Infibulation is the practice of surgical closure of the labia majora (outer lips of the vulva) by sewing them together to partially seal the vagina, leaving only a small hole for the passage of urine and menstrual blood. The legs are bound together for approximately two weeks to allow the labia to heal into a barrier. The procedure is usually done on young girls before the onset of puberty, to ensure chastity. It is usually performed at the same time as female genital cutting (removal of the clitoris). The labia minora (inner lips of the vulva) are often also removed. Female genital cutting is often confused with infibulation, but they are distinct procedures.
Reasons for Infibulation
Infibulation is believed by practitioners to render women sexually inactive, unlikely to engage in intercourse, and the visibly intact barrier of infibulation assures a husband he has married a virgin. The barrier produced by infibulation is usually penetrated at the time of a girl’s marriage by the forcible action of the penis of her new husband, or, if he is unsuccessful, by cutting the connected tissue surgically.
Both procedures are typically performed without anesthetic, in unsanitary conditions, on children well below the age capable of giving informed consent. Some subjects of infibulation have experienced infections, severe reproductive disorders, and/or death.
These practices have been widely condemned by other cultures as barbaric and cruel. According to the United Nations’ End Fistula Campaign, this particular form of female genital mutilation frequently results in organ damage, urinary incontinence, and obstetric fistula. Male infibulation
Historically, infibulation also referred to suturing the foreskin of the male organ. This was performed on slaves in ancient Rome to ensure chastity, as well as voluntarily in some cultures. Without removing tissue, it was intended to prevent sexual intercourse, but not masturbation. The use of the word ‘infibulation’ has only recently been applied to the more severe African practice. Traditionally, the African practice was called “pharaonic circumcision”, and is not technically infibulation.
In ancient Greece, athletes, singers and other public performers infibulated themselves by using a clasp or string to close the foreskin and draw the penis over to one side, in a practice known as kynodesmē (literally “dog control”). This was seen as a sign of restraint and abstinence, but was also related to concerns of modesty; in artistic representations, it was seen as obscene and offensive to show a long penis and the penis’ head in particular. Many examples of kynodesmē are depicted on vases, almost exclusively confined to symposiasts and komasts, who are as a general rule older (or at least mature) men. Tying up the penis with a string was a way of avoiding what was seen as the shameful and dishonorable spectacle of an exposed penis, something that was only portrayed in depictions of those without repute, such as slaves and barbarians. It therefore conveyed the moral worth and modesty of the subject.
- Wikipedia: Infibulation
- “Infidel”, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 2007, pps 112-113,143, Free Press, [978-0-7432-8968-9]
- “Infibulation in the Horn of Africa”, Guy Pieters, M.D. and Albert B. Lowenfels, M.D., F.A.C.S., New York State Journal of Medicine, Volume 77, Number 6: Pages 729-31, April 1977. Hosted on Circumcision Information and Resource Pages, cirp.org. Retrieved on May 16, 2007.
- “Policy – Female Circumcision, Excision and Infibulation”, The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, July/August 2001. Retrieved on May 16, 2007.