On the day the world’s first clitoral restoration hospital, nicknamed ‘The Pleasure Hospital”, was set to open in Burkina Faso, government officials wouldn’t allow doors to open.
“We were so disappointed,” said Clitoraid Communications Director Nadine Gary. “The First Lady was going to inaugurate the hospital and everything was set and suddenly the Friday before we were going to inaugurate, we got a phone call from the minister of Health that they were not going to give us our permits.”
The Kamkaso Hospital, created through donations-many from the adult industry according to Gary, is sitting empty while demand for the clitoral restoration surgery increases.
Rael, founder of the organization backing the project and spiritual leader of the Raëlian Movement, may be the cause of the hospital’s delayed opening.
Raëlians believe in UFOS, that Earth was created by extraterrestrials and that the pursuit of pleasure is a main purpose for humans on Earth.
The organization, Clitoraid, is dedicated to “restoring a sense of dignity and pleasure” and, many times, giving women their first orgasm after female genital mutilation, or cutting. The ancestral custom is usually performed by women in the community without anesthesia and will place more than 30 million girls at risk over the next 30 years according to a 2013 Unicef study.
After the hospital’s opening was delayed, surgeons moved to an African surgeon’s private clinic where they successfully operated on 29 women, before Burkina Faso revoked their licenses.
The Health Minister Lene Sebego fears the hospital will be used to convert people, while surgeons like Clitoraid’s Dr. Marci Bowens work free of charge and agenda only for the grateful women that come under her care.
Bowers is not a Raëlian, but underwent gender reassignment at age 40 and relates to the feelings of identity loss victims of female genital mutilation often face.
I spoke with Dr. Bowers on who profits from FGM, what is stalling the opening of the hospital and giving women the joy of sensation.
AB: How did you come to work with Clitoraid?
Dr. Marci Bowers: Nadine contacted me in 2007 and it was just after they had launched the idea or creating this hospital and they had begun work in 2005. In the interim, she had approached me and an embarrassingly large amount of American OB/GYNs about the project –all of whom turned her down until I came along.
Why do you think that is?
One is we don’t charge for the surgeries we provide so that serves as probably a little bit of a disincentive. I think a secondary reason is just that there’s a little bit of an attitude of perhaps racial bias. Also, just not wanting to extend oneself into a new arena where you’re potentially going to be met with criticism or controversy.
How are you, as a surgeon, able to mend something that was cut or altered to the point where, as the Clitoraid site say, ‘bring women their first orgasms”?
That’s an important distinction. People think that the clitoris is just this teeny-tiny top that we see, but in fact, there is a large amount of erectile tissue behind that. I know this in my work from working in the transgender community; we create penises out of this same area. Men and women anatomically are very similar and there is a large amount of erectile tissue and sensory tissue. In the restoration surgery, all we have to do divide that skin that’s been pulled together in the middle and clean off some scar tissue and bring that sensitive tissue to the surface. It’s astoundingly simple.
What is the current state of Kamkaso?
We were denied the certificates we needed so we weren’t able to open. We had built a hospital specifically for this issue and put about $400,000 into it which is a lot of money in Africa . It’s a beautiful facility and it I think the problem is it’s sponsored by Clitoraid, which is in itself sponsored by some members of the Raelian movement. They’re quirky and interesting, kind of a rogue religious movement with some, I guess, interesting beliefs which I think most people would find maybe a little far-fetched. Nonetheless, they’re just like any other religion. They just happen to be one that saw this as something that was worthy of putting time and money into it. They actually have some Raelian followers there in Burkina and one of their members had undergone the restoration, so she was on the ground and able to communicate with the villages and communities and bring patients to the clinic for care.
We were lucky to find another surgeon there who had an alternative clinic and so we were able to move our operation over to the clinic since the hospital was denied. We ended up performing 29 surgeries in just four days. We could have done 80 or 100 more easily and, in fact, we were planning to do that and then the Health Ministry was pressured by, we think, the French Catholic Church to stop it, so they revoked our licenses.
In the local community, who performs the cutting? Culturally, what is its purpose?
Many people that are new to FGM believe that its some sort of male-dominated thing to hold women back, mute their sexuality, but surprisingly, its other women who themselves have been mutilated that are continuing the process.
First of all, cutters profit from it. In Africa, where annual salaries are very low and there aren’t many ways to make a living, the cutters are relatively wealthy in these small villages. Also, they are respected as almost a doctor or shaman would be, so it becomes in their best interest to perpetuate the practice. Not only do they point to the cultural tradition of doing this, but they also pass along misinformation that they wont be a full woman, they wont be cured, they’re going to be prone to infections all these problems if they don’t have this procedure whereas in fact, its just the opposite. It leads to a lifetime of problems and complications: obstetric fistulas and obstructions, painful intercourse- a whole list of possible complications.
What has been your experience with how this restoration surgery has impacted the lives of your patients?
It’s big. I know for a fact that all you have to do is talk to one of these patients who for the first time feels sensation. It’s just extraordinary. You really change someone’s life. The girls that come to me are all the same, mid to late 20s with years of poor relationships and experiences with sex because there is just excruciating pain associated with the act. Nothing pleasurable.
The only way to look at this and why it’s important is that if you think sensory sensations. As a sense: sight or sound or smell or taste. You could argue that taste isn’t really important for the quality of life, but when you take taste away or you take the sense of sensuality away from a person, you’re robbing them of some of the joys of living. Being able to give that back is really powerful.