Just a “Nick?”: American Doctors Recommend Female Genital Cutting

A new recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advocates giving the female babies of immigrants that support female circumcision a tiny “nick” on their clitoral hood. The premise of this recommendation is that this strikes a middle ground between leaving the genitals intact and full removal, thus supposedly lessening the chance that the families will attempt this on their own or take their daughters abroad to receive the surgery.

As this seems to endorse a rather barbaric (not to mention illegal) practice, it has naturally attracted its fair share of criticism. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY), who has recently introduced the Girls Protection Act, which would make it illegal to transport minors outside of the USA to have their genitals cut, calls the proposal, “the wrong step forward on how best to protect young women and girls.” The recommendation has also attracted strong condemnation from victims advocates and human rights groups, which argue that the procedure is much more painful and traumatic than the so-called “pin prick” that the doctors equate the “nick” to.

An interesting comment on the matter was given by Salon’s Tracy Clark-Flory, who argued that despite all of the debate going on about the “nicking,” those involved are ignoring the fact that the small cut is, “not comparable to the widely accepted practice of male circumcision, which is far more extreme.” While Ms. Clark-Flory is entitled to her own opinion on the matter, she is not, as the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “entitled to her own facts.” Female circumcision is an extremely brutal practice, which frequently involves the removal of the entire clitoris (analogous to the male penis) and in some cultures even the sewing shut of the labia. Although the “nicking” may not be as severe as the practice that these girls might endure in their home countries, the concept, shaming and assaulting women for their sexuality, remains the same. This is in no way comparable to male circumcision, which apart from its religious and cultural significance, has many practical hygienic benefits and is meant in no way to physically and emotionally hurt male babies (regardless of what those in the anti-circ crowd may say). Male circumcision is not extreme — genital mutilation is. Confusing the two simply makes it easier to justify baseless arguments that benefit no one.



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53 thoughts on “Just a “Nick?”: American Doctors Recommend Female Genital Cutting

  1. Actually, circumcision of males in Western culture began as a way to stop men from masturbating. It had nothing to do with hygiene or religion, and everything to do with stopping men from carrying on the shameful and disgusting practice of masturbation.
    I think if there was any admission of the fact that women also masturbated and enjoyed sex, female circumcision may have caught on in the Western world during that time as well.

    There can be shame associated with not having had it done for many women in cultures where it’s a regular practice. The same can be said of male circumcision.

    My clitoris is an important part of my vagina, but it is not the whole of my vagina. I could continue to have pleasurable sex without one. I could bear children without one. I could pee without one. Therefore it is not akin to a penis in and of itself.

    I would love to see the practice of genital mutilation stamped out in every culture, for men and women.

    • woooaahh woah woah there, I get where you’re coming from but quick fact check. There’s a WHOLE LOT of women who can not have pleasurable sex or orgasm without clitoral stimulation. It IS analogues to the penis stimulation wise, and I’m sure men who had their penises removed correctly could still manage to pee and procreate, it would just be a logistical challenge. Comparing female genital mutilation with a male circumcision is ludicrous. I know plenty of circularized guys who were in no way stopped from masturbating, heh! But I can assure you if some sick bastard whacked my clit off there would have been no masturbating for me. And no pleasure in my sex life. Ever. Though I agree both practices should be stopped, the two should not be compared like that. (Though I have to say there are occasionally legitimate medical reasons for circumcision, it’s a decision best left to grown men or children who already have a serious problem etc, as for the clitoris, short of the strangest case of frostbite ever or something I can’t think of a single medical reason to take it off.)

      • Though I do agree that a lot of women can’t enjoy sex without clitoral stimulation, there are those lucky few who can. On the other side of the coin, though plenty of circumcised men can enjoy sex without their foreskin, there are cases of older men who have lost too much sensation to enjoy sex at all. So to say the comparison of female cutting to male circumcision is ludicrous is…well, ludicrous.

      • Rybe, you DO know that the claim that “FGM takes away a woman’s ability to orgasm” is a crock of sh!t right? You DO know that this myth only exists because people in favor of male circumcision wish to minimize what they defend by blowing FGM out of proportion, right?

        These are the facts; there are MANY kinds of FGM, and the kind of FGM where the clitoris is removed, the labia removed and the vulva sewn shut is, despite being the worst, the RAREST kind. Read this article:

        http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/20/magazine/20circumcision-t.html

        Furthermore, did you know that even women who have undergone this kind of FGM CAN TOO orgasm? It’s true. Check out this study:

        http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118496293/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0

        Sorry fellas, your claim that these women can’t orgasm is a MYTH, and I’m calling you OUT on it.

