February 24, 2014
Female Circumcision as Sexual Therapy: The Past and Future of Plastic Surgery?by Sarah B. Rodriguez
Is a hooded clitoris to blame for many women’s failure to reach orgasm with their sexual partners? Whether it is or not, the procedure is becoming more popular among both women and physicians.
In Chicago, a physician with offices on Michigan Avenue offers clitoral unhooding today for $1,000 (plus operating room fees). His intention? To more easily enable a woman to reach orgasm. Clitoral unhooding falls under the larger category of female genital cosmetic surgeries (FGCS), surgeries that are reportedly becoming more popular among women and physicians. Some physicians, even those who don’t perform FGCS, see them as part of the future of plastic surgery.
The assumption is that these surgeries don’t have much of a past. In fact, there is a long history of surgeries on female genitals—especially on the clitoris—as “sexual enhancement” for women, designed to help them achieve their “proper role” as sexual partners. Over a century ago, another Chicago physician also removed clitoral hoods of women, also as therapy to enable them easier orgasms. The use of female circumcision since the late 1800s to treat a woman’s lack of orgasm reveals a medical understanding of the function of the clitoris as sexual—an understanding held decades prior to the physiological evidence supplied by William Masters and Virginia Johnson.
Understanding the sexual nature of the clitoris and its importance to female sexual pleasure, some physicians have, for well over a century, diagnosed a condition of the clitoris as the physiological cause for a woman’s failure to have an orgasm with her husband. These physicians thus treated the lack of an orgasm in the marital bed as a sexual disorder treatable through surgery.
In the U.S., the first documented use of female circumcision as a sexual enhancement therapy appeared at a time when the espousal of female orgasm during marital sex was increasingly seen as an important component for a healthy marriage.
By removing the clitoral foreskin, some physicians (as well as non-physicians) thought the clitoris would be more exposed to the penis during penetrative intercourse, and would thus receive direct stimulation from the penis. Physicians performed—and some women or their spouses sought out—female circumcision in order to maintain (or conform to) the sexual behavior deemed culturally appropriate for white, U.S.-born, middle- to upper-class women: orgasm with their husbands.
In the United States, the first documented use of female circumcision as a sexual enhancement therapy occurred in the late 19th century, appearing at a time when the espousal of female orgasm during marital sex was increasingly seen as an important component for a healthy marriage. Physicians performed female circumcision to help married women who wanted—or whose husbands wanted their wives to have—orgasms during martial sex.