Accepted paper:

Reconstructing selves: therapeutic journeys after "female genital mutilation" in Belgium

Authors:

Sarah O'Neill (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
Cendrine Vanderhoeven (CHU Saint-Pierre)
Fabienne Richard (GAMS Belgique)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how women requesting reconstructive surgery after FGM go through a process re-appropriating their body and their female identity through sexology and psychotherapy. Perceptions of intimacy, sexual well-being and aesthetics change during this process of re-appropriation.

Paper long abstract:

Since clitoral reconstructive surgery was first described, the procedure has become available in various European countries. Despite limited evidence on the safety and success of the procedure, increasing numbers of women are showing interest. In Belgium the procedure is available in conjunction with a multidisciplinary package of care, involving mandatory consultations with a gynecologist, a FGM-expert midwife, a psychotherapist and a sexologist. Eight months of qualitative research performed during consultations with women interested in the surgery showed that they desired surgery because they want "to feel complete", to get back "what was wrongfully taken away" or to enhance their sexual satisfaction or performance. The underlying experiences that triggered the desire for reconstruction included negative sexual experiences with men and/or feeling incomplete as a result of negative discourses about FGM. Only 27% of women requesting reconstruction underwent the procedure between 2014 and 2016. The qualitative research shows that the majority of women are hardly informed about the surgical procedure, the potential risks and the anatomy of female reproductive organs when they first request it. Some change their minds through sexology or psychotherapy. Regardless of whether women opt for surgery or not, the women following consultations go through a process re-appropriating their body and their female identity in different ways. Those who opt for surgery often seek to become aesthetically complete and intact regardless of potential loss of sensation. Others learn to explore and redefine their sexuality, intimacy and womanhood through practices that make them feel good.

panel P038
Understanding "FGM" and sexual violence in diaspora: women's journeys through re-creations of identity and discourses on trauma