Female Circumcision and Clitoridectomy in the United States

October 2014
6 black and white illustrations
292 pages
9x6 in
Rochester Studies in Medical History
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC MED039000, SOC028000, HEA042000

Female Circumcision and Clitoridectomy in the United States

A History of a Medical Treatment

Sarah B. Rodriguez

eBook for Handhelds
An engaging and surprising history of surgeries on the clitoris, revealing what the therapeutic use of female circumcision and clitoridectomy tells us about American medical ideas concerning the female body and female sexuality.
From the late nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century, 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. Though used as treatment, paradoxically, for both a perceived excessive sexuality and a perceived lack of sexual responsiveness, these surgeries reflect a consistent medical conception of the clitoris as a sexual organ. In recent years 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 procedures 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 how medical views of the female body and female sexuality have changed -- and in some cases not changed -- throughout the last century and a half.

Sarah B. Rodriguez is lecturer in medical humanities and bioethics and in global health studies at Northwestern University.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Rethinking the History of Female Circumcision and Clitoridectomy in the United States
Women, Masturbation, and Clitoral Surgery, 1862-1945
Children, Masturbation, and Clitoral Surgery since 1890
Female Sexual Degeneracy and the Enlarged Clitoris, 1850-1941
Female Circumcision to Promote Clitoral Orgasm, 1890-1945
Female Circumcision as Sexual Enhancement Therapy during the Era of the Vaginal Orgasm, 1940-66
Female Circumcision and the Divisive Issue of Female Clitoral Sexual Pleasure Go Public, 1966-89
James Burt and the Surgery of Love, 1966-89
Conclusion: Genital Geographies
Appendix: The Clitoris in Anatomy and Gynecology Texts


This book should not only be read (and taught) by medical historians and historians of gender and sexuality, but--with the recent surge of genital plastic surgery--one would wish for a copy of Female Circumcision in the waiting rooms of America's plastic surgeons. BULLETIN OF THE HISTORY OF MEDICINE

Female Circumcision and Clitoridectomy throws a flood of light on a dark and neglected corner of American medical practice, described by one retired gynaecologist as "a lucrative industry" and a "thriving business few people spoke about afterwards." It is to her great credit that Rodriguez has broken this silence, and her book will be required reading for anybody interested in the issues it covers. JOURNAL OF SOCIAL HISTORY

Rodriguez convincingly presents clitoral surgeries as normalized practices in US medical history, and the clitoris as a site of cultural and medical contestation throughout this 150-year period. The book brings valuable new perspectives to medical history in capturing the complex interaction between medicine and culture in the control of women's bodies and sexuality. JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF MEDICINE

I recommend Female Circumcision and Clitoridectomy in the United States to readers who want to know more about clitoral surgeries in the American context. The book would also make an excellent teaching tool; it would fit well on syllabi for women's history, the history of medicine, or the history of sex. NURSING CLIO

Rodriguez convincingly argues that the history of clitoral surgery reveals medicine's approach to female sexuality. She seeks to counter narratives of medical "misogyny" with a more nuanced story that situates the practice . . . in historical context. JOURNAL OF AMERICAN HISTORY

Rodriguez vividly and persuasively places the clitoris at the center of a centuries-long medical debate about what's wrong with the female body, and how it can be surgically adapted to androcentric sexual norms. Required reading if you think the barbaric days of genital cutting are in the American past. --Rachel Maines, author of The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction

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