Male versus female genital alteration: differences in legal, medical, and socioethical responses

Gend Med. 2007 Jun;4(2):89-96. doi: 10.1016/s1550-8579(07)80023-4.


The different legal, social, and medical approaches to ritually based male and female genital circumcision in the United States are highlighted in this article. The religious and historical origins of these practices are briefly examined, as well as the effect of changing policy statements by American medical associations on the number of circumcisions performed. Currently, no state or federal laws single out male circumcision for regulation. The tolerant attitudes toward male circumcision in law, medicine, and societal opinion stand in striking contrast to the attitudes of those disciplines toward even the least invasive form of female genital alteration. US law tacitly condones male circumcision by providing exemptions that are not available for other medical procedures, while criminalizing any similar or even less extensive procedure on females. The increase in immigration, over the past few decades, of people from countries in which female genital alteration is a cultural tradition has brought the issue to the United States. The medical profession's changing approach over time toward male circumcision is primarily responsible for such different legal and societal reactions toward female genital alteration.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Circumcision, Female* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Circumcision, Female* / psychology
  • Circumcision, Male* / history
  • Circumcision, Male* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Circumcision, Male* / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Professional Practice*
  • Religion
  • United States