Heather Corinna replies:
I was just wondering...can a girl have sex if she has undergone genital mutilation? Because I know a girl who has, and she said it was a TYPE 1 circumcision and that she couldn't have sex EVER. Also, is there any way she will ever be able to reverse the mutilation? What limitations will she face, compared to a person who hasn't been mutilated? Thanks a lot for your answer!
It's great that you're looking for information for your friend. Hopefully, we can offer some both she and you will find useful.
This month, we have the benefit of a some extra hands to help with this section of the site, including some wonderful sex educators, writers and activists. For this question, I thought Audacia Ray, one of my favorite activists and the Program Officer for Online Communications and Campaigns at the International Women’s Health Coalition as well as a co-founder of advocacy organization Sex Work Awareness, would be fantastic to hear from on this issue.
Here's what she had to say:
The World Health Organization defines a type one female genital cutting as:Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
Many people who have a fully intact clitoris find touching their clitoris or having someone else touch it to be a source of pleasure and a kind of stimulation that does or may play a part in orgasm. However, the clitoris is not the only key to pleasure and/or orgasm. Most of pleasure and orgasm aren't about our genitals at all, but about our brain and central nervous system. Even when it comes to the clitoris, there is much more than meets the eye: the visible hood and glans of the clitoris are attached to deeper structures. Underneath the skin, the clitoris is actually wishbone shaped, with long legs, or crura, that are underneath the labia majora. For some people, light touch or pressure on the crura is pleasurable and potentially orgasmic. In type one FGC, the crura are not harmed, so the “invisible” part of the clitoris is still intact and functional. You can find out more about the whole clitoris and all its structures via some links at the bottom of this page.
Beyond the clitoral structures, there are many other erogenous zones that a person who has undergone female genital cutting may want to explore. Many of these spots on the body are not genitals at all, but could include the back, neck, chest, feet, and many other spots where touching could be pleasurable. Genitally, in addition to the clitoris, stimulation of the outer parts of the vulva, the vagina, and g-spot may all be pleasurable and potentially orgasm-producing. Stimulation of the perineum, or the space between the vulva and the anus, as well as external and internal stimulation of the anus may be enjoyable as well.
For some people who have had female genital cutting, however, some or all kinds of genital stimulation becomes uncomfortable or even painful. Despite this, many people who have had the procedure done are physically capable of vaginal intercourse and go on to become pregnant and deliver healthy babies. But scarring from the genital cutting, even when completely healed, can increase the risk of complications for childbirth. This is largely because the scars that are created from the cutting damage the vulva’s natural elasticity. As well, emotional trauma from FGM can also have a big impact on someone's sexuality.
It’s important to avoid genital contact with a partner if you have recently had cutting or surgery on your genitals. Piercings, male circumcision, and female genital cutting all take time to heal, though the trauma to the area and the resulting wounds vary greatly depending on the tissue that was cut into or removed, the instruments used, and the conditions (sterile or non-sterile) under which the procedure was performed. Partnered interactions with unhealed tissues increase the likelihood of transmission of sexually transmitted infections. Also, stimulating these areas by yourself before healing is complete can reopen wounds, further traumatize the area, and increase scarring.
That said, the skin and tissues of the vulva may seem very fragile, but they are also very tough and heal quickly. After all, the vulva is designed to withstand and heal from childbirth.
As to your question about “reversing” the cutting, over the last decade, new developments have been made for genital reconstructive surgeries. In cases of a type one cutting, surgery is likely to help a person recover some sensation. The surgery extends the hidden parts of the clitoris and reconstructs them so that part of the crura is exposed to create a glans, and a new clitoral hood is fashioned.
People who have undergone FGC/FGM have different challenges to contend with that people who have vulvas that have not been cut. FGC not only physically limits sexual responsiveness, but the procedure is a traumatic event that may have lasting impact on the way the survivor responds to and manages sexual interactions with partners.
That should give you and your friend a good start. Thanks, Dacia!
I also want to make sure that if and when you're sharing this kind of information with your friend, you're doing it in a way that she's comfortable with. I don't know if she's asked you for this information or not, or if this is about your own curiosity. If she hasn't asked, before giving it to her, I'd just check-in and make sure that it's something she wants and is open to right now. I probably don't need to tell you that this is a very sensitive topic, and all the more so when it's about one's own body.
She's obviously shared something very personal about herself with you, which suggests she trusts you and feels pretty safe with you. That's wonderful. Just be sure you nurture those feelings of trust and safety by trying to follow her lead on what kind of information she wants and doesn't, or is and isn't ready for. It's also entirely possible that when she told you she could not have sex ever, she may have also been voicing that she does not want to have a given kind of sex ever -- a feeling which may or may not be temporary.
If that's how she feels, that's something to respect and accept, rather than trying to help her see that she may well be able to have and enjoy various kinds of sex, even though I've no doubt your intentions here are good. One good way to walk that line might be to tell her that if she's interested in some additional information about sex and sexuality and genitals that pertains to her, you've found some. That way, she can just say yes, say no, or know that if and when she wants to know more, you've got her back.
I'll leave you with some extra links to look at about FGM/FGC, but also about sex and sexual anatomy in general: