Background: The most pervasive form of female genital mutilation/cutting-infibulation-involves the almost complete closure of the vaginal orifice by cutting and closing the labia to create a skin seal. A small opening remains for the passage of urine and menstrual blood. This physical closure has to be re-opened-defibulated-later in life. When they marry, a partial opening is made to enable sexual intercourse. The husband commonly uses his penis to create this opening. In some settings, a circumciser or traditional midwife opens the infibulated scar with a knife or razor blade. Later, during childbirth, a further opening is necessary to make room for the child's passage. In Norway, public health services provide surgical defibulation, which is less risky and painful than traditional forms of defibulation. This paper explores the perceptions and experiences of surgical defibulation among migrants in Norway and investigates whether surgical defibulation is an accepted medicalization of a traditional procedure or instead challenges the cultural underpinnings of infibulation.
Methods: Data derived from in-depth interviews with 36 women and men of Somali and Sudanese origin and with 30 service providers, as well as participant observations in various settings from 2014-15, were thematically analyzed.
Results: The study findings indicate that, despite negative attitudes towards infibulation, its cultural meaning in relation to virility and sexual pleasure constitutes a barrier to the acceptance of medicalized defibulation.
Conclusions: As sexual concerns regarding virility and male sexual pleasure constitute a barrier to the uptake of medicalized defibulation, health care providers need to address sexual concerns when discussing treatment for complications in infibulated women. Furthermore, campaigns and counselling against this practice also need to tackle these sexual concerns.
Keywords: Change; Defibulation; Female genital mutilation/cutting; Infibulation; Migration.