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I Really Have No Words

Pajiba Dirty Talk / Dr. Pisaster

Miscellaneous | June 22, 2010 | Comments (87)

It’s been a busy week for sex news. The FDA withheld approval of flibanserin, a drug aimed at increasing women’s libidos, and a new anti-rape condom that takes its inspiration from the vagina dentata myth was unveiled at the World Cup. But the news I want to focus on this week is an article published in the Hastings Center’s Bioethics Forum by Alice Dreger and Ellen K. Feder that highlights a horrifying research study done by a pediatric urologist at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College. Actually, “want,” is probably not the right word. I don’t really want to have to think about this study at all, but I do feel a responsibility to spread the word and help generate a public outcry so that the research in question isn’t continued. The study is from 2007, and it’s titled “Nerve Sparing Ventral Clitoroplasty: Analysis of Clitoral Sensitivity and Viability.” What is “Nerve sparing ventral clitoroplasty?” you may ask. It’s a surgery designed to reduce the size of an “abnormally” large clitoris by removing all or most of the shaft while preserving the glans. What’s horrifying about this study, however, is not that it involves unnecessary surgery on the part of the female genitalia most related to orgasm for the majority of women. No, the really awful thing is that the mean age of the patients receiving this surgery in the paper in question was five. I’ll try to enumerate here everything wrong with this study, but I recommend reading both the original Bioethics article and Dan Savage’s take on the issue.

The study’s main author, Dr. Dix Poppas, performed this surgery on 51 patients, ranging in age from 4 months to 24 years. According to the paper, 32 of those patients were under 2 years old, 5 were between the ages of 2 and 5, and 11 were older than 5. Presumably at least one — the 24-year-old — was an adult who chose this surgery of her own free will, but most of the patients were children whose doctor and parents decided their clitorises were too large and needed to be reduced. Why exactly? There’s absolutely no evidence that a larger-than-average clit is in any way detrimental to the normal development of a child. On the other hand, surgically altering a girl’s clitoris often does have a negative impact on normal psychological and sexual development. The entire purpose of this sort of surgery is aesthetic. The idea is to reduce the appearance of “ambiguous” genitalia and make the girls look “normal.” The current techniques for this aim to preserve nerve function as much as possible, which is an improvement on older techniques, in which the clitoris was removed entirely, but the fact remains that there is no medical reason for such surgery. The best argument in favor of it is that girls with large clitorises may feel embarrassed by their genitals and have psychological issues. No way in hell does that justify cutting up their genitals while they are too young to understand what’s going on or have a say in the matter. Only in a culture where women’s sexuality is primarily about their appearance as sexual objects and only secondarily about their identity as sexual beings could such a thing even be considered, let alone actually practiced.

Are you outraged yet? Because it gets worse. In order to test for nerve function post-surgery, Dr. Poppas conducted several tests. The first, which was done on 49 of the patients (two were “lost,” to follow up) involved pressing a fingernail against the girl’s clitoris until it blanched and determining how long it took for the blood to return. As far as this measure goes, all patients were found to be normal. The second set of tests were conducted on 10 patients over the age of 5 and are even more disturbing. In these tests, which were done between one week and eight years after the surgery and in the presence of a parent, the doctor stimulated the girls’ clitorises, labia, vaginal opening, and inner thighs with a q-tip and also with a “medical vibratory device,” and asked them to report how strongly they felt the sensations. So after undergoing surgery to reduce their genitals, these girls were subjected to highly invasive follow-up examinations by a male doctor. (The results indicated that nerve function was retained, although there’s no reason to assume that basic nerve function and sexual function are one and the same.) There was no control group of girls with “normal” clitorises to compare the results to. Probably because no parent in their right mind would consent to letting a doctor stimulate their pre-pubescent child’s genitals with a vibrator in the name of scientific research. How anybody involved thought this was OK and wouldn’t cause the girls any (additional) trauma is inconceivable to me.

If these surgeries and the follow up reports had been conducted on adults, then this research would have been reasonable. I still wouldn’t think the surgery was medically necessary, but at least the participants would have understood what was going on. But to conduct these experiments on children? I have no words to express how appalling this is. I imagine that the parents involved in this research meant well. After all, the prevalence of circumcision in the US should be enough to convince anyone that parents implicitly trust a doctor’s recommendation, even when it comes to something as sensitive as medically unnecessary genital surgery. No doubt they were told that without this surgery their daughters would grow up with severe psychological issues related to their genitals. Probably they had no idea what the normal range of clitoral size even is, and simply trusted the doctor’s judgement on what constituted “too much” clitoris. And probably they thought the follow up tests were necessary to be sure that their children would have normal sexual function when they grow up. I think most of the blame here lies with Dr. Poppas, who seems to be conducting these surgeries and experiments out of an arrogant and paternalistic assumption that he knows what is best for these girls. The authors of the bioethics report followed up with the paper’s co-authors and found that they were only involved in the review of medical records of the patients to analyze basic background data such as diagnosis and age at surgery. Only Dr. Poppas and his nurse practitioner were involved directly in the post-operative experiments. Another troubling aspect of this research is that Dr. Poppas appears to have conducted these experiments without the supervision of an institutional review board. This is a BIG DEAL. Any research conducted on human beings has to be approved beforehand by an ethics committee and overseen by a review board. If Dr. Poppas conducted experiments on children without following this protocol it is both unethical (duh) and illegal. If a review board did approve this research, then Cornell needs to investigate how this research was allowed. If not, then Dr. Poppas should be disciplined immediately and banned from conducting further research. (Actually, that should happen regardless.)

This whole issue highlights how important a more open, honest, and accepting approach to sexuality is needed in our culture. I can’t imagine well-informed parents agreeing to this research, or doctors with a thorough understanding of female sexuality engaging in it. I hope that bringing this study to light, Dreger and Feder manage to ignite enough outrage to stop these studies and to start a more productive conversation on what exactly constitutes “normal,” sexually speaking.

Dr. Pisaster has a doctorate in biophysics, not actually anything sexy. She does however enjoy having sex, reading about sex, and talking about sex. Especially when she’s had a little whiskey.

The Fifteen Worst Comic Book Movies Of All Time | DVD Releases 6/22/10


The dude's name is Dix Poppas for christs sake. Something tells me he got his degree the same place Zoidberg got his.

Posted by: chad at June 22, 2010 4:29 PM

Huh, and I usually enjoy Titillating Tuesdays.

This is just wrong on so many levels.

Posted by: HarperJay at June 22, 2010 4:32 PM

In these tests, which were done between one week and eight years after the surgery and in the presence of a parent, the doctor stimulated the girls’ clitorises, labia, vaginal opening, and inner thighs with a q-tip and also with a “medical vibratory device,” and asked them to report how strongly they felt the sensations.

This actually made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. GAAAAAAAAH.

I really want to know more about the study. What his reasoning was, other than correcting a "problem" that as far as we can tell, is just aesthetic. Were they concerned that they were hermaphroditic? And this was done withOUT the oversight of a review board? Interesting.

Now I want to create a Mega Clit monster to walk on over to Cornell and choke Dr. Poppas a little in its hood.

Posted by: Julie at June 22, 2010 4:32 PM

You want outrage? Consider your goal achieved.

