Female genital cutting and sexual function: In search of an alternate theoretical model

T. Esho, P. Enzlin, S. van Wolputte, M. Temmerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


This article revisits the open debate regarding the link between Female Genital Cutting (FGC) and Female Sexual Function (FSF). In particular, it considers how the practice, both as an operative procedure involving the alteration of external female genitalia, and culturally sanctioned maturation ritual, affects subjects' sexual function and capacity to self-actualise in matters pertaining to sexuality. The article questions the validity of prevailing discourses that infer a causative association between FGC and Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD). Informed as they are by classical perspectives regarding the female sexual response cycle, the discourses attribute various dimensions of sexual dysfunction to the latter's failure to function optimally. However, it is the position of this article that this paradigm, in spite of its apparent persuasiveness, has not lent itself to sufficient empirical substantiation. This article proceeds from the premise that sexual function is a highly complex phenomenon, the optimisation of which not only is dependent upon physiological and psychological processes of body and mind, but likewise is contingent upon a broader spectrum of factors, some of which are external to instinctual processes of body and mind. This is particularly true in the context of practising and mostly culturally conservative societies, where culture, as a value and custom system is almost certain to exert an overarching influence on human relational behaviour and, by extension, the practice and experience of sexuality. It is therefore inconceivable that a conclusive judgement regarding the imports of FGC relative to sexual function can be reached without a critical consideration of this latter dimension. Scholarly explorations in this direction are scarce. This article summarises the findings of a recent investigation regarding the theme. Using the Maasai community of East Africa serving as an illustrative case study, the study explores the nexus between culture, sexuality and sexual function, in which it attempts to determine which cultural vectors are involved in the intermediation of sexual function. Emerging insights are used as key inferences towards building a contextualised explanatory theory on the subject. The article is structured in three parts. It begins by interrogating prevailing discourses regarding FGC and FSF. The interrogation serves as a background to, and provides a rationale for, an empirical investigation regarding the study theme, the latter of which is further outlined in a subsequent section. The third and final section briefly outlines elements of the proffered theoretical model.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-235
Number of pages15
JournalAfrican Identities
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Culture
  • Female circumcision
  • Female genital cutting
  • Female sexual function
  • Female sexuality


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