A photograph of Budour Shaker is seen during a protest against circumcision. The Egyptian government strengthened its ban on female genital cutting by eliminating a legal loophole allowing girls to undergo the procedure for health reasons.

A new study confirms that women who were forced to undergo genital cutting as young girls have a poorer sex life years later.

About 130 million women worldwide have undergone genital mutilation, also known as female “circumcision”. The centuries-old practice, which involves removing part or all of a girl’s clitoris and labia, and sometimes narrowing the vaginal opening, remains a common practice in some countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa.

It’s well known that genital cutting has long-term consequences for women – including childbirth complications, incontinence and psychological disorders.

Not surprisingly, studies have also linked genital mutilation to sexual dysfunction. The new report, published in the British obstetrics and gynaecology journal, BJOG, adds to the evidence.

Researchers found that among women who’d immigrated to the UK from Africa, those with genital cutting scored about 30 percent lower on a scale that measures women’s perceptions of their sex life.

“This study shows a quantifiable effect of female genital mutilation on women’s psychological well-being in terms of sexual quality of life,” said lead researcher Dr Stefan Andersson, of Central Manchester University Hospitals.

He said the gap was even seen among women who were not currently sexually active.

The study included 110 London women who’d emigrated from countries such as Somalia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. Of those women, 73 had genital mutilation.

Andersson said it was not possible to tell whether those women reported a poorer sex life solely because of the physical effects of genital mutilation.

The researchers do point out that comparison between the women who were cut and those who weren’t is imperfect: most of the women with genital mutilation were from Somalia – where the practice is the norm – while most women in the comparison group were from Nigeria, where relatively few girls are subjected to it.

So it’s possible that cultural differences play some role in the women’s views of their sex lives.

The researchers also acknowledge that they have personal feelings about female genital mutilation – that it’s harmful and “should be eradicated”. But the findings are in step with what’s already known about the lasting effects on women’s lives. – Reuters