All forms of genital cutting – female genital cutting (FGC), intersex genital cutting, male genital cutting (MGC), and even cosmetic forms of FGC – are performed in a belief that they will improve the subject’s life. Genital autonomy is a unified principle that children should be protected from genital cutting that is not medically necessary. Safeguarding genital autonomy encompasses helping societies and individuals to explore wounds common across different forms of genital cutting regarding gender, power, the quest for cultural belonging, and social and sexual control. A desire to prevent alternative sexualities helps explain the origins of MGC’s medicalization starting in the nineteenth century, as well as the roots of the failed attempt to similarly medicalize FGC. The child with ‘ambiguous’ genitalia brings us face to face with the failure of the attempted alignment of sex and gender. Medical ethics, law, and human rights suggest a path forward toward genital autonomy.
1 Attorneys for the Rights of the Child, Berkeley, CA, USA
An earlier and subsatantially different version of this article was presented on 1 September 2011 at a conference entitled ‘Law, Human Rights, and Non-Therapeutic Interventions on Children’ held at the University of Keele, UK.