Female genital cutting: a harmless practice?

Med Anthropol Q. 2003 Jun;17(2):135-58. doi: 10.1525/maq.2003.17.2.135.


A recent article in Medical Anthropology Quarterly (Obermeyer 1999) argues that the "facts" about the "harmful effects" of female genital cutting (FGC) are "not sufficiently supported by the evidence" (p. 79). The article suggests three further hypotheses, among others: (1) FGC may be of minimal harm because the more educated continue the practice just as much as the less educated; (2) FGC may be of minimal harm because it is so widespread and persistent; (3) FGC may be of minimal harm because the supposed link between the clitoris and female sexual pleasure is a social construction rather than a physiological reality. I challenge these hypotheses. I say that by appropriate standards of evaluation, FGC is harmful. Finally, I submit that most FGC is a proper matter of concern because it is the irreversible reduction of a human capacity in the absence of meaningful consent.

MeSH terms

  • Africa
  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Bias
  • Circumcision, Female* / adverse effects
  • Circumcision, Female* / statistics & numerical data
  • Consumer Advocacy
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Empirical Research
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Morals
  • Prevalence
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Socioeconomic Factors