A cut clitoris can be repaired. For about 3 decades now, Pierre Foldès, a French urologist, has been restoring clitorises that have fallen prey to the cruel blade of the mutilator’s knife. The practice, mostly found in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of the Middle East, does not only put victims of this practice through excruciating pain but also, and very often, spells far reaching health consequences, including death during childbirth and incontinence. He talks about what led him to specialize in clitoris reconstruction surgery. He also reveals the numerous death threats he has received.
The result of Pierre Foldès’ gift to his numerous patients who have undergone vagina mutilation is pleasurable sex. For the past 3 decades, the French urologist has been reconstructing clitorises that have been cut during ritual practices. The specialist, who is based in Paris, discusses the development of the reconstruction surgery and the risks involved both in France and Africa.
Afrik: What made you decide to repair cut clitorises?
Pierre Foldès: During humanitarian missions in Africa (including Burkina, Mali, Niger and Senegal), I was charged with fixing the various complications that resulted from excision such as urinary incontinence. This allowed women to regain some flexibility in the areas surrounding their vulva, and this facilitated child birth. Subsequently, some Burkinabe women started asking me, during consultations, if it was possible to reconstruct an excised clitoris. The demand was very strong… So I adapted and perfected a method that is used to lengthen the male penis, in France. The technique has been updated and been in use for over a decade now.
Afrik: Do you operate on all forms of excised vagina’s?
Pierre Foldès: Yes. From excision to infibulation (the most extreme form of this practice, ed.) The surgical technique is the same.
Afrik: How is the procedure like?
Pierre Foldès: The clitoris is about ten centimeters long, and only the external part is cut off during excision. For the operation, I incise the often painful scar to reach the innervated organ beneath. The surgery lasts about an hour.
Afrika: How long does it take for women to regain some form of sexual sensation?
Pierre Foldès: The pain lasts ten days after the operation. After a month and a half, the clitoris leaps into shape. The women I have operated tell me they feel sexual pleasure after four or six months. The sensation is difficult to prove because they have no point of reference, given that they have never experienced such sensations before.
Afrik: How do their husbands react to these operations?
Pierre Foldès: In France, men really respond well in general. Some even come for consultations with their wives. There is a real change in attitudes on this subject, especially due to different cultural immersions. But in Africa, change is slow. Female circumcision is still a means of ensuring masculine domination.
Afrik: Why do you operate freely?
Pierre Foldès: Most women that I operate do not have medical insurance or national insurance coverage. And as the law states that circumcision is a crime, I did not want to make money by repairing the clitorises of excised women. But I do not think that this can continue for long. In the past, the number of operations ranged between one and two per week. But the present upsurge I have started losing money. Eventually, I will need to ask a nominal sum from women with national insurance coverage.
Afrik: You have been practicing this operation for over a quarter of a century. Why has it only now been covered by the media?
Pierre Foldès: I operated quietly for fear of threats. I received several death threats in Africa. And Africans who came to see me were exposed to the same dangers. But some of the women who underwent the operation talked about their experience in the media and encouraged me to do the same. Since then I’ve accepted several interviews with newspapers, radio stations and Television.
Afrik: Do you have an idea of those who have threatened you?
Pierre Foldès: The recent media coverage of this constructive surgery has attracted further death threats in recent days. They come from those who believe that I am tampering with their traditions. But I think they are mostly the work of those who need to make sure that the practice is not stopped. Female circumcision or excision in France can cost up to 1,000 euros. In Africa, it ranges between 70 and 1000 euros. There is a lot of money at stake.
Afrik: Have the dangers ever discouraged you from continuing with the practice?
Pierre Foldès: No. However, such threats could deter other doctors, both African and French, from engaging in this procedure. I am counting on the media coverage to attract other colleagues to join my cause. For now, I have been receiving some support from some of my colleagues on condition that I alone handle the risks.
Afrik: Have you been contacted by groups that fight against female genital mutilation?
Pierre Folder: I have not been contacted by any African groups, but I work closely with Gams (Groupe Femmes pour l’Abolition des Mutilations Sexuelles — Women Group for the Abolition of Female Genital Mutilation) in France, who have welcomed this type of reconstructive surgery. I have also had positive feedback from other associations.