How am I affected by FGM/C?
Trigger warning: This page contains some graphic content and material related to sex. Please take care when reading.
When FGM/C is practiced, families, communities, and societies are all impacted. While nothing can compare to the impact FGM/C has on girls and women, this practice may also have a direct impact on men, who go through emotional, psychological, relationship, and sometimes physical challenges. Here are a few examples:
Men are empathetic towards survivors,*,1,3 and report feeling mental anguish and helplessness when seeing their sisters, daughters, and wives suffer from various FGM/C complications,*,3 especially during labor, delivery and recovery.*1,2,4
Men also experience the distress and concern of further harming their wives or causing them pain during sexual intercourse, and fear resentment and limited intimacy. This can add more stress on the relationship.1,3 Here's a testimonial from a couple that talks about sex after FGM/C.
Men can experience physical consequences of FGM/C. In a study amongst Sudanese men, many reported difficulties during sexual penetration, as well as wounds, bleeding, or infections in the penis following sexual intercourse with partners that have had FGM/C.3
Men who have seen or know girls that have died as a result of FGM/C express that this has had a lasting emotional impact on them.*,2
Men report psychological and psychosexual problems as a result of limited sexual response from their partners and sexual dissatisfaction, putting a strain on relationships.1,3 They may also experience feelings of insecurity and suspect that they are impotent after multiple unsuccessful attempts to successfully have sexual intercourse.5
Men sometimes face challenges in accessing healthcare support for their partners who have experienced FGM/C.1,4 In the U.S., the lack of healthcare provider training, stigma, and language barriers complicate men’s interactions with the healthcare system. The added costs of medical care, which can lead to economic problems,3 have also been cited as a challenge by some men.3
What role can I play?
Men play an important role in the awareness and prevention of FGM/C. Some roles men can play are as allies, empathetic partners, decision makers, and activists. Read more about each of these below.
Men serve as important allies in creating positive change because, whether knowingly or unknowingly, they hold a significant role in the continuation of FGM/C. Women often feel defeated in their efforts to stop FGM/C and feel forced into accepting the practice because they believe it to be desirable to men in the larger community, even when this is not true.6 When men recognize their role in FGM/C and speak out as a male ally against the practice, women can feel more supported. Removing the pressure to undergo FGM/C or continue FGM/C within their family is a critical part of this process.
Here is a quote from one of the men we interviewed:
“We could have more programs like this where men are being involved in FGM/C, and the practice is not left to the women alone - let’s bring in men to be involved in this kind of program and awareness.”*
Also, it’s important to actively listen to survivors and women when discussing FGM/C.*,7 Help your female friends, family members, and partners be heard by letting them know you’re engaged in what they are saying and want to learn from them.
“If I can give advice, is talk to the person who, who had it done to them and actually find out how they felt about it and what they lost essentially. Within themselves, they lose a piece of who they are right and, and I would say communicate and find out the details of how it affected them. And then know how to change yourself into thinking, like do more research on it… I guess don’t be fearful to go against the norm, right. Like don’t fall into the crowd…Right, do what’s right.”*
Self-reflection and education can help support good allyship. For example, since the effects of FGM/C can range from mild to severe and have a mixture of short and long term consequences,8 men can learn about the physical, psychological, and social implications.9 Men can also reflect on their own privileges and beliefs, along with understanding larger cultural and community factors that may affect their own views related to FGM/C.
To learn more about being an ally, visit The Guide to Allyship.
“When you’re in a relationship and it’s an intimate relationship, things need to be consensual even years into a marriage... how does that make your wife feel and is it essentially a mutually gratifying experience, so I guess I pull it more into being a good empathetic partner.”*
Because FGM/C has various physical and psychological impacts and may affect women in different ways throughout their lives, men play a significant role as supportive partners to FGM/C survivors. In addition to educating themselves about these impacts, men who actively listen to their stories and needs, and are patient and understanding- especially when it comes to intimacy and sex- can be a source of comfort for their partners.
“I would encourage them to really listen and hear what their wives are saying about how they felt when they, when the FGM/C occurred as a little girl, how they felt in the whole process, and how they felt as a woman and what could they do to assist their women to have mutual satisfaction or the satisfaction that they have from a sexual engagement.”*
Men can also help their partners in finding and navigating the various medical, psychological, and social support resources that they might need as they address the various impacts.
“See if there is anything that would help. So, maybe ... speaking to a professional, somebody, a psychiatrist or psychologist, something that would help ease whatever pains they have towards the subject… I can't think of anything else I can do besides being really supportive and let them know this and try to do all that is in my ability to help in any way, if there is anything that they can think of that helps, I would pursue it. I would never let them feel like any less of a woman just because that happened to them.”*
Men often make or help to make important decisions within the family.10 Therefore, a man’s thoughts and views towards the practice hold great significance in a family, particularly when they disagree with FGM/C and are well educated about it.11 By actively being involved in the decision-making process and sharing their views against FGM/C, men can directly influence the decision of whether FGM/C continues or not.
“If they are educated enough, I feel men are more responsible maybe in this particular case. If they are convinced about the negative aspects of this practice and how it can affect girls in the family psychologically and physically in the long run for a lifetime. Once they are convinced of this, they can start talking about it immediately after, they start the family. Even one of the main topics to talk about ‘we are not going to do FGM to our daughters because of this and this and this and that.’ So, men can be strong supporters as I said if they are given the education, because some people do not know, some people don’t know.”*
Also, within the community, men can help convince the important individual decision makers, such as faith and community leaders, and other fellow community members to abandon the practice by serving as trustworthy sources for reliable information and informed opinions.* A man’s voice against the practice would aid in helping communities understand that FGM/C is not a necessary procedure.
Although FGM/C is performed on girls, it impacts men's relationships, family, and the larger community, ultimately affecting men as well.* To bring about awareness of the harmful practice and to ultimately prevent FGM/C on women and girls, it is vital for men to stand up as activists against FGM/C.
Activism by male allies can come in a variety of ways such as supporting organizations, raising awareness, and being actively involved in education programs.
“It is a necessity that this information be shared, we need to be educated and informed. When we remain in a state of ignorance, ignorant things will continue happening to us.”*
Speaking up, initiating conversations around FGM/C within communities, and sharing stories and experiences are also forms of activism.
“I think it relies on being present but not taking over the conversation, knowing that our voice does matter, we shouldn’t be silent and on the sidelines but like we have personal stories to share.”*
To read more about steps you can take to be an activist, visit the “What can I do to prevent FGM/C?” section.
*Interviews conducted with men in Winter 2020 to Spring 2021.