Sex Gets Real 146: Female genital mutilation by Mariya Karimjee

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Sometimes, you luck into an incredible opportunity. That happened to me when I heard Mariya Karimjee’s story on The Heart or This American Life. It’s about her experience with female genital mutilation and having part of her clitoris removed when she was a young girl.

I reached out to Mariya and invited her on the show to talk about being an FGM survivor, what it’s been like in her life since her story went global, and she also brings some voices of other survivors to share with us.

We talk about Muslim women, sex, changing relationships with our parents, patriarchy, and the importance of sex education.

It’s an important conversation that I hope you’ll enjoy. I know I did.

Oh, and if you’re looking for the details on submitting a listener confession, I created a guidelines page for you. February theme is surprises.

In this episode, Mariya and I talk about:

  • What is FGM, or female genital mutilation? Mariya shares some of the differences in various practices and ways that vulvas are cut. Mariya’s FGM was the result of Dawoodi Bohra religious practices.
  • Her journey in her relationship with her mother in being cut and how that relationship has changed as Mariya’s story has been shared around the world.
  • How scandalous it is to talk about sex and sexual pleasure in Pakistan, even among women. Patriarchy is deeply embedded in how women view other women.
  • Women doing this to other women, and how men in Mariya’s sect were largely removed from the genital mutilation practice. Though the claim is it’s done to curb women’s desire, Mariya started pushing back and challenging that point.
  • Patriarchy and what it means within the context of women’s pleasure and child mutilation. It is child mutilation to take a 7 year old girl and cut parts of her genitals off. Patriarchy is deeply embedded in so many sexual beliefs around the world, including here in the U.S. Women’s pleasure is consistently seen as secondary or a nice-to-have.
  • Mariya has been talking to other survivors who have been cut, and the importance of sharing stories from various cultures and voices, including those who have been cut and don’t feel like survivors.
  • Can people who have been cut experience orgasm and sexual pleasure? What has Mariya’s pleasure journey been like?
  • Muslim women and sex – we MUST stop assuming Muslim women are not having sex, don’t know anything about sex, and don’t enjoy sex.
  • Is it better for a doctor to do an illegal cutting procedure than some local woman without medical training in a country where it is legal? Mariya and I dig in to that thought and chew on it.
  • Dudes: stop thinking your penis will heal all the things or cure illness or pain. STOP STOP STOP.

Resources discussed in this episode

Mariya’s episode on The Heart podcast

Mariya’s story on This American Life

Additional voices on FGM

“I’ve asked your mother many times since this occurred, why an educated woman who resides in a country where this is illegal subjected her daughter to this practice? I never received a valid reason. Simply saying that “it’s in our religion” is not a good enough answer for me to accept that my daughter went through this.” Anonymous father

“I had started to understand the terrifying implications of the practice which differed from person to person and the physical and mental trauma some of my own sisters and close friends had to go through, and are still going through. I also came across many justifications for the practice, some from my family elders which went along the lines of, ‘This is done to curb a girl’s sexual desire so that she can put her mind to other things’, among many others.” Insia Jaliwala

“It may have been just a pinch of skin, but it was a part of me, a part of my femininity and a part of my womanhood.” Mariya Ali

“I also don’t know whether girls from other communities enjoy better sex or not. There have been many reports about this that I am unsure of. There is actually a lot of vagueness on this topic that I would like to have some clarification on.” Ummehani, from India

“One of my main insecurities about sex was that I felt like I was driving without the headlights on. Often times, I didn’t know where to go or how to guide my driver. I felt like a failure. To this day, I still have not experienced orgasm. While sex is enjoyable for me and I could describe what I can achieve as a “mini-climax”, I am bothered by the fact that I may never get to experience this wonderful part of life. While it’s no secret many women who have not been “circumcised” struggle with the same issues, a part of me will always wonder if that would have been true for me had this not happened. I will never know.” Anonymous

“For the record, I have never been mutilated. I am not traumatized, damaged, or broken. Yes, something unfortunate happened to me that I wish had not; but I do not want to be labeled a survivor. Personally, I feel the word is inappropriate to my situation because my life was never at risk. What I do want is to live in a world where what happened to me no longer happens to others. The reason I want this is because although I have come to forgive my loved ones, accept what has happened to me, and move past the trauma, not everyone who has undergone khatna has been so fortunate.” Anonymous, age 30

About Mariya Karimjee

This week on Sex Gets Real, Dawn Serra chats with Mariya Karimjee about female genital mutilation, Muslim women and sex, online dating, and patriarchy.

Mariya Karimjee is a freelance writer based in Karachi, Pakistan. She’s currently working on a memoir about home and identity to be published by Spiegel and Grau.

You can learn more at, and follow along with her adventures on Twitter @m_karimjee and Instagram.

Be sure to also check out Sahiyo for more information and voices/quotes from survivors and people impacted by FGM.

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  • Dawn
  • January 29, 2017