Yesterday morning, whilst reading the news, I was shocked to learn that I have officially been mutilated. My junk, one of the rare parts of my body I like the look of, has undergone a “harmful procedure” that has left me officially a sufferer of Female Genital Mutilation – and what’s more, I paid someone to do it.
Around two years ago, I sought out the service of a friendly gent in a sterile environment to do the deed. For the small sum of £40, he, with my consent, unwittingly committed an act of Female Genital Mutilation upon my formerly unscathed lady-bits. My quick, and not entirely painless, outing left me with a shiny clitoral hood piercing, which has since brought me great aesthetic and sensory pleasure – but today it has been classified by the Department of Health as a mutilation. Not that my ears, tongue, lower lip or navel has been mutilated; only genital piercings constitute an act of grievous bodily modifications, and only on women.
As with all arguments around sensitive issues, there is always the complication of nuance to consider. So let me be clear here: I was 24 years old when I had my clitoral hood pierced. I was a consenting adult, neither coerced nor under the influence of any substance. I consented; nervously, but wholeheartedly. And whilst I’m not about to go into the finer points of my sex life (there are many trolls out there I’d rather not feed), I can say that decision has brought greater pleasure into my life since. I am against forced procedures or piercings on men or women of any age. However, I am also against branding women as “mutilated” for choosing to modify their genitals.
I want greater protection for women and girls who suffer genital mutilation; but protection does not start with smothering the rights of adult women over the control of their bodies.
This is the second time in the last few months our government has taken away the expression of female sexual pleasure in the name of protection. First we were told face-sitting wasn’t allowed in British porn; now we’re denied the right to pierce our bodies, and questions about consensual labiaplasty are being raised. Rape convictions rates in the UK are amongst the lowest in Europe; there are 170,000 women in this country living with real FGM. And now someone wants to ignore the issues and fudge the statistics by throwing consensual body modification into the mix.
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As one of the molly-coddled masses in question, I have to ask: how is reducing the range of my available sexual expression and genital pleasure – both aesthetic and sensory – going to protect me from being aggressively sexualised, raped or genitally tortured?
We don’t ban BDSM because of domestic violence. We don’t ban acid face peels because of Katie Piper; one is a consensual cosmetic procedure and the other is a sickening act of grievous bodily harm. So why is the fate of my genitals determined by the harm done to another woman? In revoking the rights to consensual activity, we aren’t protecting consent. We’re denying it. Intrinsic danger provokes the need to make an act illegal – not the potential for abuse.
I know what mutilation is. As a former self-harmer, I have waged war against my own body with a number of sharp objects, and I have the scars to prove it. I haven’t committed bodily abuse against myself in 7 years; so to be told my decision to have my clitoral hood pierced was an act of self-mutilation – to be denied authority over my own body as an act of protection – has seriously pissed me off.
I want the World Health Organisation to prevent forced genital piercings. I want to provide protection to those suffering from FGM. But I also want our governing bodies to understand the difference between force and consent. And what they seem to have overlooked is this: the irony of classifying a consensual act as illegal is that it removes the right to consent from women. It forces them to abstain from modifications, thereby making a decision for them. It revokes their right to consent – and to bodily authority.
Most of you will agree that a dangerous acid attack and a cosmetic chemical peel are in no way comparable. Many of you will note that there is an enormous distinction between my own self-abuse issues and the torturous removal of female foreskin, and I will absolutely concede. Andperhaps it is ridiculous to compare legislative force to forced genital torture; but then, if these things are ridiculous, so is the comparison between a consensual piercing and an unwanted surgery. Ridiculous – and harmful to FGM’s cause.