In the nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries, American physicians treated women and girls for masturbation by removing the clitoris (clitoridectomy) or clitoral hood (female circumcision). During this same time, and continuing to today, physicians also performed female circumcision to enable women to reach orgasm. While the opposite purposes of these clitoral surgeries (to either contain a perceived excessive sexuality or to remedy a perceived lack of sexual responsiveness) may seem paradoxical, their use reflects a consistent medical conception of the clitoris as a sexual organ. In recent years both the popular media and academics have commented on the rising popularity in the United States of female genital cosmetic surgeries, including female circumcision, yet these discussions often assume such surgeries are new. In Female Circumcision and Clitoridectomy in the United States: A History of a Medical Treatment, Sarah Rodriguez presents an engaging and surprising history of surgeries on the clitoris, revealing what the therapeutic use of clitoridectomy and female circumcision tells us about changing (and not so changing) medical ideas concerning the female body and female sexuality. Sarah B. Rodriguez teaches at Northwestern University in the Medical Humanities and Bioethics Program and in the Global Health Studies Program.
Female Circumcision and Clitoridectomy in the United States
Subjects: Health Sciences, Sociology, Public Health