I keep trying to write, but all I get is word salad. None of this makes any logical, MEDICAL sense. For all the research I have seen into clitorectomies and FGM in other countries, I painfully assumed our system was above it. I should have known better, in a country where vaginoplasty and labia reshaping is cosmetic and common.

Just how many parents would volunteer their little boys to have their penis reduced, because when they grew up it would be "too big"? (and no, I'm not counting circumcision)

Posted by: Patty O'Green at June 22, 2010 4:38 PM

Ugh, read about this last week via a Twitter link, and I'm just as disturbed as I was then. I hope Cornell plans on paying for about thirty or so years worth of therapy for all the little girls involved - there is no way those girls are going to grow up without some kind of psychological damage from this. *Shudder*

Posted by: Tammy at June 22, 2010 4:40 PM

I have three daughters. I'm actually feeling physically ill. Also, I want to find those parents and rain down an unholy shitstorm of rage that will make the apocalypse look like a god damn garden party. How the fuck is a doctor going to ask a five-year-old how the stimulations felt? Compared to what?

I hope all those involved (except the children and the adult who volunteered) lose the use of their genitals for the rest of their lives. At least that way they would save any future children from the misery of their parenting.

Posted by: admin at June 22, 2010 4:41 PM

I'd be curious to know who would give these kids any reason to feel traumatised by their larger than average clitoris, other than their parents? Seriously, do you remember seeing ANY clits as a kid? And if you played doctor with another kid and noticed that they were "different" how likely would you be to tell the whole neighborhood about it??? Seriously, someone ought to sue this doctor and set up a foundation to pay for therapy for these kids later, because they're going to need it!

Posted by: peachfish at June 22, 2010 4:42 PM

I'm sorry.
I made it to the description of the nerve tests and I cant read any more because I'm crying and trying not to be sick at the same time.

And this study is from 2007?


Posted by: Nadine at June 22, 2010 4:44 PM

Ugh, this just makes me sick. Someone needs to take Dr. Poppas and perform some genital surgery on him. With a dull knife. While balancing on a teeter-totter. And blindfolded.

Posted by: Drake at June 22, 2010 4:46 PM

Insanity. Just outright insanity.

Also, I want to find those parents and rain down an unholy shitstorm of rage that will make the apocalypse look like a god damn garden party.

admin, please do that. I am willing to help with the funding, and harbor a fugitive afterwards, if necessary.

Posted by: MM at June 22, 2010 4:47 PM

Admin I can provide alibis down to time logged pictures of you innocently reading a book at the time the shit storm took place. Photoshop is my bitch

Posted by: Nadine at June 22, 2010 4:49 PM

People are so fucking pinned down by anxieties about "normal" and even more so when it comes to boys look/act this way, girls that way--reinforce! reinforce! BS. These ideologies can't wane fast enough.

Posted by: Ranylt at June 22, 2010 4:52 PM

Really the only word that keeps running through my head is, "horrifying." Oh, and "WHY?!?" And "What the?" And "WHY?!?" Oh, and "disgusting." Yeah, I'm not feeling very eloquent at the moment.

Posted by: tamatha at June 22, 2010 4:53 PM

The Human Centipede didn't even make me go D: or WHAT THE FUCK as much as this summary and its respective articles did.

Posted by: duckandcover at June 22, 2010 4:53 PM

I guess I should be outraged, but at least these patients get anesthesia. And clean instruments (ie scalpels instead of razors). And trained doctors. And sterile medical facilities.

So, still not nearly as bad as the shit they do to females in other countries RE genitalia.

This sounds like a completely unnecessary procedure performed on very small children for no reason other than the parents' own ignorant perceptions/preferences. Kinda like circumcisions (obviously, not exactly like circumcisions).

Posted by: Slash at June 22, 2010 4:57 PM

Well. Now I'm all het up, and don't have any real words for how I feel about this. Except WHAT THE FUCK?!?

Posted by: Katers at June 22, 2010 4:58 PM

How in the ever-lovin' FLYING BLUE FUCK was approval granted for this study, and who funded it??


Posted by: Rykker at June 22, 2010 4:58 PM

I can't even finish reading this. It's abuse, for the purpose of scientific...what? Like you said, there really isn't a goddamn reason for this practice to exist, other than to, say, not weird out the homophobic man who wouldn't want his girly-holes lookin' like dude sausages. Cuz that's gay.

Fuck I cannot believe how often I am flabbergasted by stupidity.

Posted by: annoyingmouse at June 22, 2010 5:01 PM

This is an actual medical condition (I did some brief Googling).

I don't think all these people are having this done for purely cosmetic or unnecessary purposes. So maybe we should hold on the lynch mob for a bit.

Posted by: Slash at June 22, 2010 5:03 PM

I doubt 24 month-olds, nor 5 year-olds are afflicted with overly large clitorises. They shouldn't be a part of the study.

Where's my hangin' rope?

Posted by: Rykker at June 22, 2010 5:07 PM

And by 24 month-olds, I mean 4 month-olds.

Posted by: Rykker at June 22, 2010 5:09 PM

Slash, I'm quite curious as to what you found, but the thought of Googling clitoral conditions gives me emotional rumblies.

Posted by: Patty O'Green at June 22, 2010 5:11 PM

Julie, almost all of the patients were genetically female with adrenal hyperplasia. The paper also mentioned that the clitorises in question ranged from 1 cm to 4.5 cm in length.

Slash, it is a medical condition, but the enlarged clitoris doesn't affect the girls in any negative way and even if they did ultimately decide to have them reduced, it should be their decision, not the parents' and doctor's. Boys with this condition have enlarged penises. Nobody's conducting surgery on them.

Posted by: dr. pisaster at June 22, 2010 5:12 PM

@duckandcover: That's because the Human Centipede isn't real. This is.

@Slash: There may or may not be medical conditions for which genital surgery on children is warranted in some cases. These are not those cases. Also, the absolute criminal insanity of this study goes beyond the medical procedures. The adult male doctor is bringing these female children in and jacking them off with a vibrator. That is sexual abuse, no matter how you slice it. You should read the articles dr. pisaster has linked at the top for more information on what's really happening here.

Posted by: MM at June 22, 2010 5:16 PM

Although it is catchy, couldn't Alice Dreger and Ellen Feder have chosen a better title than "Bad Vibrations" for their topic title on the Hastings Center’s Bioethics Forum? Something about it just doesn't feel right to me.

Posted by: Mooncussing at June 22, 2010 5:22 PM






Posted by: coryo at June 22, 2010 5:22 PM

peachfish FUCK yes. Thank you for saving me the time to put that into words (because I was having some trouble).

Posted by: dsbs at June 22, 2010 5:26 PM

Poppas isn't just a professor, he's the boss.

Dix P. Poppas, M.D. is Professor and Chief of the Institute for Pediatric Urology at the Komansky Center for Children's Health of New York -Presbyterian Hosptial Weill Cornell Medical Center. He is the Richard Rodgers Professor of Pediatric Urology in the James Buchanan Brady Department of Urology at Weill Cornell Medical College. Dr. Poppas holds joint appointments as Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Professor of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College and Professor of Plastic and Reconstructive Sugery at Weill Cornell Medical College.

From that bio, he's clearly one of the top practitioners in the world. Why he'd do this, especially if he went behind the review board, makes no sense, and that's before we get to him holding a vibrator on a child.

Posted by: Tracer Bullet at June 22, 2010 5:30 PM

virilizing congenital adrenal hyperplasia

Know your Latin.