        NOT defending FGM, just trying to show how male and female circumcision are BOTH BS, and how they BOTH should stop.

        • Some ladies can get off by having their breasts tweedled too, I’m just talking about the majority here. I sure as hell couldn’t get off without a clitoris. I’m not saying I’m pro circumcision I’m just saying it’s not exactly a great comparison, and belittling the clitoris’s roll in sexual stimulation for women is a terrible path to go down.

          I’m also thinking you shouldn’t jump down the throats of people who are more or less on your side, just for future reference.

        • Uh yeah, most women need clitoral stimulation to orgasm. Yes, some women don’t need it, but a whole fucking lot do. You don’t need a foreskin to cause 80% (arbitrary percentage, sorry) of males to orgasm.

        • Doh! I’m the master of that brand of typo…

          Now I need to figure out what a circularized penis is. I’m already scared… 8|

    • Female genital mutilation is, without question, barbaric. But we have no business banning the religious ritual of nicking while simultaneously condoning the ritual of male circumcision. Either we are a nation that embraces “the universal right to stewardship of one’s body” or we are not. So unless slicing off the tip of a baby’s penis is a lifesaving procedure, and the last time I checked it is not, it is a clear violation of a vital human right.

      What decision could be more personal than circumcision considering the very real, very painful, very visible effects it has on one’s genitals?

  2. I would oppose any concession by western doctors. If it shouldn’t be done, it shouldn’t be done. No amount of cutting should be done to those not yet old enough to choose for themselves. If they really want to stop it, they should not find a middle ground. They should make it illegal for all citizens, and strictly punish any offenders.

    • It IS illegal in western countries, and has been for quite sometime. That doesn’t mean it’s any less prevalent.

      • It is illegal *in western countries*. But you can also make things illegal *for a country’s citizens*, such that they can be charged with them, even if the crime was committed outside of the nation’s territory. It is illegal, for example *for Canadians* to engage in child prostitution anywhere they go, even if it is legal in the country in which they are engaging.

        There is currently a proposed bill or recommendation or something in the States that would make it illegal to take a child out of the country to get this procedure done. I’m not sure how it’s worded, but that is additionally helpful for enforcement if it goes through.

  3. As for the comparison with the cutting of male genitalia, yes, the comparison does stand. It is not true that there are hygiene benefits to removal of the foreskin. Yes, it’s easier to keep clean, but only in the same way that if I remove my toes, I won’t have to wash them anymore, and it will be easier to clean my foot. I don’t hear many proponents of that surgery. Anyone with decent basic hygienic practices can keep a foreskin plenty clean. If you’re worried about your son’s health, teach him properly – don’t cut off parts of his body.
    The only reason male circumcision is not ‘extreme’ is that it is so widespread in the states (and to a lesser extent, Canada), that people actually believe it is commonplace.
    Most of the rest of the world thinks it’s pretty damn weird.

    The fact that circumcision is not meant to hurt babies is meaningless. Female ‘circumcision’ is not *meant* to hurt girls either.
    But they do hurt. Just as it would hurt to do it to an adult. Look at the number of uncircumcised men who choose to be cut as adults. The very small number should suggest that it’s not something most men would choose for themselves if they had that choice.
    If girls deserve power over their body, so do boys.

    • I am with Kai. I have been present at several circumcisions and anyone who tells you that they don’t suffer lies. I struggled to keep from grabbing these little boys and running away with them. I don’t believe in permanently changing anybody’s body without their permission period. They are not old enough to consent. We are saying to these babies, “you weren’t born right, we’ll fix you.”
      The hygiene argument is so outdated. If we were still wandering around the desert without means for regular bathing I could accept it. I know plenty of men who aren’t circumcised and none of them has suffered horribly from having a foreskin. It is an absolutely ridiculous argument. Let’s cut off body parts so we don’t have to clean them. Ya!
      As far as the girls, same story. Never permanently change anyone’s body without their permission. Making a nick is like saying, I only stole a little bit. Wrong is wrong is wrong.

      • So do you think that little kids shouldn’t have their ears pierced because they can’t give consent either?

        (I’m not criticizing, I actually think it’s ridiculous to pierce a 6-month-old’s ears. I’m just curious if you follow the same logic in different situations)

        • Well at least piercing the ear allows for regrowth. If a child has a serious problem with their pierced ears when they are a teen, they can stop wearing earrings. I’ve never heard of clitoral regeneration… although it’s a fun idea.

