Informed Planet 26.02.18: FGM

Alan Ireland Debi Parsons: I'll try to find the essay. Sometimes, it's hard to know exactly what was done in Victorian and Edwardian times, as the "instructions" generally aren't explicit. My "Ladies' Handbook of Home Treatment" (1912) says only, "A fact almost unknown among the laity is that girls sometimes require a slight operation which somewhat resembles circumcision in the boy, a procedure which yields favorable results out of all proportion to the extent of the operation. Any girl who does not yield to the ordinary measures employed in the treatment of self-abuse should be examined with a view to having this operation performed if it be required. The fact of undergoing an operation and of having the genital organs carefully covered with protective dressings and bandages for some time, tends in itself to lessen the force of the habit" (Page 350). My mother, who was a nurse at Queen's Hospital in Birmingham, England, in the late 1930s, once told me that the hospital admitted children for the "treatment" of masturbation. But she never spelled out what that "treatment" was - apart from saying they tried to tire the children out before putting them to bed - and I was too young to have the gumption to ask searching questions.

Alan Ireland The "ordinary measures" referred to above included the use of mechanical restraints. I have pictures of chastity belts and a spiked penile ring on my website at These were advertised in medical literature in the late 19th century.

Alan Ireland Debi and Penny: Not even male circumcision is obligatory in Islam - contrary to what most Muslims believe. It's only sunnah (a tradition), not fard (a religious duty). For this reason, adult male converts to Islam are not pressed to undergo the procedure. In fact, they are not even asked about their "status".

Alan Ireland There's an awful lot of silliness on this subject. A Wellington GP, himself a Muslim, once told me about a Jewish boy who was going to marry a Muslim girl. One day, he got a telephone call from the girl's parents. After a bit of beating about the bush, the parents said, "We would like our future son-in-law to be circumcised". "But he's Jewish. And as his doctor, I can assure you that he is already circumcised," the GP protested. That kept them quiet for about a week. Then the phone rang again. "We have decided," the parents said, "that we would like him to have a Muslim circumcision as well as a Jewish circumcision." "Well, if you insist, I can give him a Muslim circumcision as well as a Jewish circumcision," the GP said. "But I must warn you that he may not be left with a great deal to work with. Is that what you want?" "Oh, no, no, no," the parents responded. And that, mercifully, was the end of the matter. 


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