Posted by: Ranylt at June 22, 2010 5:39 PM

It's super creepy, granted. But keep in mind this is a society that for a very long time has routinely cut off part of a males penis for no specific reason I can figure (certainly doesn't seem to be a medically sound practice). I mean, be outraged over this, but be more outraged that circumcision gets a "meh".

For the record, I'm cut from birth, and I don't particularly hold it against my parents nor suffer any unusual side effects. They were just doing what had been done for generations on both sides of the family.

When I got old enough to figure it all out though, and really understand the complete lack of justification, I was pretty pissed. Just another of the weird rituals and beliefs we participate in that do harm to us.

Posted by: frobme at June 22, 2010 5:40 PM

I'm not justifying the procedure in this study in any way (and if that doctor did it without ethic approval, he should be jailed. End of story), but what really upset me is that I could see why these parents felt they had to do this.

An 'abnormally large' clitoris is about half the size of your thumb. They are noticable, obviously not when they're fully clothed, but enough that the girls in the locker room will see it. And tease them about it. THAT'S the psychological damage those parents were trying to avoid.

So if you've ever snickered about Lady Gaga (or any other female celebrity) being a man, congratulations, you're the reason those parents signed their kids up for this.

It's right to be outraged, because this IS disgusting. But if there's ever going to be any change, we've got to take some of the blame onto ourselves, and acknowledge that, collectively, the behaviour of human society can drive a genuinely loving parent to believe the 'best' course of action is to mutilate their child.

Posted by: ScienceGeek at June 22, 2010 5:41 PM

To play devil's advocate here, if I had been born with a freakishly large clitoris, and someone had reduced it for me before I could remember, and I could still orgasm, I wouldn't be all that upset. I felt like enough of a freak with the rest of my body growing up and a giant dangling clit would not have helped things.

What bothers me is that there was no review board approval, and no control group. And 4.5 cm isn't a terribly large clitoris. But I don't think this doctor and his staff, or these parents, are monsters.

Posted by: RhymesWithSilver at June 22, 2010 5:46 PM

Dix P. Poppas, M.D. is Professor and Chief of ... the Komansky Center for Children's Health of New York

I read that as Polansky, and reacted accordingly.

Posted by: Patty O'Green at June 22, 2010 5:52 PM

I think what angers me the most is thinking about how these girls might suffer psychologically from this. I mean, when I was little, I always looked to doctors as good people who I knew wanted to help me when I was sick - as a source of comfort, even. To have a doctor do something like this to you... and to have your parents ok with it? Those poor girls.

Posted by: MelBivDevoe at June 22, 2010 6:26 PM

You're right slash, your brief googling of "an actual medical condition" totally negates the fact that this is happening in a world where FGM is largely an accepted or ignored practice, and where our understandings of gender and sexuality are seriously distorted. We should definitely hold off on the lynch mob against experiments that involved a doctor SEXUALLY STIMULATING CHILDREN.

JESUS FUCK. I am going to go bake a batch of cookies because I just. . . I just no.

Posted by: teacupnosaucer at June 22, 2010 6:29 PM

Rhymes, your use of the descriptor "freakishly large" is problematic in and of itself. The problems are society's attitudes and misinformation, NOT the girl's bodies. Performing surgery on them only reinforces these terrible attitudes and biases that make us feel like "freaks" in the first place. I mean, I felt like a freak all through high school for being fat. Should I have undergone surgery for that? Fuck no. The fact that I live in a fat-phobic world doesn't justify altering my body, and it especially doesn't justify parents altering my body when I am too young to give informed consent.

Posted by: teacupnosaucer at June 22, 2010 6:39 PM

God hasn’t made a clit big enough that Pookie couldn’t handle.

Posted by: Pookie at June 22, 2010 6:43 PM

"Dr. Poppas, who seems to be conducting these surgeries and experiments out of an arrogant and paternalistic assumption that he knows what is best for these girls
Or a creepy sense of entitled paedophelia?
Dude should have that anti-rape condom attatched to his dick, then have his nuts nailed to a stump and be pushed over backwards.
And as for "sparing girls humiliation and embarassment", how does the little girl explain to her schoolmates that she has to have "“Nerve Sparing Ventral Clitoroplasty because of Clitoral Sensitivity and Viability.”?
A note from her parents?

Posted by: Odnon at June 22, 2010 6:56 PM

All I could think of when I read this was about something my ex told me---
When she was in elementary school, she discovered that she got a shiver when she slid down the pole on the playground. She made it a point to go down that pole as many times as she could before recess ended. The fact that she grew up to be pretty well-adjusted--and coincidentally, not a stripper--gave me pause.
*whoosh sound of rejoinders losing air over the lack of strippers*

Posted by: Jim Doggie at June 22, 2010 7:26 PM

RE Posted by: teacupnosaucer
"You're right slash, your brief googling of "an actual medical condition" totally negates the fact that this is happening in a world where FGM is largely an accepted or ignored practice, and where our understandings of gender and sexuality are seriously distorted. We should definitely hold off on the lynch mob against experiments that involved a doctor SEXUALLY STIMULATING CHILDREN. JESUS FUCK. I am going to go bake a batch of cookies because I just. . . I just no."

Instead of baking cookies, why don't you get ahold of yourself?
I will concede that the "sexual stimulation" part of it sounds sketchy, but I'm at a loss as to propose how you measure nerve function in the genitals without actually stimulating the genitals. Which seems to be the point of the study. If the people involved did anything criminal, sure, let's prosecute them. But if they didn't, maybe we should, you know, not shit a brick without actually knowing what the fuck we're talking about.

I see your JESUS FUCK and raise you a JESUS FUCKING CHRIST, COULD YOU CALM THE FUCK DOWN? GODDAM... This study is from 2007 (yes, I read the linked sources, for those who assume I didn't). It's been 3 years. If this guy was really a pedophile (after detailing his pedo actions in a medical journal, like all the pervs do), I think we would have heard about it by now, in the news, the same way we heard about Michael Jackson and that pediatrician who raped his child patients and made videos of those rapes.

I'm not advocating the molestation of small children. I'm declining to overreact to what seems to be (at first, uneducated glance, like pretty much everyone else here) a maybe misguided medical study that was undertaken to address an actual medical condition. Sounds like the doctors were trying to do an operation (that some people feel their children need) in such a way that helped preserve the children's future sexual function. I'm guessing that past procedures for this condition weren't all that concerned about it (since until fairly recently, women's sexual satisfaction was considered unimportant, by almost everyone, including women). Maybe this guy (and his fellow researchers, who are women, by the way) is actually doing a good thing. Instead of freaking out over it, maybe you should read more.

It's easy to say that the size of your clitoris doesn't matter when yours is within "normal range." But if someone else's looks like an undersized penis, I can see how the female in question might have a problem with that and want it fixed. Now, maybe we think having operations done on small children for something like this is foolish, but that's not really our call. People have invasive medical procedures done to their kids frequently, if they feel it's necessary. But maybe we should all just let a committee of uninformed strangers make those kinds of decisions for us. Because uninformed strangers always make the best decisions about things like this.

Posted by: Slash at June 22, 2010 7:33 PM

Sounds similar to Female Genital Mutilation, which is grounds for asylum in the United States.

