TUESDAY, June 12, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Reconstructive surgery may help ease the pain of women who have suffered female genital mutilation, a new study finds.
Female genital mutilation, or FGM, "includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs" for cultural or non-medical reasons, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO declares that female genital mutilation "is a violation of the human rights of girls and women."
In the new study, published online June 11 in The Lancet, researchers from France found that a new surgical technique could allow women who have been subjected to this type of mutilation to experience sexual pleasure. They noted, however, reconstructive surgery is often not an option for women who have had their external female genitalia (such as the clitoris) partially or totally removed.
"Our findings show that clitoral reconstruction after FGM is feasible. It can certainly improve women's pleasure and lessen their pain. It also allows mutilated women to recover their identity," the inventor of the surgical technique, Pierre Foldes from Poissy Saint Germain Hospital, explained in a journal news release.
"However, women with FGM rarely have access to reconstructive surgery to improve their lives, and in most developed and all developing countries surgery remains prohibitively expensive," added the study leaders Beatrice Cuzin from Edouard Herriot University Hospital in Lyon, and Armelle Andro from Pantheon Sorbonne University in Paris.
In conducting the study, the researchers examined the immediate and long-term outcomes of nearly 3,000 surgeries involving mutilated women who underwent a new surgical procedure to reconstruct their clitoris and restore its function.
The women were asked about the pain in their genitals as well as their sexual pleasure before their surgery and one year after they had the new procedure.
The study authors noted that 5 percent of the women experienced complications right after the surgery, such as moderate fever or suture failure.
One year later, however, 821 out of 840 women who attended the follow-up visit reported either an improvement or no increase in pain compared with their pre-treatment levels. Most women (815 out of 834) also reported an increase in sexual pleasure.
The researchers also reported that one-third of the women who had never had an orgasm prior to their operation had restricted or regular orgasms one year after they had the reconstructive surgery. They noted that the women who had restricted orgasms before the surgery had regular orgasms one year after the procedure.
More women should benefit from this new surgical technique, the study authors suggested. "Reconstructive surgery needs to be made more readily available in developed countries by trained surgeons. In France, where most of the health expenses are reimbursed, there is only limited provision, because only a handful of surgeons have been trained in this technique and fewer than 10 offer this service," they wrote in the news release.
Still, many mutilated women are not aware of their options for reconstructive surgery and some national health insurance plans do not cover this type of procedure, noted Jasmine Abdulcadir and colleagues from University Hospitals of Geneva, Switzerland, who wrote an accompanying commentary in the journal.
According to the WHO: Female genital mutilation is most common in the western, eastern, and northeastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and among immigrants in Europe and North America from these areas. The causes include a mix of cultural, religious and social factors. About 140 million girls and women worldwide are living with the consequences, including an estimated 92 million girls aged 10 and older in Africa. The mutilation is usually carried out between infancy and 15 years of age.
The World Health Organization has more about female genital mutilation.