Female Genital Surgeries: The Known, the Unknown, and the Unknowable

Med Anthropol Q.  1999; March 1 : 79–106

Female Genital Surgeries: The Known, the Unknown, and the Unknowable

Makhlouf Obermeyer C.


This article reviews the literature on female genital surgeries and examines the extent to which available research supports commonly accepted “facts” about the prevalence and harmful effects of these practices, in particular their possible health complications, and their effect on sexuality. While information regarding the prevalence of female genital surgeries is becoming increasingly available, the powerful discourse that depicts these practices as inevitably causing death and serious ill health, and as unequivocally destroying sexual pleasure, is not sufficiently supported by the evidence. The article discusses some of the implications of research on female genital surgeries for the societies that are involved—not merely those where the practices are found, but also those whose gaze has been so intensely focused on the customs of others, [female genital surgeries/mutilation, prevalence, health complications, sexuality]

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