In a previous blog I examined the rare act of genital self-mutilation (GSM) in males. More rare are cases of female genital self-mutilation. Back in 1970, Goldfield and Glick first described a syndrome of dysorexia (i.e.. disordered and/or unnatural appetite) and GSM in the Journal of Nervous Diseases. Of the cases reported since 1970, the majority of cases reported have had personality disorders (typically borderline personality disorder) and a history of childhood sexual abuse. In the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, Wise and colleagues categorized female GSM into three groups: (i) patients with personality disorders, (ii) self-induced aborters and (iii) psychotic patients. This slightly differs from male GSM where the cases have been categorized into: schizophrenics, transsexuals (i.e., those with a gender identity crisis), those with complex cultural and religious beliefs, and a small number of severely depressed people who engage in GSM as part of a suicide attempt.
Excluding injuries secondary to self-induced abortion or the insertions of foreign bodies in children, to date, only a handful of female genital self-mutilation have been reported in the literature. Some papers have discussed the differences between self-induced abortion and GSM. However, the differential diagnosis has become increasingly rare because abortion laws have become liberal in many countries.
An early 1957 case in the Journal of Mount Sinai Hospital described a patient who mutilated her vagina on four occasions with a hatpin and knitting needle in late pregnancy that eventually led to a Caesarean section. The 1970 case in the Journal of Nervous Diseases (above) involved a 19-year old female who scratched and gorged her internal genitalia with her fingernails and led to a lot of vaginal bleeding that needed medical attention. A 1972 case in the Archives of General Psychiatry reported the case of a woman who lacerated her vulva with a razor blade.
Following one instance of sexual intercourse with her boyfriend, she feared pregnancy and subsequently penetrated her vagina with a knitting needle. This particular act was not her first episode of self-mutilation. For instance, she had previously swallowed dangerous metal objects, cut her wrists, and had inflicted a deep laceration on her left breast. She also began inserting objects into her vagina including (on one occasion) a twig that had to be medically removed. She later lacerated her vulva and vagina with a knitting needle and a kitchen knife. While in hospital she smashed a window on the gynaecology ward and slashed her arm. Several months later, she again ended up in casualty having cut her vagina with scissors on the previous day, sustaining multiple superficial lacerations of the vagina and cervix.
A detailed case study was reported in 1974 by Simpson and Anstee in the Postgraduate Medical Journal. The authors reported that her self-mutilating behaviour shared several features with the typical wrist cutters (e.g., planning the incident carefully, enjoying the anticipation of the event). She felt no pain when cutting and felt relief and fascination when watching blood flow from her vagina.
There have been a few reports of female GSM associated with psychosis and one 1989 report in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy reported an association between, an isolated delusional system, and body dysmorphic disorder. In fact, the feelings of a distorted body image have been noted in a couple of cases where the women view their genitals as abnormal, and as a consequence tried to remove them.
In a 2005 issue of the German Journal of Psychiatry, Dr. Silke Marckmann and colleagues reported the case of a female with paranoid psychosis who had injured her external genitals in an attempt to stop coenaesthetic dysaesthesias (i.e., feelings of abnormal sensations which in this case was described as “feeling like an electric current” running through her genitals). They also noted that in this particular case, secondary erotomania was a feature associated with female GSM. (Erotomania is a type of delusion where the affected person believes that another person is in love with them). The authors also reported that:
“In the last months before hospital admission she felt that the dysaesthesias did not allow her to concentrate on anything else which included eating. She lost 10 kg weight in the 2 months before she agreed to hospital admission. She then reported, that she had been hitting herself repeatedly in the genital area in the attempt to stop the dysaesthesias”
However, the condition is complex and as Dr Nagaraja Rao and colleagues highlighted in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, that “genital self mutilation like any other serious self injury is not a single clinical entity and it occurs in any psychiatric condition with corresponding psychopathology”.
Marckmann and colleagues believe that compared to male GSM, female GSM might be underreported. This is because they speculate there may be a bias towards those individuals with GSM needing acute medical attention (e.g., men cutting of their penis and/or testicles). Female self-mutilators may find it easier to hide their chronic self-inflicted genital injuries and not seek immediate medical help. Such GSM injuries may be more likely to be spotted by gynaecologists (and as Marckmann and colleagues note, there have been increased reporting of female GSM case studies in gynaecological journals such as the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and European Journal of Obstetric, Gynecological and Reproductive Biology).
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Ajibona, O.O. & Hartwell, R. (2002). Feigned miscarriage by genital self-mutilation in a hysterectomised patient. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 22, 451.