The fact is that human anatomy is varied, that is natural. Just like men parts range from very small to very large, lady parts range from very small to very large. If, as an adult, someone chooses surgery for aesthetic reasons, then that's their choice. But a child, that is so wrong.

Posted by: 1qtp2t at June 22, 2010 7:42 PM

Slash, I probably won't be able to address your whole comment, but if you can access it I do recommend reading the initial paper, which makes it pretty clear that the main focus of this procedure is indeed aesthetic, not medical. The fellow researchers did not participate in the stimulation part of the study, only Poppas and a nurse practitioner were involved in that part. Further, the paper actually notes that since the 70s these types of surgery have been done with the goal of preserving function. It also cites several studies that looked at sexual function in patients who had received these surgeries with the key difference that the subjects in these studies were adults (the results are usually not so great, it turns out). If this research had been done in adults exclusively, it would not bother me, but there's really no reason I can see for doing this to children, who won't understand the concept of sexual sensations the way adults would. I also suggest you read Dreger's blog post here: which mentions that former patients of this type of surgery often find the medical follow-up exams to be the most traumatic part of their experiences.
I do not think Poppas is a pedophile personally, but I think he is misguided and the research he is conducting is not in the best interests of these children.

Posted by: dr. pisaster at June 22, 2010 7:50 PM

p.s. no personal attacks on the devil's advocates out there, please.

Posted by: dr. pisaster at June 22, 2010 7:53 PM

I'm not going to get into an educated debate with someone whose opening tactic is "CALM DOWN". Blah blah blah "tone argument" etc. ad nauseum.

Jeeze, it's just exploitative science based on misguided societal attitudes toward female genitalia that resulted in "invasive procedures" and what would be called "sexual assault" if the guy who did it didn't do it in the name of SCIENCE. Nothing to get your panties in a bunch about, it's only a symbol of a greater issue in our society. JEEZE, they had the parents permission, and since these parents live in bubbles completely divorced from massive societal pressure and the natural tendency for people to go along with the wishes of authority figures. Nothing exploitative there. Nothing to be upset about. Come on you guys, body shame, misogyny, and questionable scientific ethics combine in one huge clusterfuck all the time.

And the fact that using vibrators on children is necessary to the study, maybe that suggests there's something wrong with the study? I'm sorry, sexually touching children who can't consent? Is rape. I don't think parents SHOULD have the ability to give permission FOR ANYONE, no matter what their credentials, to sexually touch their child. The fact that the guy had "Dr" slapped on front of his name is completely irrelevant to me. You don't sexually touch kids. Ever. Period.

But go on, tell me all about how I'm "hysterical" and I need to "take a deep breath" or whatever other tactic you'd like to use in order to try and demean and belittle my right to feel disgusted about this kind of exploitation and the fucked up society that justifies it and makes it seem even remotely reasonable to people. It makes you seem so rational and so much smarter. A+ debate technique, really.

PS: the "JESUS FUCK" comment was directed at the topic of the article, not in response to you particularly, although that last diatribe sure does justify it now.

Posted by: teacupnosaucer at June 22, 2010 7:55 PM

Disturbed doesn't even begin to cover my feelings right now. I'm not quite sure what is upsetting me more at this point - that the doctor in question came up with this "study" or that the parents of these children and babies made the decision to allow someone to "study" such an intimate body part at an age where it shouldn't even be an issue. The. Fuck?

Posted by: redhead at June 22, 2010 7:56 PM

I think as a society we need to start with an iron clad policy of "no sharp instruments near genitals unless medically indicated" then get to understanding that probably 99.99999% of the time, we're all made just fine down there, even when our junk isn't all the same size or look exactly the same. This should be applied equally to males and females.

Posted by: Snuggiepants the Deathbringer at June 22, 2010 7:59 PM

PS People do fucked up things to their children all the time, and yes, "a committee of uninformed strangers" takes authority in those situations all the time. It's called protecting the dignity and safety of the child when their parents can't or won't.

I'd need more information about said parents before I ever suggested that social services get involved, but it's a fallacy to suggest that because they're the parents, they are therefore entitled to whatever they please with their kids and not answer to any authority.

Posted by: teacupnosaucer at June 22, 2010 8:04 PM

This practice has been going on since the late 1970’s in many countries is Africa. Over hundred million have suffered this barbaric fate. Why all of a sudden the outrage?

Posted by: Pookie at June 22, 2010 8:06 PM

Are you outraged yet?

You bet i am. This sounds like something from a horrible movie. Actually, scratch that, life is (can be) worse than any movie ever could be.

Posted by: Arthur Dent at June 22, 2010 8:13 PM

My initial reaction is one of nausea, but I'm wearily willing to examine this issue further.

Pisaster, do you know if these unually large adolescent clitori typically grow. I agree that 4.5 cm is not large, but on the body frame of a 22 inch toddler it could be quite significant. At that age, it doesn't matter how big the clitoris is, of course, but does that clitoris continue to grow so that it would be inches by her teens?

I'm not condoning the procedure here. At all. I'm just trying to figure out why a parent would even consider such a procedure done on their child at that age unless it was to prevent a more severe procedure in the future.

If we get past the sexual organ part of the equation, aren't we talking about a procedure to fix a disfigurement?

That said, the breach of protocol and the male doctor performing the post-op testing is criminal to me.

I'm going to go hug my daughter now and let her bang her drum kit so I can drown this whole idea out of my head.

Posted by: L.O.V.E. at June 22, 2010 8:25 PM

Thank Christ that assigning sex in infancy to the 1,000s of babies born every year, like these girls, with "ambiguous" genitalia is beginning to be recognized for the ideological mania that it is. So many trans and GQ adults are really pissed they were prematurely assigned before they (and their hormones) had a say in it.

ScienceGeek, this was well said:

So if you've ever snickered about Lady Gaga (or any other female celebrity) being a man, congratulations, you're the reason those parents signed their kids up for this...If there's ever going to be any change, we've got to take some of the blame onto ourselves.

It's like anti-choicers who toss the word "slut" around, unaware that they're part of the problem.

Posted by: Ranylt at June 22, 2010 8:34 PM

I kind of have a bit of a braincrush on Sciencegeek ngl.

Posted by: teacupnosaucer at June 22, 2010 8:35 PM

Thank you, dr. pisaster, for bringing up the angle (as written about by Dreger and others) that the follow-up exams were far more likely to cause psychological harm to the children than having an enlarged clit. Since many of the girls had the surgery at a very young age, they probably wouldn't remember it, but they would certainly remember embarrassing or traumatizing follow-up visits when they were 5 years old or older.

My mom had some sort of rare illness when she was 8 or 9 years old (I honestly don't know exactly what, but it was both temporary and cured), which had nothing to do with sexy bits or anything. Because the illness was so seldom seen, the doctor had her sit, naked, on a stainless steel table and had all the med students and other doctors and everyone in the damn place parade through and take a look at her. Obviously this traumatized her, because she remembers it vividly and counts it as one of the worst experiences she ever had. And that's a long way from having some doctor stick something in your hoo-hah and ask, "So how does that feel?"

