Infibulation, in modern usage, 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 a fortnight (approximately) 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 clitoridectomy (removal of the clitoris). The labia minora (inner lips of the vulva) are often also removed.
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.
Infibulation is not the same as clitoridectomy or labia-trimming done without sewing or fusing the labia together. But all these practices of female genital mutilation are typically performed without anesthetic, in unsanitary conditions, and/or 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 as barbaric and cruel. According to the United Nations' End Fistula Campaign, this particular form of female genital cutting frequently results in organ damage, urinary incontinence, and obstetric fistula.
In ancient times, infibulation originally referred to binding together the foreskin of the penis with a fibula or metal clasp. This was performed on slaves in ancient Rome to ensure chastity for a temporary period (see chastity piercing). Anthropologically, similar practices (not involving the removal of tissue, and intended to prevent sexual intercourse, but not masturbation) can be found as voluntary customs in some cultures. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the words "infibulation" and "circumcision" (both originally referring to practices which did not permanently affect the basic functioning of the penis) came to be used as somewhat weaselly euphemisms to refer to severe practices of female genital mutilation. Infibulation is sometimes called "pharaonic circumcision", even though in correct medical use, the term "female circumcision" refers only to the operation of removing a small flap of skin surrounding the clitoris (analogous to the foreskin in males), without cutting the body of the clitoris or other parts of the genitals.
- "Infidel", Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 2007, pps 112-113,143, Free Press, ISBN 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.
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