Plastic surgery and social pressure

There was widespread discussion amongst our members on the issue of genital plastic surgery which is freely available to adult women and which is becoming increasingly popular in Europe and North America. While some see it in an entirely different light from female genital mutilation, others argue that social pressure and the desire to conform to social norms of beauty affect the free and informed consent of women who undergo it. 


In Burkina Faso, Professor Charlemagne Marie R Ouedraogo argues that


“Medicalized FGM has nothing to do with intimate surgery. Adults do the medical procedure for a reduction of hypertrophic labia, and we do it in gynecological surgery. The same is true for reductions of enlarged clitoral labia. This has nothing to do with FGM in the Burkinabe context. »

Any consenting adult can do what they want with their body, such as plastic surgery or any other form of surgery, such as pricking or piercing, etc.”. »

Thus, on the one hand, genital plastic surgery or other practices of female genital modification are seen as a personal choice concomitant with the free disposal of one’s body. On the other hand, on the other hand, they are perceived as the result of social pressure on women’s bodies and the will to conform. 


“At GAMS Belgium, we have opened the team debate on other forms of practices which also affect the external genitalia of women and which could be considered as a social norm imposed on women’s bodies.

The current “fashion” of reducing the labia minora is one of them. In Belgium we see young girls under the age of 18 or just 18 years old who have barely discovered all the facets of their sexuality and who require plastic surgery to meet a criterion of “beauty”, without any proven hypertrophy (with a risk of complications that is never 0% when surgery is performed). Wouldn’t a session with a sexologist who could reassure her not be more ethical than going for surgery as a first intention?


Having this more holistic approach to everything that is imposed on women’s bodies in all societies also helps to balance the debates and not see the world in black and white. Whether in Europe or in Africa, women are still under social pressure today to correspond to the role expected by society…and this translates first and foremost into control of their bodies. “(Fabienne Richard)

It should be noted that national contexts are also different. Debates on cosmetic genital surgery have more meaning and relevance in Europe and North America than in Burkina Faso, where the demands are of a different nature.


“In Burkina Faso we are not dealing with the requests for cosmetic reduction you are talking about. Besides, our fight is to protect the underage girl who doesn’t take responsibility for herself. It is not a question of going against the will of adults to do with their bodies what they want. It is a minor and it does not deserve to be attacked in view of the priorities to be managed in Burkina Faso. “(Charlemagne Marie R Ouedraogo).

In the continuity of the debate, the case was reported of a little-known and qualified practice that has been going on in Senegal, the abduction of southieutes or condylomas.


“There is a traditional phenomenon in Senegal that is harmful to health practitioners and is considered by some to be a kind of FGM. It is a phenomenon that consists of cutting something out of a woman’s vagina to facilitate penetration on her wedding night. The person to whom this thing is cut, called condyloma by some, is certainly of legal age but is constrained by social norms that force him to undergo this ordeal. “(Fatou Kebe)

The practice responds to myths and social expectations under the guise of medical necessity, since condylomas are indeed a medically treated pathology in sexually active women with HPV but cannot concern girls, virgins, from whom they are supposedly removed, as Dr. Hashim Hounkpatin testifies.


This practice is surely performed on “virgin” women in whom it is assumed that the “first time” would be difficult or impossible. And since it is the wedding night, the marriage must be consummated. 

For the sake of clarity of terminology, the condyloma refers in medicine to a mass that appears on the genitals due to a virus and transmitted during sexual intercourse. Are they really condylomas that are cut off or the hymen or something else? 

Here is a text I found on Facebook on this topic:

” The condyloma or sothieute – 

It is quite common in our countries for some virgins to be told that they are sick and that it prevents them from consummating their marriage. 

On the medical level, these types of patients are not recognized. Admittedly, the sothieutes exist but they are different.

Sothieutes also called genital condylomas or genital warts, are injuries looking like cocks comb on female genitalia and anus. They can be so numerous that they can make vaginal delivery dangerous for the baby.

They are due to HPV (Human Papilloma Virus).

These condylomas are sexually transmissible and thus present only on women and men having unprotected sexual intercourses.

The condylomas described by traditional healers to explain the difficulties of penetration are not recognized by medicine. In almost all cases, these difficulties of penetration are due to the stress of the woman and the lack of softness of the husband, which creates in his wife a vaginismus: invincible contraction of the muscles of the vagina making the penetration difficult even impossible.

The recommended treatment in this situation is softness and foreplay to relax the woman and lubricate her. We can use intimate gels and painkiller suppositories.

This condyloma described by traditional healers just give opportunity to go “cut” something and thus to make an excision. This traditional treatment and strongly discouraged!

True condyloma, let’s repeat it, are infections and are treated by nitrogen cautery by dermatologists usually. In summary, a woman who has never had sex cannot have a cure on her wedding night and condylomata are known to be sexually transmitted infections that must be treated properly. “

« The Community of Practice on Female Genital Mutilation » is part of the « Building Bridges between Africa and Europe to tackle FGM » project, supported by the « UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of FGM ».
The project is coordinated by AIDOS in partnership with GAMS Belgium.

The views expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UNFPA, UNICEF or any other agency or organization.

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