Also, for those who would argue, "Well, his point in doing the study was to see if he could keep the nerve function intact, so he had to have some way of measuring how well that turned out, eh?": That's the point of an Independent Review Board. Science-y people who are now seeing his published work are saying, "So, we're not sure that your methodology really measured how well their clitorises were going to function as instruments of sexual pleasure" for a number of reasons. Presumably, we hope, a five year old hasn't had sex yet, so they can't say if having a vibrator held on them gives them a "normal sexual response." The doctor's methods may have demonstrated that some of the nerves are still connected, as in, the whole thing isn't totally numb; that would be the result of the *pinching*. (Eeek.) But that probably could have been tested in a less "hands-on" sort of way.

Also, imagine having your private parts out in the open, a man you hardly know poking around, your parents in the room, and then someone says, "So, how does that feel?" Can the kid really give an honest answer? "It's terrible. I'll never ever have sex, Mom and Dad. (The Bible tells me so.)" "Um, it might feel good but my parents are standing right there?" "Wow, this feels fantastic! Can I take that vibrator thingy home, Mom?" Etc.

So the doctor's methods don't seem to produce any *sound* findings that the girls' sexual function was in no way impaired. (See also: there was no control group of uncut 5-year-old clitorises.) And that's where a review board comes in. If the doctor had submitted his "plan" - in detail - to a committee of scientists with half a functioning brain cell, they'd have said, "Well, we don't think your conclusions will be very sound, and the method sounds like it might have a negative effect on the subjects. Can you work on some sort of alternate testing method?" But this doctor didn't.

I don't think (most of) the commenters are saying that this guy is a slavering pedophile who was clearly jerking off every time these little girls came in for their "treatments" and the parents were turning the blindest eye in the whole world. But this is clearly sexual contact with small children, and had the doctor submitted it through proper channels, someone would probably have said, "Um, that doesn't seem appropriate. Like, really."

OK, that was super long, apologies. Also, I just can't resist some all-caps:

Posted by: MM at June 22, 2010 8:38 PM

Enlargement of the clitoris is often a prominent manifestation of virilizing congenital adrenal hyperplasia and other disorders of sexual development.

That is also known as pseudohermaphroditism. These are little girls that look for all intents and purposes like little boys. Other effects of the condition can include labia fused into a pseudoscrotum that block the introitus of the vagina and there can be disjunction of the vagina and uterus which becomes a fatal condition at the onset of menarche when the menses have no where to go and the uterus ruptures with usually fatal outcomes. There is also an associated condition called vaginal agenesis where no vagina develops and there is only a shallow depression where the introitus would be. All of these conditions can be remediated surgically and it is important for normal psychosocial development that they are done as early as possible and in some cases are life saving and fertility sparing meaning they allow the patient to have children.

Intersex individuals have a host of psychiatric problems that too often end in suicide. If people want to walk around with a dildo in their pants that's fine for them and I've even seen bull dykes with face hair transplants but that's not something you want to put on a 6 year old girl in first grade. Buck Angel does it voluntarily.

Posted by: OscarTamerz at June 22, 2010 9:02 PM

RE teacupnosaucer:" the 'JESUS FUCK' comment was directed at the topic of the article, not in response to you particularly, although that last diatribe sure does justify it now."

The entire tone of your first comment was hysterical and ignorant, as is this one. I'm not surprised that you don't agree. Just thought maybe you'd acknowledge that if someone pointed it out. Guess not. Plus, you called me out by name, so your JESUS FUCK comment seemed directed at me, at least in part. My apologies for not being able to tell the difference.

As to this: "yes, 'a committee of uninformed strangers' takes authority in those situations all the time." - I'll defer to the people with medical degrees when it comes to medical issues. I don't give a fuck what uninformed strangers think about anything. If we let the uninformed decide everything, we'd still have slavery and women wouldn't be able to vote. And abortion would be illegal. And black kids would still be going to separate schools. We tried the "uninformed stranger committee" way of telling people how to live their lives already, it doesn't work very well. It causes more problems than it solves.

RE MM: "I don't think (most of) the commenters are saying that this guy is a slavering pedophile who was clearly jerking off every time these little girls came in for their treatments and the parents were turning the blindest eye in the whole world. "

Actually, yes, most of them are. Maybe not with that specificity, but numerous suggestions that we should jail him, charge him with a crime, etc. Also, pointing out again, two of his fellow researchers are women. Not saying women can't have bad judgment, but I doubt he was alone with these children while conducting this study. I'm guessing there were at least a couple other adults there.

As for your mention of a "control" group, exactly how do you control for something like this? This is an extremely small group of specific patients who've had this surgery. I don't think there is a way (that wouldn't get the doctor arrested in the same manner that people are suggesting here) to have a "control" group. The name of the procedure is "nerve sparing ventral clitoroplasty." I assume that previous surgeries for this condition do not spare nerves. For anyone who wonders why that's relevant, go back to my comment that teacupnosaucer is so mad about.

Regardless of how all of you feel about this surgery, it's not your call to make. If you ever have a kid born with this condition and you decide not to do it, cool for you. But you don't get to make that decision for anyone else. You get to make medical decisions for yourself and your kids, you don't get to make them for other people. However icky or sad it makes you feel, your feelings about the procedure are irrelevant. You're free to feel icky about this doctor's study. I agree that thinking about children having sexual feelings is icky, because I'm not a kid fucker. Actual kid fuckers should be imprisoned for life. This doctor is not a kid fucker. He's a doctor. He appears to be trying to help. He doesn't appear to be conducting a study just so he can have an excuse to inappropriately touch little girls. I think he could do that a lot easier by hooking up with single mothers and molesting their kids while she's asleep or at work. That's what actual pedophiles do.

And for those who really are too lazy to read, this procedure is not female genital mutilation, nor is it simply cosmetic. This isn't "vaginal rejuvenation" or that stupid procedure where a doctor "restores" someone's virginity. Go look at some icky pictures of actual females born with this condition (adrenal hyperplasia) and come back and tell me that no parent should want this surgery for his/her child. I think it's towering arrogance to tell people that, to tell parents that they're abusing their children when they approve this surgery because everything that happens in a child's body is natural and "fixing" it is imposing values blah blah blah.

And yet many of you would have no problem imposing your "values" on these people if you could. In your entirely uninformed, non-medical opinion, this surgery is completely unnecessary - and I said that too, earlier, before I looked into what it was, so my bad on that, for listening to the hysterical first reactions. Good thing it's not up to us.

I'm not really the "devil's advocate" here. I'm the reasonable person who is not calling for this doctor to be arrested for something he probably didn't do. Accusing someone of pedophilia is actually pretty serious. Or it should be. An accusation like that really shouldn't be thrown around carelessly. Doing that harms both victims of actual pedophiles and the wrongly accused (of whom there have been many; and no, I'm not including Michael Jackson in that group, I think he was a kid toucher, he just paid the kid's family off to keep from being prosecuted for it).

Posted by: Slash at June 22, 2010 9:28 PM

  • Sexual organs being operated on for aesthetic reasons.
  • Inability of underage patients to give informed consent.
  • Stimulating sex organs of children age six and under.
  • A doctor at Cornell University undertaking a likely illegal study involving highly questionable methodology.

Just keeping the 'overthinkers' on target. Boil it down to the simplest bits of information and you'll clearly see what the fuss is about. All the doublethink in the world will not justify this action, "possible good intentions" aside.

And yes, god awful shit like this has been going down in Africa and other places forever - but as voters and citizens of America, you have the power to stop what happens on your soil, as well as offer amnesty to people from other countries who have no social safegaurds.