Alao, A.O., Yolles, J.C & Huslander, W. (1999). Female genital self- mutilation. Psychiatric Services, 50, 971.
French, A.P.& Nelson, H.L. (1972). Genital self-mutilation in women. Archives of General Psychiatry, 27, 618.
Gersble, M.L., Guttmacher, A.F. & Brown, F. (1957). A case of recurrent malingered placenta praevia. Journal of Mount Sinai Hospital, 24, 641.
Goldfield, M.D. & Glick, I.R. (1970). Self-mutilation of the female genitalia: a case report. Diseases of the Nervous System, 31, 843.
Habek, D., Barbir, A., Galovic, J., Habek, J.C. et al. (2002). Autosection of the prolapsed uterus and vagina. European Journal of Obstetric, Gynecological and Reproductive Biology, 103, 99-100.
Krasucki, C, Kemp, R., & David A. (1995). A case study of female genital self-mutilation in schizophrenia. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 68, 179-186
Marckmann, S., Garlipp, P., Krampfl, K., & Haltenhof. H. (2005). Genital self-mutilation and erotomania. German Journal of Psychiatry. Located at: http://www.gjpsy.uni-goettingen.de
Simpson, M.A. & Anstee, B.H. (1974). Female genital self-mutilation as a cause of vaginal bleeding. Postgraduate Medical Journal, 50, 308-309.
Standage, K.F., Moore, J.A,. & Cole, M.G. (1974). Self-mutilation of the genitalia by a female schizophrenic. Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal, 19, 17-20.
Wise, T.N., Dietrich, A.M. & Segall, E. (1989). Female genital self- mutilation: Case reports and literature review. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 15, 269-274
One of the rarest behaviours in the world is the act of genital self-mutilation (GSM) in males. To date, approximately 125 cases have been recorded in the clinical literature dating back to the turn of the twentieth century. The first recorded case is thought to be a letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Dr D. Stroch in 1901.
GSM has been recorded in a variety of forms (e.g., simple lacerations, scrotal cutting, testicle removal, penile amputations, self-castration, and a combination of the above, so called ‘lock, stock and barrel mutilation’) across a variety of countries (USA, Middle East, India, Kenya, and Nigeria). There appears to be an increased incidence of GSM over the last decade although this may be due to increased reporting rather than increasing number of cases. GSM usually occurs in Caucasian men in the 20s and 30s (although there is a minority of cases from African and Indian descent and some case reports of individuals over the age of 70 years).
The range of instruments used to enable GSM include kitchen knifes, Stanley knives, scissors, blades, chain saw, and axe. In many cases, the genitals are disposed of immediately such as a recent case reported in the Saudi Medical Journal where a 37-year old male schizophrenic cut off both his penis and testicles and flushed them down the toilet.
A 1988 study by Tobias and colleagues in the South Medical Journal reported that self-mutilators (including all types of self-mutilation not just GSM) were most likely to suffer from schizophrenia (particularly command hallucinations), religious preoccupation, substance abuse, and/or social isolation. Genital self-mutilators are similar, and tend to fall into one of four types – schizophrenics, transsexuals (i.e., those with a gender identity crisis), those with complex cultural and religious beliefs, and a small number of severely depressed people who engage in GSM as part of a suicide attempt (around one-tenth of cases). A 1991 study in the journal Psychopathology also reported that GSM may also be triggered by a feeling of guilt for sexual offences. Similarly, Dr A.C. Waugh writing in the British Journal of Psychiatry concluded that GSM most commonly occurred in men with chronic paranoid schizophrenia and a history of delusions where only castration absolves them of guilt for sexual wrongdoing
A 2003 case report in the journal Urology, reported an attempt by an Indian man to become a ‘hijra’ (i.e., eunuch of the Indian subcontinent) due to his dissatisfaction with the wait for gender reassignment surgery. Reports indicate that transsexuals often resort to genital self-mutilation especially if they are unaware of the availability of professional (medical) help. Dr. D.B. Russell and colleagues in a 2005 issue of Sexual Health reported that genital mutilation that has a more ‘rational’ basis usually involves removal of the testicles (i.e., auto-castration) whereas those in a psychotic state are more likely to engage in penile amputation. An early study in 1993 by Aboseif and colleagues in the Journal of Urology reported that among a group of 14 genital self-mutilators, 61% of episodes involved the mutilation of one or both testicles. They also reported that among repeat mutilators, around one-third (31%) had a history of alcohol abuse and over a half (55%) had a history of drug abuse. The degree of injury didn’t differ between the psychotic and non-psychotic self-mutilators. Reporting on 52 cases in the Archives of General Psychiatry, Greilsheimer and Groves found 87% of genital self-mutilators to be psychotic and 13% to be non-psychotic. The psychotic individuals ranged from those with functional psychosis through to those with brain damage.
