Read a disturbing story in the SLOG this morning about research done at Cornell University involving infant female genital mutilation and subsequent traumatic yearly follow-up exams.
The procedure is described as nerve-sparing because it shortens the clitoris without cutting the clitoral glans. According to the Cornell University website, this procedure is necessary because most people with sexual development issues are identified with this condition that they want to “fix.”
[Side note: “Most X are Y” is not even remotely the same as “If Y then X.” If you are interested more in this statistics issue watch this really engaging TED talk “Peter Donnelly shows how stats fools juries” (skip to 11:06 if you’re in a rush).]
Despite the statistical errors of reasoning used to convince parents to enroll their female infants in this genital mutilation, let’s ask if Cornell University is able to deliver what they promise. There’s study, published in The Lancet, on the effects of the sexual function of individuals with ambiguous genitalia. Of the 39 individuals enrolled there was a statistically significant increase in sexual dysfunction for women who had undergone a surgery as opposed to those who had not. This genital mutilation has not even been found to deliver what it promised to the girls of concerned parents.
The story gets worse. Not only is an American university mutilating infants’ genitals when there is clearly significant potential for harm and no evidence that the surgery will significantly help the child, but there are yearly follow-up exams. These exams are given to children as young as 5 years old. The doctor or nurse uses a Q-tip or a vibrating device to measure the sensitivity of the girl’s clitoris while she’s conscious. That alone would cause me psychological harm.
There is also a power dynamic involved. As a doctor parents look to and trust you to know what is best for their children. No parent wants to deny their child what a professional states is necessary. Similarly a child looks to and trusts the parent to know what is best. As a scared child I would often tell people in authority what they wanted to hear. A child of 5 is not able to separate those expectations from the actual sensation in such a traumatic setting, much less give a response on a scale of 1 to 5. I have a hard time getting a scale answer from 3rd grade
This surgical procedure is supposed to help the girls have normal sexual development. Genital mutilation aside, how many of us would consider yearly exams where a doctor attempts to stimulate the clitoris with a vibrator or Q-tip starting at age 5 to be part of normal sexual development? Alice Dreger in her article “Can You Hear Us Now?” explains all of the issues with this test that I don’t have the psychological fortitude to express through my raging anger.
It is time to wake up and realize that we are not all born the same. We do not need to correct a child’s gender. There was a time when botched circumcisions ended up with gender reassignment surgeries of baby boys. This caused profound issues for these individuals and many of their stories are still coming out. The case of John/Joan was heralded as a success but for the individual involved it was a dramatic failure.
These doctors are abusing their power.
All sides can come together on this one. Christians believe that God created their children so why try to correct His handiwork. Liberals also agree that it is unethical to change who a child is. Conservatives who like their kids to fit into proper boxes would be wise to do all the research they can. Your skepticism can serve you well here. Your child is precious. Don’t assume that “professionals” know everything. It may be the 21st Century but we have a long way to go.
Genital mutilation is not okay. As an American in the 21st Century, I will not stand for it.
Dan Savage, “Female Genital Mutilation at Cornell University”, The SLOG
Cornell Physicians, “The Surgical Management of Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia”, Cornell University
Peter Donnelly, “Peter Donnelly shows how stats fools juries”, TED.com
Catherine L Minto, Lih-Mei Liao, Christopher R J Woodhouse, Phillip G Ransley, Sarah M Creighton, “The effect of clitoral surgery on sexual outcome in individuals who have intersex conditions with ambiguous genitalia: a cross-sectional study”, The Lancet
Alice Dreger, “Can You Hear Us Now?” , Psychology Today
John Colapinto, “The True Story of John Joan”, InfoCir