Posted by: replica at June 22, 2010 9:44 PM

L.O.V.E, there's unfortunately no indication at all from the study what age the specific sizes belonged to. As far as I know, the 4.5cm clit could have belonged to a 4 month old or a 24 year old (the average was 2.4 cm by the way). I'm sure the parents were trying to do what was in the best interests of their children. Most parents are not trained in medical issues or well enough informed about this kind of thing to make a decision on their own, which is why they rely on the advice of doctors. We trust doctors and assume they know what's best, but unfortunately that isn't always the case. Dreger and Feder have worked as advocates for people with these sorts of disorders and know more about it than I do, so I think they are more qualified to discuss whether these surgeries are necessary or helpful than I am (they seem to think not), but frankly even as someone who doesn't work in this field, I found the tone of the original paper horrifying. It really was clear reading it that appearance was the most important thing to Poppas and function only secondary.
Slash, I wouldn't consider most of the pictures of women with adrenal hyperplasia to be "icky." Patients range from looking like they have slightly large clits, to yes, mini penises. I still think genital surgery should be left for the individual to decide on, not their parents. And again, testing for sensitivity after these surgeries is important. But it should be done on adults.

Posted by: dr. pisaster at June 22, 2010 9:57 PM

It's worth noting that yes, while most of the subjects apparently had congenital adrenal hyperplasia, and that disorder can have very serious consequences, the enlarged clitoris is a *symptom* of that disorder, and surgically altering the clitoris does not cure the disorder or any of its other symptoms. Therefore, it's primarily an "aesthetic"/"please don't let my daughter be a freak" driven decision.

At the age that it was done to most of the subjects, it would be difficult to say whether, post-puberty, the relative size of their clitorises would be staggeringly abnormal or merely on the far slope of the bell curve. It's a knee-jerk reaction at too early a stage that provides no medical benefit at that time.

Posted by: MM at June 22, 2010 10:10 PM

Fucking hell?

Posted by: , at June 22, 2010 11:40 PM

It's way past time for Captain Cunnilingus to unleash some whoop-ass on ... what's this guy's name? WHAT?

You gotta be fucking kiddin' me.

Posted by: , at June 22, 2010 11:41 PM

Thanks for the clarification, pisaster. This is just a clusterfuck all around.

I'm trying to empathize with both the parents and the child here. We can talk about how its just for cosmetic reasons, but I'm going to be perfectly honest and say I would freak the fuck out if I got busy with a girl, pulled off the panties, and saw a mini-peen down there.

The reality is that these girls were given a tough lot and there will be mental repercussions whether they have this procedure as a child or they face their formative years with a significant body issue (especially these days of internet porn and shaved pubes where its easy to compare and contrast).

Since its a fucked up situation whether the procedure is done or not, the conservative route would seem the best choice. Start the psyche counseling early and prepare them to make their own choice at least when they are in their teens, rather than performing a drastic and irreversible procedure (both from a physical and psyche perspective) that they have been totally unnecessary and potentially life-altering.

Posted by: L.O.V.E. at June 22, 2010 11:43 PM

I have so desperately tried to write something that is well thought out and even more so expressed. But right now I am so filled with rage and disgust that it's all I can do to keep from keeping this latest attempt (fourth draft thus far) into a bloodthirsty manifesto.

Although I have nothing but animosity for this evil fuck of a "doctor" and his mutilations and molestations of children shrouded in the name of science. It is not he to whom I feel the most amount of hatred for. He is a monster and a predator, and I can only dream of the things I would like seen done to him before snuffing him out. But again, he isn't who has earned the lion's share of my wrath. No, it's the parents of these children to whom I really want to beat some sense into.

Clearly these people are far too gullible and moronic to handle the responsibility of raising and more importantly protecting their children. Seriously, what kind of idiot is so easily persuaded by some Dr. Josef Mengele wanna-be regarding the child's sexual organs. I....I...(deep breath) I cannot even begin to comprehend why this grift was able to ensnare so many people. Who looks at their child and sees anything less than perfection? I mean if you thought your little girl might have a hang-up for having a "larger than normal clitoris" (is there even such a thing?) Imagine how screwed up she'll be when she learns not only was she physically mutilated and later sexually molested by some quack, but that it was all done with her parents' blessings. The world is a dangerous place and if one is so easily swayed to allow someone like this access to something so young, innocent and helpless- then clearly these are people who never should have had the privilege of being allowed to procreate. This level of shitheadedness one would have to to surrender their child's safety makes me wonder if they too weren't in on the crime as accomplices. I cannot imagine being so fuckwitingly dumb when it comes to your child's welfare.

As parents you not only raise your children and teach them and mold them and love them, but you're also suppose to protect them too. And yes that even includes the one adult in this case study. The 24 year-old should have had parents to turn to before subjecting to this pseudo-scientific skullfuckery. As for the children, well I still cannot grasp how anyone could look at this mess and see anything other than madness.

There is a pit filled with bathtub napalm that I wish to throw this evil man into. After which I want to toss every last parent in after him for agreeing to this scam and giving this disgusting excuse for a human being the opportunity again and again and again.

I have to go dropkick something now.

Posted by: bleujayone at June 23, 2010 12:52 AM

Into the fray...

Im going to go ahead and assume here that the doctor had the best of intentions. People who are highly intelligent, talented, learned and dedicated to a very specific field tend to be stupid in other fields. How many people do you know who are absolutely brilliant in quantum physics but wouldn't know the keg tap from their asshole at a party?

IE: A highly regarded (most highly regarded?) urologist probably doesn't put much thought into social norms and mores. He saw a scientific problem and wanted to see if he could scientifically find a solution. It was (admittedly) bad science.

The underlying motives of the surgery are not his scope. The social desires and potential social stigma that leads to people desiring surgery for a more "normal" look aren't his concern. They probably never cross his mind.

That said... this is why you have institutional ethics review boards. The brilliant doctor/idiot savant comes up with an idea and the review board says "look, thats neat... BUT FUCK NO YOU CANT JILL OFF A BUNCH OF 5 YEAR OLDS! I DONT CARE HOW SCIENCE-Y YOU MAKE IT!" to which the doctor responds "oh, right... didnt think about that".

The crime here is that this experiment ever went past the contemplative stage. The fail safe, "idiot check" failed. Not only should the doctor be reprimanded for not pursuing the proper channels but there needs to be some investigation as to why he was allowed to do ANY research without this advisory boards approval.

Posted by: Lennon at June 23, 2010 1:56 AM

Have you ever been told by a (female gyno) that you're not right 'down there' and a simple snip and nip and tick would 'fix it all'?
I have.
I do not agreed with anything this Professor has done IN THE SLIGHTEST and I thank my mother for not letting the doctors mutiliate me when they told her that her daughter was abnormal.
As a grown woman, to be told you're not 'right' is devastating. I have grown to accept my body and its quirks. I have only ever considered surgery due to my sporting committments as at times, being unique affects my performance (I'm a cyclist).
Ethics forbids most people from behaving in a socially abhorrent manner. To disguise it under 'science' is no different.
While I understand that culture, not wanting your children to be ridiculed etc is sometimes a valid reason - consider the lifelong implications for your actions.
I'm angry and sad for those girls but I'm glad that my mother didn't let this happen to me.

Posted by: nom de plume at June 23, 2010 2:48 AM

I feel sick after reading this. I can barely find the words.

