Dear Maasi is a column about everything you wanted to know about sex and relationships but were afraid to ask! It’s a partnership between Sahiyo and WeSpeakOut, and is for all of us who have questions about khatna (female genital mutilation/cutting or FGM/C) and how it impacts our bodies, minds, sexualities and relationships. We welcome you to submit your anonymous questions.
I find that many survivors of female genital cutting (FGC) either have not experienced or been vocal about the negative impact of FGC on their sexual experiences. Am I in the minority? It feels that some of the impact may be in my head and not real. How can I explore that aspect of my personal experience?
Sex and khatna can be considered taboo subjects, which means that people can be very shy about sharing their true experiences. Let’s change that!
In previous columns, I’ve referenced recent research done by Sahiyo and WeSpeakOut, that estimates around 30-35% of khatna survivors report a negative impact on their sexual lives:
- fear, anxiety, shame, and difficulty trusting sexual partners
- low arousal, inability to feel sexual pleasure and over sensitivity in the clitoral area
In conversations with women, I’ve also heard about sexual pain, which I addressed in depth in October’s column. In my own process of healing, I’ve needed to understand freeze responses and how to address them through mindfulness.
In the Sahiyo study, another 32% said they “didn’t know” if khatna had an impact on their sexuality, which raises questions for me. I think that most of us are not trauma-informed or sexuality-literate enough to answer this question because we often don’t know how to interpret and trust our feelings and sensations. All of this can lead to confusion and feeling like we’re imagining things.
For example, consider that trauma memories can be inaccessible, or fuzzy, or surreal-feeling:
“Trauma memories are often implicit, because trauma floods our brain with cortisol, the stress hormone, which shuts down the part of our brain that encodes memories and makes them explicit. Our implicit memories can be like invisible forces in our lives, impacting us in powerful ways.” (https://www.psychalive.org/making-sense-of-implicit-memories/)
These invisible forces are the living legacy of trauma. The traumatized part of us can remain on guard even if our adult self intellectually knows we’re safe.
One way to explore this further is to learn more about trauma and sexuality. Review some of my past columns and peruse some of the short videos and article links.
Many people find it helpful to talk with a trauma and sexuality trained psychotherapist who can help you to notice, understand and shift your responses. (Check out January 2021’s column for details on how to find someone with those skills.)
Anam, I hope you’ll offer yourself the gift of this exploration and sexual healing. Sexual pleasure is our birthright!
About Maasi, aka Farzana Doctor: Farzana is a novelist and psychotherapist in private practice. She’s a founding member of WeSpeakOut and the End FGM/C Canada Network. She loves talking about relationships and sexuality! Find out more about her at http://www.farzanadoctor.com
Disclaimer: While Farzana is full of good advice, this column won’t address everyone’s individual concerns and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical or psychological care.