From Encyclopedia of Sex and Sexuality
A term describing the surgical procedure of removing the clitoris, usually in a prepubescent girl around the age of seven. It is sometimes misnamed “female circumcision.” While most medical persons and sexologists do not believe that male circumcision has any harmful effects—on the contrary, it has some health benefits—a clitoridectomy will usually deprive a woman of sexual pleasure and may be a permanent source of pain during sexual intercourse.
There are varying degrees of clitoridectomies, ranging from removing the clitoral hood and parts of the labia minora to removing these, the clitoris, and parts of the labia majora.
In the Middle East and Africa, where the operation is still practiced by certain ethnic groups, clitoridectomy may be accompanied by the closure of the vagina with stitches, except for a small opening to allow urination. When a woman who has had a clitoridectomy marries and is ready for socially-approved intercourse, the opening is enlarged by her husband with a knife or through the forcible entry of his penis. This type of clitoridectomy — called “vaginal infibulation” — is intended to ensure the chastity of young women, especially in societies in which a bride price is paid to the father for his daughter. Clitoridectomies were performed, although rarely, in the West until the early twentieth century, to discourage masturbation in women, which was considered unhealthy.
While the United Nations is on record as being opposed to clitoridectomy, very little success has been achieved in eradicating it since it is deeply rooted in the religious and social practices of many cultures. In these cultures, clitoridectomies have been carried out for centuries and are often used to distinguish women suitable for marriage from those who are not.