        • Actually, yes, I don’t think you should pierce the ears of an infant.
          I do think that my standards of influence would be a little lower through. I would let my ten year old decide if she wanted her ears pierced, on the basis that she’s old enough to accept the pain, and they can regrow if she changes her mind when she’s older. But I would definitely not inflict pain on a small child just for my own doll-playing fun.

          I would support anything medically *necessary*, of course, but cosmetic issues should be left up to the individual wherever possible.

        • No, I don’t think any parent should pierce a child’s ears. If they want it when they’re older, let them decide. Why is that such a hard concept for some parents to understand??

        • One thing is for sure; I sure don’t want the AAP, an organization of supposed HEALTH practitioners, recommending doctors perform ear-piercings.

          I’m actually against it, though I don’t think it’s as bad as male circumcision… and in this case, it’s probably equivalent to the “nick” the AAP is proposing.

          But the bottom line is, again, a doctor’s duty is to MEDICINE, NOT to quackery.

  4. Whoa there. The AAP is not recommending genital mutilation. They’re recommending the equivalent of a paper cut or minor prick- something that will heal and leave the child intact – as an ALTERNATIVE to mutilation in cases where the parents want to have such a procedure done. The whole point is that while it would be painful and awful for the child, it wouldn’t permanently damage her. It certainly isn’t ideal, but if nicking a child’s clitoris will prevent her parents from removing it, then that’s a concession I think is understandable for doctors to want to make. It may not be the best possible solution or even a good idea, but misrepresenting the purpose of this recommendation isn’t helping the debate.

    • We know the purpose. but it doesn’t justify it. If we’re going to say that it is wrong and bad, the thing to do is be severe with enforcement of that – not make concessions about it.

      • Agreed. It would be the equivalent to the US Government releasing a statement that says people should harass gays, instead of killing them. That way they are appeasing the masses who want to kill gays by giving them a reduced form of cruelty. Wrong is wrong- you can’t give in a bit just because the right thing to do is difficult.
        Think of the future, when potentially/hopefully genital mutilation will become scarce- do we really want an opposition arguing that putting a nick on a girl’s clitoris was once approved by the AAP? It may be a lesser evil, but that doesn’t remove the evil factor.
        Aside from that, it is not the place of the AAP to step in and make these recommendations. Religious leaders, perhaps, but not medical professionals who know it is not a medically sound practice.

    • What a silly response. I mean seriously. Sorry buddy, but because it is not a medical procedure, yes, the “paper cut” and “minor prick” IS mutilation.

      Yes, children get pricked by needles all the time, but what “medical benefit” would a “nick” in the vulva afford a perfectly healthy child? You honestly approve of the AAP approving this sort of quackery?

      Unbelievable.

    • Absolutely on the money. Some cultures allow men to beat their wives. Maybe we should relax those laws here in the states and let men from those cultures beat their wives “just a little bit.” Like with fly swatters instead of an electric extension cord. Fly swatters don’t really cause that much damage and they don’t “hurt” much.

  5. I am horrified the salon.com author made that statement. I feel like I might vomit.

    s. pisaster — what is this ‘nick’ supposed to do? Prevent a woman from any pleasurable sensation? I would like to mutilate you.

    This makes me really sad.

    • No, the nick is supposed to satisfy the parents while doing no actual permanent harm to the infant. Just like any small cut that heals. Again, maybe not the best option, but if it prevented some girl from suffering something more severe? I’d rather no harm at all, but I’d take temporary harm over permanent harm if there were no other option (I’m not saying there’s not, I’m just saying this recommendation is more nuanced than this post is making it out to be).

  6. I’m sort of on the fence about this issue. On the one hand, of course I think that genital mutilation is a disgusting and barbaric practice, meant to deny women the right to sexual pleasure or agency. However, from a harm reduction standpoint, the difference between actual genital mutilation and a ritual nick is pretty significant, and I can see how allowing for it while at the same time working to change cultural tradition and opinions could help more young girls right now. I certainly don’t find it to be an acceptable permanent solution, and I abhor its existence. But lobbying for an “all or nothing” approach means that it will take much longer to change attitudes about the practice where it is socially acceptable, and in the meantime millions of little girls will be systematically assaulted and stripped of their ability to enjoy sex. The fact is, this is a deeply ingrained social norm and it’s not going to disappear quickly. Simply outlawing it just drives it underground; without education along with laws, the practice doesn’t stop. And even with education, it’s going to take a long time. If this middle ground can be used in the meantime; with the recognition that it still accepts the denial of female sexual agency, which we know is wrong; I think we’d have far fewer girls with mutilated genitals during the time it will take to get everyone to change their oppressive worldviews. Little girls are not political pawns. Let’s begin to reduce the harm now, and continue to work at it until nobody even wants to do this.