All I can say for now is thanks for posting this article.

Posted by: AgoGo at June 23, 2010 2:56 AM

Admin, I'll look into extradition laws between your country and mine in case you're forced to flee overseas. Let me assure you that we have excellent coffee and alcoholic beverages, gorgeous scenery and healthcare here. Also, prostitution is legal.
Plus, we haven't performed experimental surgeries like this since the Nazis 70-odd years ago invaded, so there's that too.

Posted by: cinekat at June 23, 2010 3:39 AM


How DARE this poor excuse for research be conducted on non consenting minors

If you're concerned about the size of your daughter's clitoris, wait til she's of an age where she can determine what she can do with it herself!!!

I mean, who's going to see it?

Tears of rage are welling in my eyes, how dare the innocence of these little girls be taken away for this pure aesthetic reasoning?

"When I was your age, nobody fiddled about with my clitoris and in return I turned out perfectly fine and I can now explore the world of orgasms for myself!"

Tough shit if a guy doesn't like the size of your clitoris when you're older, chances are you won't be too thrilled with the size of his penis either!

If the clitoris is actually vcausing the young girl discomfort, then yes, when she is old enough to makethe decision for herself, she can do whatever the hell she wants with it.


Posted by: Camilla at June 23, 2010 4:29 AM

I really have no words. This is wrong on so many levels. I feel so sorry for those poor little girls. This 'Doctor' needs a nice long spell in a prison Im sure Butch and Meatloaf would be real interested to know why he's there.

(Butch and Meatloaf being the imaginary cellmates who hate child abusers, eat people and consider bitching out prags an enjoyable past time)

Posted by: Nieve 'The Threadkiller Queen' at June 23, 2010 7:16 AM

I thought I'd settle in for bed soon, so I saved Dirty Talk for last.

Now, I'm not so sure I want to try to go to sleep.

My gut puts me where most of you are, but Slash made a very compelling argument. I think the best thing to do is to look into this quietly, interview the parents and nursing staff, and figure out what exactly happened.

Dr. Piaster, I would like to know more about what happened, if that's possible.

Posted by: AmbroseKalifornia at June 23, 2010 7:25 AM

I want to strangle this motherfucker with my bare hands. Then I want to strangle the parents. Then, if this research was indeed approved by Cornell's medical board, I'll choke those monsters out of this world as well. What an abomination.

Any medically licensed individual linked to the practice or approval of this study should have their license revoked for life and forced to spend a lifetime behind bars wondering if their asshole would hurt less if Bubba's parents had considered penile reduction surgery when he was 2.

Posted by: Kballs at June 23, 2010 8:00 AM

My response to Slash is probably that, while there is every chance Dr. Poppas is not a paedophile, I like to think that we're not the thought police. I believe that we judge (and in this case I do mean JUDGE) people by their actions, rather than their proclivities, and with their intentions trailing behind that. (mens rea, actus reus) Did Dr. Poppas touch these girls with the intent of providing himself sexual satisfaction? I cannot say, although the thing about using a *fingernail* was preeeeeetty creepy as well as seeming vaguely unhygenic.

Back to my point, whether or not Dr. Poppas got his jollies off on q-tipping little girls only changes the severity of his crime, not the crime itself. (A murder v. manslaughter issue, if you will.) He certainly had the intent of touching the genitalia of those young girls, and one could argue that he purposefully or at the very least, recklessly carried out this act. That his intent may not have been sexual gratification may be grounds to claim that the abuse is not sexual doesn't stop it from being abuse. One could even argue that if at any later point, one of those girls felt as though she were being sexually assaulted (and I'm being pretty kind using "if") that Dr. Poppas should have known that this was a possible consequence of his actions (like, you know, a sane person would.)

That being said, on a personal level, I feel like a pair of rusty pliers, some duct tape, cling wrap, and a list of the parents' and the dear Doc's addresses seem mighty appealing right now. Oh, and a rusty spork.

Posted by: megaera at June 23, 2010 9:04 AM

Thanks, dr., for not just giving us the boner and girl-boner news. Whether we be a Slash or a teacup this is a complicated and most apparently, likely, and probably a big mistake and no-no, to put it way too lightly. And as such it should be known and discussed. Good work.

Posted by: coryo at June 23, 2010 9:14 AM


Posted by: Camilla at June 23, 2010 4:29 AM
*Capt. Cunnilingus teams with Camilla to exact some clitribution.*

Posted by: , at June 23, 2010 9:27 AM

It's like anti-choicers who toss the word "slut" around, unaware that they're part of the problem.

OK, I really wanted to agree with the *point* you were making, but there are so many things wrong with this sentence that I simply can't.

Posted by: Patty O'Green at June 23, 2010 9:37 AM

Whatever, y'all. I tried to use reason, but apparently, for some of you, that was wasted effort on my part. You'd rather just label the male doctor a sex offender (and again, two of the people named at the top of the study are women and yet the only person singled out for punishment here is the male one) and advocate torturing him to death for the crimes you imagine he committed. That sounds a lot like the kind of shit anti-abortion people do all the time. But I guess it's OK when people we agree with do that. Wrong for anti-abortion people, OK for people here. Got it.

Posted by: Slash at June 23, 2010 11:12 AM

By the way, not sure who's still reading this, but:

Accusing somebody of a crime, especially one as serious as child molesting, is libel. Libel is actionable. Like, in a court and everything. Websites have been sued for libel. I'm not sure exactly what the Pajiba policy is on someone linking to a medical study, suggesting the medical study was child abuse and then inviting the commenters to offer their uneducated opinions on it, but I'd suggest avoiding that in the future. It's one thing to offer an opinion on a movie. It's another to accuse people of molesting children based on nothing more than a layperson's understanding of medical procedures and protocols.

The bioethics forum linked article was very careful to not suggest, much less conclude, that the doctor himself is a child molester. They expressed doubts about his work and the way he did it, but didn't call for him to be arrested or charged or anything like that. Which is nice to see. And responsible. Unlike what has happened here.

Posted by: Slash at June 23, 2010 11:35 AM

Slash, did you read any of my comments? Or the whole article? The initial article in which Dreger and Feder contacted the co-authors and learned from them that they weren't involved in anything but the analysis of the patients' history? Those two women were not involved in the follow up exams, that's why no one is calling for their heads.

Not to draw out the discussion into transgenderism or anything, but it's worth noting also that not all girls with this condition grow up to be gender female. Gender is not a binary, it does not always line up with genetic sex or genitalia, and messing with these girls' genitals before their identities are fully formed is probably not the best solution. As L.O.V.E. said, counseling to help them deal with the issues they will no doubt face is a far better option for young children.

nom de plume I'm very sorry that happened to you. For what it's worth, as I mentioned in my first column "normal" is actually a pretty broad range of things. You're gynecologist was an asshole.

Posted by: dr. pisaster at June 23, 2010 11:38 AM

Patty: I'm glad it caught it your attention.

Posted by: Ranylt at June 23, 2010 3:38 PM


I'm as outraged as anyone else if this turns out to be as it's been described above. But it's worth considering the possibility that all is not as it appears: take a gander at this post (posted to that may provide some explanatory detail for just what the frell is going on here. As described there, there are still some ethical concerns present (particularly as regards bypassing the review board), but perhaps the overall picture is a little different.