Those who engage in GSM as part of a religious belief are typically diagnosed as having Klingsor Syndrome. This was derived from the character Klingsor in Parsifol (a Wagner opera) who engaged in an act of self-castration to gain entry into the Brotherhood of the Knights of the Holy Grail. According to Samir Shirodkar and colleagues in the Saudi Medical Journal, group genital mutilation is a custom of a sect of Australian Aborigines where the blood is drunk by the infirm (who believe it restores their health).
In a fairly recent issue of the journal Mental Health and Substance Use, Dr Thomas Dunn and colleagues reported an unusual case of GSM. A 55-year-old non-psychotic homeless male turned up at hospital with penis and scrotal maggot infestation that was secondary to GSM. The man had gender identity issues and had performed GSM while he was drunk. However, he only sought medical help when he was barred from travelling on public transport because of the smell emanating from his maggot infection.
In a 2007 issue of the Jefferson Journal of Psychiatry, Dr. Craig Franke and Dr James Rush provided some risk factors that help in the identification of people at risk for GSM. These included: (i) psychotic patients with delusions of sexual guilt, (ii) psychotic patients with sexual conflict issues, (iii) prior self-destructive behaviour, (iv) depression, (v) severe childhood deprivation, and (vi) pre-morbid personality disorders. However, the condition is complex and as Dr Nagaraja Rao and colleagues highlighted in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, “genital self mutilation like any other serious self injury is not a single clinical entity and it occurs in any psychiatric condition with corresponding psychopathology”.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aboseif, S., Gomez, R. & McAninch, J.W. (1993). Genital self-mutilation. Journal of Urology, 150, 1143-1146.
Ajape, A.A., Issa, B.A., Buhari, O.I.N., Adeoye, P.O., Babata, A.L. & Abiola, O.O. (2010). Genital self-mutilation. Annals of African Medicine, 9, 31-34.
Dunn, T.M., Collins, V., House, R.M. & Dunn, P.W. (2009). Male genital self-mutilation with maggot infestation in an intoxicated individual. Mental Health and Substance Use, 2, 235-238.
Eke N. (2000). Genital self-mutilation: there is no method in this madness. BJU International, 85, 295-298.
Franke, C.B. & Rush, J.A. (2007). Autocastration and autoamputation of the penis in a patient with delusions of sexual guilt. Jefferson Journal of Psychiatry, 21, Located at: jdc.jefferson.edu/jeffjpsychiatry
Greilsheimer, H. & Groves, J.E. (1979). Male genital self-mutilation. Archives of General Psychiatry, 36, 441.
Martin, T. & Gattaz, W.F. (1991). Psychiatric aspects of male genital mutilations. Psychopathology, 24, 170.
Master, V. & Santucci, R. (2003). An American hijra: A report of a case of genital self-mutilation to become India’s ‘‘third sex’’. Urology, 62, 1121.
Murota-Kawano, A, Tosaka, A. & Ando, M. (2001). Autohemicastration in a man without schizophrenia. International Journal of Urology, 8, 257-259.
Rao, K.N., Bharathi, G., & Chate S. (2002). Genital self-mutilation in depression: A case report. Indian Journal of Psychiatry. 44, 297-300.
Russell, D.B., McGovern, G. & Harte, F.B. (2005). Genital self-mutilation by radio frequency in a male-to-female transsexual. Sexual Health, 2, 203-204.
Shirodkar, S.S., Hammad, F.T. & Qureshi, N.A. (2007). Male genital self-amputation in the Middle East: A simple repair by anterior urethrostomy. Saudi Medical Journal, 28, 791-793.
Stroch, D. (1901). Self castration (Letter to the Editor). Journal of the American Medical Association, 36, 270.
Schweitzer, I. (1990). Genital self-amputation and the Klingsor syndrome. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 24, 566-569.
Stunnell, H., Power, R.E., Floyd, M., & Quinlan, D.M. (2006). Genital self-mutilation. International Journal of Urology, 13, 1358-1360.
Tobias, C.R., Turns, D.M., Lippmann., S., Pary, R. & Oropilla, T.B. (1988) Evaluation and management of self-mutilation. South Medical Journal, 81(10), 1261-1263.
Waugh, A.C. (1986). Autocastration and biblical delusions in schizophrenia. British Journal of Psychiatry, 149, 656-658.