    • I can see how that makes sense. Perhaps if the nick became an acceptable substitute, it would be easier to eliminate altogether.

    • The bottom line is, a doctor’s duty is to medicine. What other non-medical cultural procedures will doctors be obliged to comply with then?

      Have you been keeping up with the news? Parentsn in Georgia and California have faced charges for tattooing their kids. In another state a father has gone to court for using a hot iron to brand three of his kids; his eldest, a daughter of 18, and his two younger boys. He was pardoned for the daughter, because she was old enough to consent, but the charges remain for the boys.

      So should doctors now be the ones to tattoo, scarify, or brand children, to prevent “underground” procedures to happen?

      I hate to have to say it, but this kind of reasoning is quite ridiculous.

      A doctor’s duty is to medicine, not to religious or cultural procedures. A pediatrician’s duty is to health and well-being of children, not to their deliberate harm in the name of “culture” or what have you. The prime dictum of medicine is “first do no harm.”

  7. Tom, we have beat the male circumcision horse to death. It will not rise again. You cannot ride it into town.

    Please refer back to the other postings where we discussed it ad nauseum. You will see that this is an extremely informed and intelligent readership here and your remarks merely make me shake my head.

    Tsk.

  8. Oh, wow…and I thought I was getting worked up about mother-daughter plastic surgery. Alright here we go…

    Fuck that. No, seriously, fuck that. Fuck it right in the fucking fuck hole. There is NO reason to perform that on a child. NONE! I don’t care if you want to find middle ground with some barbaric practice for the purposes of multicultural unity. Fuck this procedure. Fuck the doctors that support it. Most of all, fuck the backwards barbarian pieces of shit that make people feel like they need to compromise with people that mutilate their own children. Should we compromise with people who think that lesbians should be stoned to death by only throwing a few rocks at them? No, fuck that. I’m sorry, I realize that by promoting a hard-line point of view I’m advocating a position that will polarize the opposition…but there are some things that I will not compromise on. The sexual abuse and mutilation of an infant is one of them. As a liberal, most people think I should be a champion of multiculturalism…well here’s what I say to that: if you participate in or allow the genital mutilation of your daughter, be if a nick on the hood or a full clitoral removal, you are a fucking piece of shit. You are a monster, and you should be ashamed.

    Ok, rant over. I’m better now.

  9. Speaking about being “entitled to your own facts,” Tom, you DO know that there are quite a few variations of FGM? And that not all of it involves the removal of the entire clitoris, and sewing shut the vulva of a girl, right?

    How is it that you are against the “concept” of “nicking”, but yet insist that it is “in no way comparable to male circumcision” in the same breath?

    News flash, buddy: Female circumcision DOES have cultural and religious significance. It’s the only reason people DO them. Just like male circumcision, parents that go through with female circumcision for their children don’t “mean to physically and emotionally hurt” male babies. Check this out:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/20/magazine/20circumcision-t.html

    Sure you can “think” male circumcision is “not extreme,” but it doesn’t make it fact.

    Have you ever watched a female circumcision? How about a male circumcision? Can you actually sit there and type your comparison and be able to substantiate it with your personal experience? Where are you drawing these conclusions from?

    Go here and read the blog. Watch the pictures. When compared with male circumcision, it is THIS kind of female circumcision that is comparable to “just a snip.” You’ve got to be blind otherwise.

    http://aandes.blogspot.com/2010/04/circumcision.html

    The piece of flesh removed can barely be seen on a cotton ball in a girl; whereas the foreskin is a large piece of flesh in a boy. WHICH is “just a flap of skin?” A “little snip?”

    I’m not defending FGM, I’m against ALL forced genital mutilation. But you’ve got to realize your diluting yourself with doublethink: I’m sorry, but male circumcision IS genital mutilation. To insist it is not makes YOU confused, and it is YOU who are making a baseless argument.

    • I am not arguing that male circumcision is a harmless procedure. But the comparison between male and female circumcision is not about quantity, but quality. Although male circumcision is certainly painful, I don’t know of any circumsized men who have trouble achieving an orgasm from it. In contrast, many women can only achieve an orgasm through clitoral stimulation. As the OP said, removing the clitoris is analogous to removing the entire penis.

  10. I am so happy that my parents didn’t force superstitious religious mutilations on me without consent.

    As for those women who say male circumcision isn’t comparable, please. Come back and talk when your clitoris is actually up for debate. It shouldn’t even have to be talked about as an issue worth considering.

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