But while that might sound far-fetched to some, they also believe in the importance of pleasure—sexual or otherwise—in the pursuit of spiritual growth. And that sounds pretty reasonable. This stance has lead them to create a non profit called Clitoraid, which champions reconstructive surgery for victims of female circumcision in the developing world. Next month they’ll open their first “Pleasure Hospital” in Burkina Faso where world-class surgeons will treat women for free, rebuilding their clitorores to give them the ability to orgasm. After speaking to Clitoraid’s smoky voiced French communications director Nadine Gary, it’s hard to deny that this sexy group of UFO enthusiasts are the best dudes in Africa.
VICE: Hey Nadine, how’s the Pleasure Hospital coming along?
Nadine Gary: Oh it’s going great. It’s the last stretch and a lot going on. The equipment is set up. The patients are being taken care of for medical visits before their operation. Everything is coming together really.
Are you open yet?
We opened on the 2nd or 3rd of March. Surgeons from the United States came on the 1st and that’s when we started treating people. We’d never treated anybody in that hospital before.
Oh that’s exciting. Why did you call it the Pleasure Hospital?
Because really, that’s what it’s about. It’s about restoring pleasure—sexual pleasure. We know we’re putting our finger on a taboo, women’s sexuality has always been something people look down upon, that women feel guilty about. With that psyche of feeling so guilty, so ashamed they go to the extent of cutting off somebody’s clitoris. We want to restore women’s integrity and women’s beauty. Part of the woman’s duty is her sexuality, which is very noble.
There is no doubt the reconstruction is vital, but is sexual pleasure a priority in the developing world when women are still dying in childbirth?
You mean that orgasm is not necessary for women’s health?
You can see how some people could argue that.
Oh wow. You know pleasure is an integral part of life. Everything that we do is our pleasure. You calling me right now is out of pleasure, either because you are interested in the subject or you know doing this because you need to make a living. Sometimes we do things out of indirect pleasure, and sometimes we do things out of direct pleasure. When we eat, when we sleep, when we watch a sunset, and when we make love. And this is what balances our mind. It’s so important to a person’s psychology, to a person’s balance. When someone’s clitoris has been removed, some of her balancing effect, some of the pleasure—she doesn’t have that.
That’s taken away a lot of her, you know the balance in her brain.
That sounds very Raëlian. How closely are you working with that movement?
Personally I am a woman priest in the Raëlian movement. I’m also a volunteer and the communications director for Clitoraid. And what the Raëlian movement has done for me and for my involvement in Clitoraid is that the philosophy has no taboos about sexuality and it really encourages people to feel pleasure and enhance the pleasure in their lives. To me, this is really an answer for Clitoraid, to be associated with a philosophy that’s not going to make them feel guilty about anything, and certainly not their sexuality.
There are many charities of course around the world, the Christian religion does a wonderful thing in feeding and taking care of the poor, but one thing it cannot do because of its values is encourage people to enjoy their sexuality or recover their sexual pleasure. That’s because of the guilt in their religion. The Raëlian philosophy is a positive thing. Whether a woman is Raëlian, Muslim, Christian, or Buddhist she will still get the benefits of the philosophy that will support her in her sexuality.
But you know we’re not there to preach the philosophy, we are there to certainly give people the benefit of it.
How central is orgasm to Raëlian philosophy?
Pleasure is the most important part of the Raëlian philosophy, but the central part is simply explaining that life on planet earth was created scientifically by people like us. Ladies like us, men who were created in their image. When you enjoy your clitoris you can think that women creators have a clitoris just like you and have created you in their image so you can enjoy yourself like they enjoy themselves. So is orgasm central to the Raëlian philosophy? Yes, you know we don’t masturbate every second of the day, but we don’t shy from it.
How did the Raëlians come to Africa?
Oh I have to tell you the story. Raël, the head of the Raëlian philosophy, was in Africa in 2003 and he was taking a tour of West Africa speaking about happiness and self esteem. During several of his talks the subject of circumcision came about and he casually asked, “Are there any circumcised women in the audience?” And you know some of the women stood up! He realised this is major. We all know about the prevention method the United Nations is advocating, but no one is taking care of the women already circumcised who hate it.
He heard about this surgery and he said, “Maybe we could build a hospital in Africa somewhere and offer the surgery to women”.
It started like this, and little by little the charity was put together and then 10 years later here we are opening the hospital.
As you mentioned there is a lot of prevention work in Africa focusing on genital mutilation. Why do you think it’s taken so long to focus on the women who have already suffered it?
Part of it was the technology was not really there. Until 15 years ago that surgery was not existent so there was nothing to offer them. And once it became existent there was still taboo around sexuality. You know for example in England the surgery is not offered, but it is in France.
What the UK government is offering women is simply to restore the ease in penetration. Many women have had the vagina sewn together, which is excruciating and intercourse is horrifically painful. They offer for the women to open their vagina and to have normal penetration but are not addressing their pleasure.
Do you think if you weren’t so open with your focus on pleasure and orgasm some of those processes would be easier to get off the ground?
I think this is precisely the point. The reason why the world has a problem because there is a taboo. There’s a taboo if you show too much sexuality automatically you’re a bad girl.
We take it as part of our education, so Clitoraid wants to make a point: don’t cut clitoris’, and don’t cut the clitoris culturally either. In America many women feel guilty about their sexuality, about being over sexual, you need the right balance so you’re taken seriously. Women struggle but men don’t.
I like what you said about it not being a solely physical thing, it’s social and emotional as well. After surgery do you have programs for women in the community to reclaim their sexuality?
Oh yes. When we say “Pleasure Hospital”, we’re saying we’re helping women surgically, but we are also helping women with sexual therapy. Helping them and their husbands or their partner. All of this needs to be retaught, when somebody has not enjoyed their sexuality it’s difficult to open up, this needs to be worked out with a professional.
And yes in the community we have women involved with Clitoraid in Africa go around villages and give sexual education the women can understand, it’s amazing. They open their eyes wide and they asked questions. And all of this has to between women, we have to teach each other and not feel bad about it.
What are your long-term goal beyond eradicating female circumcision?
What we’re trying to teach first of all is for women not to be mutilated anymore. This is the most important part. Women are being tortured so that needs to stop. Then to remove taboos and create a balanced society where a women are respected as not thought of as a slut.
This all does beg the question, would it be easier if you didn’t have the Raëlian reputation in the background?
We are not asking ourselves this kind of question. What we see are women coming to us wanting to get their integrity back. They are not asking us, “are you Raëlian? What are you?” They’re just saying, “what is the surgery about? I want this”. We never ask ourselves, whether if we were a traditional or mainstream religion would it make a difference—it doesn’t matter. It’s humans helping other humans.