MGM and FGM: Why the Double Standard?

Having spent years as a physician with expertise in male and intersex genitalia, and performing extensive research on the practice of female genital mutilation, the double standard here is obvious. In regions practicing female genital mutilation, they do not call it mutilation. They call it female circumcision, and they do not agree it is mutilation. They believe it is best for the child and the woman she will become, and it does offer many cultural and psychosocial benefits. The practice is usually done under the guise of good intentions, not as punishment, torture, or intentional trauma.

Female circumcision is practiced in more than 29 countries in the world, and it is estimated that there are 125 million women living who have undergone this procedure. Male circumcision remains common in many places, and an estimated 661 million men living today have been cut. Estimates of the number of intersex children (in which their biology does not conform to medical ideals of male or female biology) are at least 1 in 2000 (about 3.5 million of this world’s approximately 7 billion population), and, depending on definitions, may be as high as 1 in 150. A significant number of these intersex children undergo gender-conforming surgery during childhood, which is surgery designed to make the appearance of the genitals match the gender of rearing decided upon by the care team.

The World Health Organization defines genital mutilation as intentionally altering the genitals for non-medical reasons. Male circumcision is widely recognized as being medically unnecessary. Gender-conforming surgery in intersex individuals is performed for psychosocial reasons, not medical issues. I agree with the World Health Organization’s choice to call female circumcision for what it is, mutilation to genitals, and out of respect for the severity and harm of this practice, I will use the phrase “female genital mutilation” rather than “female circumcision.” Because the discussion here is on medically unnecessary alteration of genitals, I will also use the phrases “male genital mutilation” rather than “male circumcision” and “intersex genital mutilation” rather than “gender-conforming surgery” in the remainder of this article. …

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