I was flicking through Facebook the other night when I came across a friend's link: "Vagina piercings count as FGM, even if you're a consenting adult".
If you haven't read the article, I'll sum it up for you: women who've opted for genital piercings are to be included in the Department of Health figures for women who've had genital mutilation inflicted upon them.
Commenting on the link, my friend wrote: "This is the biggest load of shit I have ever heard in my life! Fuck off!" I agree with her.
At the heart of this, we have the issue of sexual and bodily autonomy, but let's sweat the small stuff first, you know, the minor factors of health and hygiene. How might the practices of the piercer and the mutilator differ? Let's see....
Customer: Hiya! I'm here to get my clitoral hood pierced! Can you tell me what you're going to use, please - is everything sterile?
Piercer: Hi, glad you asked me that - yes, everything's sterile. We'll just be having a consultation today - it's not suitable for everyone, so I'll need to take a look. Come through and I'll talk you through the procedure and the aftercare.
Mutilator: *scuffs about in the dirt, kicks up a bit of broken glass and a razor blade*... I'll just use these, yeah?
Customer: Oh! Crikey. That's uh, retro... Um, you're just going to pierce the hood of my clitoris, yeah? Like Lady Gaga?
Piercer: Yes - you can relax, you're in safe hands. I've done lots of these and I've got some very happy customers!
Mutilator: No, actually, what I'm going to do is, chop off a bit of your clitoris - possibly all of it. Then I might hack off your labia and stitch your vagina up - yeah?
Customer: Uh, right, not really what I had in mind... Um, bit nervous now. I've heard it's a turn-on, it'll increase my sexual pleasure. Is that right?
Piercer: Well it works for me! Yes - clitoral hood piercings can heighten the pleasure of the woman with the piercing.
Mutilator: That'll be no. If I do my job properly, you'll want to cordon the area off and hire a pack of German Shepherds to keep intruders out: You won't want any fucker near you. I'll unstitch your bits when you're married so your husband can get his end away, but don't imagine you'll enjoy it - it's going to hurt like Pricey's tits falling out.
Customer: Right, erm, I might need to think about this. How long will it take to heal? Will I be alright?
Piercer: Yes - genital piercings heal really quickly - way quicker than belly buttons. As long as you look after yourself, you'll be right as rain within a month.
Mutilator: No, you'll probably have severe pain, bleeding, wound infection, open sores and you won't be able to wee for a bit. Probs be left with damage to other organs - urethra, bowel, whatevs. In the long run, you'll probably have abnormal periods, difficulty doing a wee, kidney failure, infertility and cysts!
Customer: Right, not too sure about this. Think I might pass for now.
Piercer: No worries at all. Feel free to get in touch if you change your mind.
Mutilator: Er, I wasn't asking - did you imagine you had a say in this?
Which brings us to autonomy. Female genital mutilation is a violation of young girls between infancy and the age of 15. It robs women of their sexual autonomy, treating them as if they exist for men's sexual pleasure, while negating their own. Genital piercing, in absolute contrast, is a choice a woman can make to heighten her own pleasure - by definition, it is an act of sexual autonomy.
By classing women with genital piercings as having suffered FGM, we take away their agency and suggest they're incapable of making decisions regarding their own bodies. We take away their bodily autonomy just as FGM takes away the bodily autonomy of the women it's inflicted upon.
It's a bit like going round someone's house, taking a look at their wallpaper and saying, "CHRIST! Who's making you LIVE LIKE THIS?" Unless the 60 Minute Makeover team have gone guerrilla, breaking into houses doing rogue refurb, you're actually being quite rude. Presumably your host likes that wallpaper - you're not crediting them with the nous to make their own choices.
And so it is with female genital piercing. I say female, as no one's questioning cock rings. Men can get their pricks pierced without anyone suggesting they're victims of a crime.
Marcus Henderson, spokesperson for the Tattoo and Piercing Industry Union says, "Now we're faced with a situation where men are able to make up their mind and consent to an intimate piercing where women are not." I believe this discrepancy is what Caitlin Moran might refer to as, "some total fucking bullshit."
"The new data collection will help build a picture of the scale and the nature of the problem we are facing" says a spokesperson for the Department of Health - but of course it won't. Including the number of women who've happily had their hoods pierced will simply skew the data, rendering it meaningless and creating complacency. When we're faced with figures purporting to show the number of women who've experienced the violation of FGM, we'll be less alarmed and more, "meh." We need to highlight the horror of FGM: this move only serves to mask it.