The effect of clitoral surgery on sexual outcome in individuals who have intersex conditions with ambiguous genitalia: a cross-sectional study

Lancet. 2003 Apr 12;361(9365):1252-7. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(03)12980-7.


Background: The effects on sexual function of surgical removal of parts of the clitoris are unknown. For infants with intersex conditions and ambiguous genitalia being raised female, this surgery is often undertaken in early childhood. Our aim was to assess the effects of surgery on sexual outcome in this population.

Method: We did a cross-sectional study to which we recruited 39 adults who had intersex conditions with ambiguous genitalia who were living as female from clinical (n=15) and peer-support (n=24) settings. We obtained data by use of a postal questionnaire, incorporating a validated sexual function assessment inventory. We also obtained hospital notes of 36 respondents who did not want to remain anonymous, and did genital examinations of 19 women. We assessed sexual problems in relation to surgical history and compared the results for our population to those of a healthy control group.

Findings: Of the 39 individuals enrolled, 28 had been sexually active and all had sexual difficulties. The 18 women who had undergone clitoral surgery had higher rates of non-sensuality (78%) and of inability to achieve orgasm (39%) than did the ten who had not had surgery (20% [p=0.002] and 0% [p=0.03], respectively).

Interpretation: Sexual function could be compromised by clitoral surgery. Debate on the ethics of the use of this surgery in children should be promoted and further multicentre research is needed to ensure representative samples and comprehensive outcome assessment. Meanwhile, parents and patients who consent to clitoral surgery should be fully informed of the potential risks to sexual function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Clitoris / surgery*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disorders of Sex Development / surgery*
  • Female
  • Genitalia
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / epidemiology
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / etiology*