Something to Get Hysterical About

by | November 16, 2011
filed under Feminism, Politics

In a recent article published in Ms. Magazine tackling the complicated topic of unnecessary hysterectomies Frances Cerra Whittelsey asks the question, where is the outrage? Why aren’t more women questioning the medicalization of women’s bodies? Procedures done under the guise of ‘preventative measures’ end up causing many women severe emotional and sexual distress have become a societal norm.

An estimated 600,000 hysterectomies are performed in the United States a year (and about 50,000 in Canada). That is 1 in 3 women in the US. The most common reason for performing a hysterectomy is cancer treatment or prevention and endometriosis (severe cramping or bleeding). The hysterectomy is the second most performed surgery after cesarean section procedures.

These numbers alone say a lot about our westernized society and the way we have normalized the mutilation of women’s bodies in this context. Yet, we as a society continue to be outraged and horrified (rightfully so) at acts mutilating female genitalia (clitoridectomies) because of the ‘other’ context they are preformed in and the intrinsic link between our culture and the clitoris as the pleasure centre for women.

In preparation for writing this I have read many testimonials from women who has hysterectomies because they were advised to do so by their doctors as the best (and in some cases only) treatment option for them and later had regrets. In doing so they were unprepared for the emotional and physical loss of the main female sex organ including ovaries and cervix and the affect it had in their relationships and in their sexual life.

Whittelsey, who herself had a hysterectomy reflected on the impact of the procedure on her sexuality “Many, although not all women, feel their orgasms in their uteruses. When that organ is gone, they will never enjoy that intensity of feeling again. I know because I did enjoy such orgasms, a whole-body rush with my uterus rhythmically contracting. I now realize with regret that I could have avoided that loss with surgery to simply remove the tumours. My female gynaecologist led me to believe there was no alternative. I was in my early 40’s; the average age of women undergoing hysterectomy is 42.”

It has come up in some medical articles that by removing the uterus damage occurs that directly affects the way a woman experiences orgasms due to nerve damage. Yet, many websites claim that most women experience no change in the sensations experienced during sex. Some even boast that some woman have increased sensation and enjoyment of intercourse after a hysterectomy.

What is the push from the medical world to push to women undergo major invasive surgery instead of  fully exploring non-invasive alternatives? Many studies have surfaced in recent years linking hysterectomies to early causes of death. So why isn’t there more outrage?

Hysterectomies are painted in a all too soft pink light for my liking. It is a removal of a major organ. A major female sex organ. Much like a a partial or full mastectomy procedure (the removal of a breast or both breasts) a physical piece of ourselves is removed. The parts of us as women that we bring forth life from. Parts of our physical bodies which are intrinsically linked to our sexual selves.

By the act of removing the uterus, the ovaries, or our breasts we are physically being taken apart. Mastectomies are only the second most performed surgery after cesarean section births. Except in cases of medical emergency it is yet another medical intervention to further to insert separation between the woman and her body.

-Alicia Costa

Photo by Nevit Dilmen via Wikimedia Commons.


Topics
, ,


  • I agree with the gist, that women should be offered every range of possible treatment before a major surgery. However, although i realize if it’s not about me, it’s not about me, I am bothered by some things in your post. As a feminist and a young (mid twenties) woman who is childfree by choice and opted to have a hysterectomy for endo, no. My uterus and cervix were not an essential part of my sexual self. Nor are these organs an essential part of the sexual selves of trans women and men. I also used to get orgasmic uterine contractions, but I don’t particularly miss them, and being able to function without intense pain for two weeks out of every month, including functioning sexually, has improved my life immeasurably. Again, I agree that women need to be treate with respect and given all treatment options, but we also shouldn’t be told by anyone that, having chosen what works best for our lives, we have allowed ourselves to be mutilated in a culturally normative way. Feminists should be especially sensitive to the problems of gender essentialization, and womb fetishization, as well as the pedestal of motherhood, or at least having the ability to reproduce— women are more than cis, and more than wombs, ovaries, or cervixes.