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Infantile masturbation in an African female: is this a justification for female genital cutting? 
Infantile masturbation in an African female: is this a justification for female genital cutting?
  Barbara Edewele Otaigbe
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  Port Harcourt, Nigeria

Author Affiliations: Department of Pediatrics, UPTH, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria (Otaigbe BE)

Corresponding Author: Barbara Edewele Otaigbe, Department of Pediatrics, UPTH, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria (Tel: 234 8023193927; Email: barbiejoe64@yahoo.com)

Background: Masturbation is a taboo and not discussed openly in Africa. It is still worse when it occurs in an infant and will thus call for a visit to the traditional healers for 'spiritual intervention' and prompt female genital cutting/mutilation to reduce the child's libido and risk of sexual promiscuity as she gets older. Because of its peculiar presentation in children without manual genital stimulation, it is often misdiagnosed. A Medline search showed sparse information on infantile masturbation and none from Africa.

Methods: A 15-month-old female was brought into a clinic in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, with a history of unusual rocking with adduction of the thighs noticed since 3 months of age. At 10 months of age, the child would lean forward and rock continuously on a hard surface such as a chair or an adult's lap. Rocking was accompanied with lip smacking, eye rolling, shaking, "watching of television in the air", spasm and feeling of fatigue and then resumption of the motions unless she was distracted. The child had been spanked occasionally by both parents with no noticeable change in behavior. Older female relatives had suggested female genital cutting or circumcision, but her father resisted vehemently.

Results: Infantile masturbation was viewed by the pediatrician and a 10-minute video recording was taken to confirm the diagnosis. The mother was reassured, counseled about behavioral and environmental modification. There was a marked improvement when the baby was seen 6 weeks later.

Conclusions: Infantile masturbation rarely diagnosed in our region is probably due to a low index of suspicion and because mothers are afraid of stigma. We suggest that infantile masturbation should always be considered as a differential diagnosis of strange movement mimicking epilepsy in infants, and when a diagnosis is made parents should be counseled against female genital cutting. A video recording is encouraged fora correct diagnosis.

Key words: female genital cutting; infant; masturbation; video recording

                  World J Pediatr 2008;4(2):148-151

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