VERIFY: Female genital mutilation versus circumcision. What's the difference?

Verify: FGM vs. Male Circumcision

THE QUESTION

The story of a female genital mutilation case in Detroit has prompted lots of questions from our viewers on what this procedure actually is and how it compares to circumcision in males. So, we set out to Verify this issue by reaching out to the experts. 

BACKGROUND

According to the World Health Organization, female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) includes all procedures that involve partial or total removal of external sex organs in for non-medical reasons. FGM/C is a cultural practice, that despite common beliefs, has no ties to any religion.

The procedures have no health benefits for the women and girls they are done on – FGM/C can cause serious pain and damage to female genitalia. FGM/C is mostly carried out on girls between infancy and age 15.

There are four major types of FGM/C which range from remove part, or all the clitoris (or in rare cases, just the fold of the skin surrounding the clitoris) to narrowing the vaginal opening by cutting and repositioning the anatomy, then stitching shut to only allow urine and menstrual fluids through.

The Academy of American Pediatrics defines male circumcision as the removal of some, or all the foreskin (or prepuce) from the penis. It’s one of the oldest and most common procedure in the world and in the US, is typically performed during the newborn period. 

Male infant and child circumcision is traditionally done as a mark of culturally identity, religious important or for perceived health benefits like improved cleanliness or reduce risk of infection.

While some studies have shown that circumcised men suffer from fewer UTIs, don’t contract or spread syphilis or HIS as easily as their counterparts. Dr. Nicholas Kokx, a comprehensive pediatrician for Kent Pediatrics states circumcisions are not “medically indicated” procedure – meaning, they’re not typically medically necessary.

PREVALENCE

FGM procedures are typically carried about by traditional circumcisers, who play central roles in the community. The WHO estimates that more than 200 million girls and women have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated.

Up to 513,000 women and girls in the United States are at risk or have undergone the process, per Equality Now. The Public Reference Bureau states that 7,988 women and girls in the Detroit, Warren, Dearborn Metro Area are potentially at risk for FGM/C.

►Related: How common is female genital mutilation in the US?

Data from UNICEF shows that there has been a fast decline over the last three decades of the prevalence of FGM/C, however not all countries have progress and the pace of decline has been uneven.

WHO states about 30-percent of males are estimated to be circumcised globally. Neonatal circumcision is common in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and in much of the Middle East, Central Asia and West Africa. It is uncommon in East and southern Africa, where the WHO says the circumcision is performed during boyhood to the late teens or twenties.

“[Female circumcision] serves to construct, enhance or reinforce femininity, female purity, or virginity in conjunction with cultural norms that govern family honor, women, in general, and female sexuality and marriageability,” Dr. Yu states. “It would prevent premarital sex and protect a girl’s virginity, which is much valued in the marriage market.”

However, Dr. Yu does note that, against common belief, female circumcision and cutting existed before the introduction and spread of Islam, per Female Genital Cutting: Cultural Conflict in the Global Community, written by Lindy Williams and Teresa Sobieszczyk.

The history of male circumcisions is strongly rooted in religious aspects, linked back to Judaism and Christianity, touched on in the Neonatal and child male circumcision: a global review, a joint publication by WHO and the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). There are some also records from National Geographic that some African communities utilize male circumcision in a similar way to FGM/C, transitioning young boys into adulthood.

EFFECTS ON HEALTH, SEXUALITY, and REPRODUCTION

According to Female Genital Mutilation: A Practical Guide to Worldwide Laws and Policies, by the Center for Reproductive Laws and Policy, RAINBO -- the male equivalent of a clitoridectomy, one of the types of FGM/C, would be amputation of most of the penis. The male equivalent to narrowing the vaginal opening – which consists of repositioning the labia’s minora and majora, with or without clitoral removal – would be removing the entire penis, its roots of soft tissue and part of the scrotal skin.

Due to when the procedures are typically done, children do not consent to neither FGM/C nor circumcisions. However, FGM/C is internationally recognized as a violation of human rights by the WHO because “it deeply reflects inequality between the sexes and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women.”

Parents against circumcisions for their child have gone to court to fight for their right to leave their sons intact. In 2015, a Florida mother took her son into hiding to avoid circumcision. There are also activist groups, such as Intact America, that focus on ending routine circumcision for newborns and children because they are “unnecessary, risky and painful.”

Dr. Megan Stubbs, sex and relationship expert, says that there is a distinct intent to curb a woman’s sexual desire when she undergoes FGM/C – women and girls may face serious, lifelong medical and sexual dysfunction.

“Men who have been circumcised typically lead happy, health lives. Circumcised men still enjoy sex, with or without a foreskin,” Dr. Stubbs states.

VERIFY SOURCES

Dr. Megan Stubbs, Sexologist

Dr. Yan Yu, Sociolgist Professor at GVSU

Dr. Nicolas Kokx, Kent Pediatrics 

VERIFY RESOURCES

Intact America

UNICEF

The Public Reference Bureau

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