    • Sly2014

      But let me make it clear that I am not a feminist and I do not intend to be one. I question almost all basis of feminist ideology. However, I don’t subscribe to FMG.

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  • Lik Yon Bunseth

    After reading this article, I started to have the urge to beat those sick f**ks! Seriously, this is just horrible!

  • ismail jabbar nguka

    it makes me wonder. Im bout to marry a lady whose undergone the procedure and i dont know how it will be between us.
    Im so baffled afraid too

    • MsAfropolitan

      Ismail, congrats on your wedding to be. I hope that you and your wife will together be able to heal any trauma she has gone through, I can only suggest that you make it clear to her that she can talk to you if and when she needs to. Best wishes.

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  • Eddy Mokaya

    Long road ahead, I believe it should start with Educating our young ones. The Girlchild and Boychild should be taught about sexuality in Equal measures in order to have a society that one is not fighting the other over the superior of the other. It is sad that up to this time and age negative masculinity is the trend evrywhere is society. “Just an opinion”.

  • KazooStudiosSF

    Thanks for writing this article. Our pleasure is our power. Beautiful. Much love for women feeling good and for the fight to protect and develop women’s rights world-wide. One Love, Kazoo Studios

  • Miss Cake

    This is exactly the discussion we need to be having. Why is female sexual pleasure so dangerous to so many people? It’s not a problem reserved for the cultures that practice FGM. I don’t think we will end FGM until we get to the bottom of this question.

  • Random Guy

    Yet no one cares about male circumcision…