Female Genital Mutilation in America?

What Women Really Think
June 18 2010 3:06 PM

Female Genital Mutilation in America?

I’m not sure what I can add to this story in Seattle’s alternaweekly the Stranger (for which I owe thanks to Twitter friend sarahbellumd) , but it’s a piece that needs a wider distribution. The great Dan Savage reports on some "medical research" (his quotes) being done at Cornell University. Savage writes: "A pediatric urologist at Cornell-Dix Poppas-has been operating on little girls with what he judges to be oversized clitorises, cutting away important clitoral tissues, and then stitching the glans to what remains of the shaft. Poppas claims that, unlike past clitoral-reduction procedures, his procedure is 'nerve sparing.’ "

And how do you find out if little girls clitorises still work? Savage quotes an article by professors Alice Dreger and Ellen K. Feder : "At annual visits after the surgery, while a parent watches, Poppas touches the daughter’s surgically shortened clitoris with a cotton-tip applicator and/or with a 'vibratory device,' and the girl is asked to report to Poppas how strongly she feels him touching her clitoris. Using the vibrator, he also touches her on her inner thigh, her labia minora, and the introitus of her vagina, asking her to report, on a scale of 0 (no sensation) to 5 (maximum), how strongly she feels the touch."

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The surgeries are done on girls who, Dreger and Feder write, are deemed to have too-large clitorises in the name of ensuring "normal sexual development." They are Ph.D.s and still find "no evidence that a large clitoris increases psychological risk." Talk about unnecessary!

One doesn’t have to be a doctor to realize that this is nothing less than the same genital mutilation that women regularly undergo in Africa and the Middle East. But it’s happening at one of our top institutions of higher learning. And the methods used in follow-up visits to determine clitoral function are appalling.

Rachael Larimore is Slate's managing editor.

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