Types Of Female Genital Alterations

The application of surgical procedures to the genitalia of men, women, and children is a predominantly 19th century phenomenon in the West. Male circumcision has an ancient and largely religiously inspired history (60,63). However, genital surgeries on females and children are almost exclusively a product of the 19th century. Moreover, the use of instruments and devices to restrain sexual activity in the general population (as opposed to monks) gains much in inventiveness and intensity of pain during this period. While the above-mentioned factors contributed to the acceptance of genital surgeries and related devices, three rationales were given during the 19th century for their specific use (64-69).

First, as masturbation was linked to a wide and seemingly limitless range of diseases from epilepsy to rheumatism and insanity, the medical establishment focused much of its curative efforts on the genitalia. This therapeutic rationale was foremost among the justifications for genital surgical interventions and the invention of new methods for sexual restraint (70). For example, according to the 1848 report on the Massachusetts Lunatic Asylum, approximately 32% of admissions were for self-pollution (71). Further, it was a routine matter to castrate such inmates in droves to prevent masturbation and, thus, to cure them of insanity. Women in particular were "castrated" by removing their ovaries to cure them of psychological disorders (72,73).

The second dominant rationale was that of public health or sanitary injunctions. According to this line of reasoning, both doctors and public health officials were concerned with maintaining the general health of the population; they were involved in cleaning up pollution whether caused by industry or self (74). This large-scale effort to sanitize cities and bodies would also encourage putting self-polluters into insane asylums and then using them as a captive population for experimenting with advances in genital surgeries and devices of restraint. Even private entrepreneurs got into the sanitary game. Wellness centers sprung up all over the country, a good example of which is the Kellogg Center for Clean and Healthy Living (75). Not only were Kellogg's corn flakes sold as a healthy non-stimulant designed to dampen all sexual passions, but his centers were the hotbed for restraining techniques (41,76). Sylvester Graham, a Presbyterian minister, invented the Graham cracker, which, together with a mild vegetarian diet, was intended to reduce sexual cravings, while C.W. Post marketed his Postum cereal as the "Monk's Brew."

Lastly, a general rationale often mentioned was the need to eradicate childhood sexuality. It is notable that a vast proportion of the surgical interventions and instruments were applied to the bodies of young children, both boys and girls. For example, the antimasturbation school bench was designed to force students to keep their legs apart and avoid rubbing their genitals; long coats were forbidden and strenuous gymnastics, boxing, and other vigorous sports were recommended to channel the energy of the young into productive activities (43).

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