Female Genital Mutilation


circumcision (sûr´kəmsĬzh´ən), operation to remove the foreskin covering the glans of the penis. It dates back to prehistoric times and was widespread throughout the Middle East as a religious rite before it was introduced among the Hebrews. It is performed by Jews on the eighth day after the birth of the male child, unless postponed for reasons of health. It is also practiced among Muslims and by other peoples in many parts of the world.

Explanations of the origin of circumcision are entirely conjectural. It is related to rites of initiation. Among Jews it is considered to involve membership in the community and to be a sign of the covenant between God and humans. The decision that Christians need not practice circumcision is recorded in Acts 15; there was never, however, a prohibition of circumcision, and it is practiced by Coptic Christians. Despite some controversy, it also has been widely practiced in modern times, especially in the United States, as a sanitary measure believed to give some preventive advantage against penile cancer and sexually transmitted diseases (studies have shown it to be associated with a significant reduction in the risk of HIV transmission, particularly among heterosexuals).

Since 1971, when the American Academy of Pediatrics stopped recommending routine infant circumcision, the number of circumcised newborns in the United States has declined; the infant circumcision rate is now around 33%. In the early 21st cent., however, the benefits of circumcision in controlling the spread of HIV has led to a renewed interest in the practice, particularly in parts of Africa where heterosexually transmitted AIDS is common, and nonsurgical circumcision techniques have been developed for use on large numbers of adult men. These methods typically involve using elastic bands or plastic clamps to cut off the blood flow to the foreskin, which results in its dying, drying up, and being easily removed after a week.

So-called female circumcision, in the form of excision of the labia minora and clitoris (clitoridectomy) aimed at destroying sexual sensation, is known in Islam (although it is a cultural, not a religious practice) and in certain societies of Africa, South America, and elsewhere. Also called female genital mutilation, it is a controversial practice, but deeply rooted in local custom; there are movements toward prohibition in some countries. In the United States it is illegally practiced among some immigrant populations. In some instances women have sought asylum in the United States or other Western nations to prevent forced operations on themselves or their daughters. A World Health Organization study released in 2006, which involved more than 28,000 women in six African countries, found that the practice increased the risk of complications and death during and after childbirth for mothers and their newborns.

See study by D. L. Gollaher (2000).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Female Genital Mutilation: Selected full-text books and articles

Transcultural Bodies: Female Genital Cutting in Global Context By Ylva Hernlund; Bettina Shell-Duncan Rutgers University Press, 2007
Female Circumcision: Multicultural Perspectives By Rogaia Mustafa Abusharaf University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006
The Female Circumcision Controversy: An Anthropological Perspective By Ellen Gruenbaum University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001
Female "Circumcision" in Africa: Culture, Controversy, and Change By Bettina Shell-Duncan; Ylva Hernlund Lynne Rienner, 2000
Female Genital Mutilation. Overview and Current Knowledge By Andro, Armelle; Lesclingand, Marie Population, Vol. 71, No. 2, April 1, 2016
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Female Genital Cutting: Crossing Borders By Barrett, Hazel Geography, Vol. 99, Spring 2014
Female Genital Mutilation and Designer Vaginas in Britain: Crafting an Effective Legal and Policy Framework By Avalos, Lisa R Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, Vol. 48, No. 3, May 2015
Female Genital Mutilation in America: The Federal Dilemma By White, Allen E Texas Journal of Women, Gender, and the Law, Vol. 10, No. 2, April 1, 2001
Female Genital Mutilation and the Perpetuation of Multigenerational Trauma By Raya, Patricia Diane The Journal of Psychohistory, Vol. 37, No. 4, Spring 2010
Female Genital Mutilation Complications Lead to Lost Lives and High Costs By Thomas, J International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Vol. 36, No. 3, September 2010
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Perception and Attitudes of Religious Groups towards Female Genital Mutilation By Abdelmagied, Ahmed; Salah, Wifag; ElTahir, Nayla; NurEldin, Tamadur; Shareef, Sahar Ahfad Journal, Vol. 22, No. 2, December 2005
God Forbid: Religion and Sex in American Public Life By Kathleen M. Sands Oxford University Press, 2000
Librarian's tip: Chap. 12 "'To Make Martyrs of Their Children': 'Female Genital Mutilation,' Religious Legitimation, and the Constitution"
Where Human Rights Begin: Health, Sexuality, and Women in the New Millennium By Wendy Chavkin; Ellen Chesler Rutgers University Press, 2005
Librarian's tip: "Not Culture but Gender: Reconceptualizing Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting" begins on p. 35
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