Posted by: Snorklewacker at June 23, 2010 4:43 PM

Wow, this has sure stirred up a lot of discussion! I am of the opinion that the girls should not have been touched sexually without being able to give consent, and that the Dr's intent is irrelevant. I do not believe that the Dr is a pedophile necessarily, but I think that there is a large chance that the girls will have lasting and negative effects as a result of the follow up exams. I personally blame the parents. I do not believe in any costmetic genital surgery (my son is not circumsised)without consent of the individual.

I understand the anger of the commenters that have called out for the blood of the Dr. It is a sensitive issue that affects some people strongly. I was sexually abused as a child and it has taken me a very long time to get over it. I still struggle with it. Hopefully these girls will be able to live normal lives and not be too affected by what they have gone through.

Posted by: 2 Cents at June 23, 2010 4:47 PM

As a scientist, my calls for the doctor to be jailed are because it was done without ethics approval. Lennon described what I've even seen myself a few times - very intelligent, dedicated people getting so caught up in the science that they forget basic common sense. The actual 'testing' procedure was incredibly creepy, but then again, EVERY piece of sex-related research could be described as 'creepy'. What sets this apart is that it was done on underaged girls, and that's where the ethics committee should have been allowed to step in and say 'No. Oh, hell, no. What the fuck are you thinking, doc?'

To put it in perspective, depending on the literature, the 'average' for the clitoris is between 2.5 and 5mm. In other words, Miss 4.5cm was nine to eighteen times larger than 'normal'. Imagine having a coccyx bone that was eighteen times larger than normal - that's a very noticable tail! Or any body part, for that matter (nose, ears, fingers...).

Please, click on my name. It's a forum post by a woman who actually has this condition. If you don't have time to click, here's a few notable quotes:
"My dad raised me and said we're not all the same dear."
"I was teased in the school showers they allways called me "weenie- woman" "
"Maybe its just wrong for me to marry since I'm soo abnormal? I might be carring a bad gene?"
"I was soo messed up in highschool I tried cutting it off,"
Despite her father's wisdom, she ignored his truth in favour of the truth of her peers, as you do when you're a teenager, and tried to cut off her own clitoris. Even now, she thinks she should keep hiding, and avoid a relationship. I can't blame any parent for trying to save their child from that, I really can't.

Posted by: ScienceGeek at June 23, 2010 6:06 PM

As an aside, I'm not sure I can give Jennifer Yang a free pass on this one. Yes, she didn't physcially do anything dodgy, but she's the first author. I know that means different things in different countries and areas of reseach, but where I'm from, that means she wrote the actual article, chose what was going to be included, and enjoyed all the benefits that come with that (such as funding and promotions, it's 'publish or perish', after all).

If you claim First Authorship, you better be damn sure you can handle the scruitiny. Even if she didn't do the post-surgery studies and didn't write the article, I'm really not sure if Yang has any right to run away squealing 'it wasn't me!' when it turned out that she'd put her name, front and centre, on something ethically reprehensible. After all, do we give the CEO of BP a pass because he wasn't on that oil rig?

Posted by: ScienceGeek at June 23, 2010 7:15 PM

Um, ScienceGeek, your heart is in the right place, but try this: take your comment about the woman with the blog and substitute "gay" for "large clit". See how it now turns into an argument for parents who send their gay kids to "reorientation camps"?

Right now, there is no good answer for this issue. But irreversible physical change at 5 years old really shouldn't be people's first choice.

Posted by: Three-nineteen at June 23, 2010 8:34 PM

Three-nineteen Oh, you're absolutely right. It shouldn't be people's first choice. I wrote in a comment above that I see the real problem being that society at large is incredibly judgemental of anybody considered different. With the ready availability of internet porn, marketing of 'sexual aid' products and paparazzi up-skirt shots, even our genitals are now expected to fit some aesthetic 'ideal'. If you don't, your entire gender is questionable. In the case of the poor woman in my example, even her right to a relationship was questionable.

Hence, I could understand why parents might make the choice that they did. It's not right by any means, but I think we've all got to take some of the blame on ourselves here, instead of simply hurling condemnation on the parents and the doctors. It's easy to say 'How could they do this to their kid?' when we ignore what WE would do to their kid. I guess I see this as an excellent example of how a single person making a joke can be innocent, but when a million people make the same joke, it can be incredibly damaging.

I apologise, I really should have been clearer in my later comment, but I wrote this at work and didn't take the time to read over my comment before posting.

Posted by: ScienceGeek at June 23, 2010 9:30 PM

ScienceGeek, speak for yourself. I will not take any of the blame in this madness. And I'll hurl all the condemnation I want, thank you very much.

This is not about some social stigma for which we have all somehow created. This is about parental stupidity and the ultimate form of vicarious insecurity. I'm VERY curious about the favor the parents of the EIGHT WEEK OLD baby thought they were doing even scrutinizing the as yet matured genitalia of their daughter. What did they have a machinist's calipers standing by? Is there an Olympic committee on acceptable genital standards? Did anyone stop and think about...well, fuck it, ANYTHING?!? And sure in this case it's very easy to ask; "How could they do this to their kid?", because this should have been a no-brainer. This is fish in a barrel easy. This would have been bad enough if one parent went for this, but the fact that so many fell in without ever stopping and using common sense, makes me wonder how these people manage to function on a day-to-day basis. I do not understand the spontaneous retardation of these parents, and I hope to whatever deity you chose that I never do.

From what I got out of this, these girls weren't hermaphrodites, rather somehow their pediatric clitori were deemed "too big". You'd think these children had Rocky Dennis in their crotches. This just seems a more modern version of foot-binding only worse. We're not talking about a removing a mole or fixing a cleft pallet here. It boils down to some fuck-weasel somehow convincing them their children weren't "normal" and they flew into an illogical panic being persuaded to allow a cruel medical procedure on their children in some magic-wand attempt to make things all better. Christ on a Pogo-Stick.

And hey why we're on the subject, maybe it might be best for the perpetuation of our species if the little man in the boat did pack on some size. From what I understand, many women claim men have a hard enough time finding it or treating it proper anyway. Think of it as the new Staples "That Was Easy" big red button.

Posted by: bleujayone at June 24, 2010 2:48 AM

If we get past the sexual organ part of the equation, aren't we talking about a procedure to fix a disfigurement?

posted by L.O.V.E.

If your daughter were born with a large nose that caused her to be picked on by other children would you allow her to be subjected to surgery as a juvenile to fix the "disfigurement"? I prefer to teach my child that people who make fun of you because you are different will find some other reason to pick on you if you change who you are. They are bad for picking on you, you are not bad for being different. Oh,and ScienceGeek really made me think, good comment.

Posted by: Phat girl at June 24, 2010 12:00 PM

The issue of 'normality' is interesting her.
The commenter who noted the media influence on 'normality' is pretty close to spot on.
In Australia there are controls around the amount of 'female genetalia' which can be displayed in soft core magazine and a direct prohibition on any 'excessive' external organs being shown. Visit the ABC's website to see the show which highlights how santisation of the human body has led to increase of surgery on women's 'ladyparts' Go to and go to the 'Hungry Beast' link. As a 9pm current affairs show, these guys really pushed the envelope here and raised an important issue. if you think modifying your body in this way is necessary, i challenge you to watch the video and not squirm.

Posted by: nom de plume at June 24, 2010 7:37 PM

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