March 4, 2024

The Pains and Tears of Genitally-Mutilated Women

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Binta Onochie was 20-years-old when she had her first sexual intercourse. Even though she wasn’t forced by her partner, she said she felt raped, writhing in pain throughout the intercourse.

Onochie couldn’t have a normal sexual life because as a toddler, she was circumcised.

“I wish I could take back that part of me. Circumcision takes half or all of a woman’s sexual life. The chances of having an orgasm is zero,” she says of her bitter sexual experiences.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons.

These procedures, according to WHO, have no health benefits as it damages healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies.

Among others, long-term effects of FGM are sexual problems, which include pain during intercourse and decreased satisfaction.

According to 28TooMany, an organisation working to end FGM, 20 million women and girls in Nigeria have undergone FGM, and 82% of women aged 15–49 who have undergone it were cut before the age of five.

‘Cut, flesh removed’ is reportedly the most common type of FGM practised.

The only thing I feel during sex is pain’

Onochie said she didn’t see herself as a sexually normal person until she grew up to realise what was missing.

“The only thing I feel during sex is pain,” said the 30-year-old. And, as a result of that, she stayed away from sex for long.

“I practically thought I was abnormal growing up. I read books that talked about orgasms but then I didn’t experience any of those things. I looked at photos of vagina and I asked why mine looked different. It was later I got to discover that my clitoris had been cut off.

“I am a victim of FGM and I tell you, it is not funny. You become sexually inactive. Sometimes, I see myself as a weird person,” she said, stone-faced.

The 30-years-old woman hails from the Esan area of Edo state.

According to the European Country of Origin Information Network, Edo is one of the ethnic groups with 69 to 77 percent prevalence rate of FGM, which is considered one of the highest.

Onochie revealed that she has lost love relationships because of her sexual situation. Thankfully, her current lover understands her situation and promised to be patient.

“I discovered that the only way to help us is to be very patient as a man. I actually tell my boyfriends that I’m circumcised and teach them what to do to keep the excitement. Sometimes the old feelings come,” she said.

The young woman said she resumed sexual intercourse in 2019 and has not given up on trying.

Flawing one of the reasons for FGM, Onochie said, “funnily enough, they do it to curb a girl’s sexual urge but it’s a big fat lie. For someone like me who is very inquisitive, she might continue to seek for answers and fall prey.”

While Onochie hasn’t had a conversation with her mum about being cut, she said that she feels bitter for letting her go through the harmful procedure.

“I haven’t even forgiven her for circumcising me. I’m sure she and all her siblings were circumcised too but it has ended in my own generation. I won’t allow that on my daughter.”

I consider sex as suffering because I don’t enjoy it — Ayomikun Akindele

56-year-old Ayomikun Akindele has never enjoyed sex and at her age, her husband still complains bitterly about it.

“As a young woman, I never enjoyed sex because it was always a painful experience. I still don’t enjoy it and it causes misunderstandings between me and my husband.”

Akindele believes that a woman should enjoy sex but since that isn’t her case, she has decided to take it in good fate.

“I consider sex as suffering because I don’t enjoy it. My body hurts every time I have it,” she said with a resignation note in her voice.

Akindele, who hails from Ekiti, a South West state with a 72.3 percent prevalence rate, revealed that she is an FGM survivor.

“I was circumcised and I circumcised my girl-children.”

In Ekiti, it is widely believed that a child may die if its head touches the clitoris of an uncircumcised woman during childbirth.

When this reporter asked Akindele if she thinks that the clitoris is cut to prevent a woman from enjoying sex, she said, “Yes, I think so, because if you gather 10 women from my age group who were circumcised along with me, barely will you find two who would tell you that they enjoy sex.”

But despite the harm FGM caused on her sexual life, the mother of four was quick to argue about the benefits of the harmful procedure.

Boasting about the effectiveness of FGM in preventing fornication and adultery, Akindele said that people like her do not engage in extramarital affairs.

“An uncircumcised woman acts like a dog. If she tastes it once, she’ll like it. Women who are not circumcised and not promiscuous only received the mercies of God. It is the mercies of God,” she said.

She added that “if a circumcised woman is promiscuous, there is a reason. It could be a spiritual battle. In fact, she could even stop along the line. There is nothing anyone can tell me about FGM that will make me regret cutting my daughters. I do not regret it at all.”

Educate girls and women about their sexual health — Sylvia Chioma

Coordinator of the Girdle Project, an initiative advocating against FGM, Sylvia Chioma said that one of the most common complaints her organisation gets from survivors is about their sexual life.

“Our inbox is flooded with cases of FGM; some are accompanied by heart-breaking pictures of the victims. These women (from all over the world) complained that they don’t get easily turned on or have this cold attitude towards sex, and as such, give room for their husbands to suspect they are cheating on them with other men,” she said.

According to Chioma, the inability to get turned on is because the nerves in the clitoris have been tampered with.

“Why would they get turned on when the nerves in the clitoris have been decapitated? Many women don’t know this is the reason — you can’t know the taste of a food if your tongue is cut off.”

Meanwhile, the Girdle Project coordinator stated that not all FGM survivors feel the same way about their sexual life.

According to her, while one woman says she feels intense pain during intercourse, the other woman may not feel as much pain.

“The difference can be due to the type of FGM that was performed on them. Some are milder than the other in view of the manner of the cut. All types have their peculiar complications. I was this myopic that FGM Type III — the worst type — doesn’t happen in Nigeria until we were contacted on the plights of two Yoruba women who had it,” she revealed.

WHO refers to Type III as infibulation and it is the narrowing of the vaginal opening with the creation of a covering seal.

Sadly, Chioma noted that despite knowing the implications of FGM, many, including educated people, still carry out the harmful practices to preserve culture.

According to her, empowering girl-children with a quality education is one of the ways to tackle these things.

“Beyond the FGM, it is best to speak to your girls and women on sexuality education. This would empower them to improve their sexual health,” she said.

Please note that the names of the first two women interviewed in this story were changed for privacy purposes.

This article was first published on The Guardian.

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