This review of the literature examined the available evidence regarding the effects of what we call 'female genital surgeries' on women's health and sexuality. It shows that the evidence on the consequences of female genital surgeries for health and sexuality is insufficient to support the powerful rhetoric that presents these practices as a grave danger to women's health. However, the scarcity of evidence is most likely due to the lack of concerted efforts to investigate harmful effects, rather than to the relative safety of these operations. There are few studies that can provide estimates of the health risks associated with female genital surgeries. Complications are found to be more frequent for more extensive surgeries; the frequencies of complications are around 1 per cent for serious, and 1-18 per cent for less serious, complications. The findings on sexuality are inconclusive but nonetheless suggest that many women who have had the surgeries have the capacity for sexual enjoyment. This review underscores the need for systematic studies of the health complications of female genital operations, and emphasises the importance of understanding the meaning of these practices and the risks associated with them in the societies where they are prevalent, in order to inform discussions of the implications of individual choices and policy decisions. This paper is followed by responses from Seham Abd el Salam, Jocelyn DeJong and Marie Basily Assaad, who each discuss the term 'female genital surgeries' as an alternative to 'female genital mutilation'. They also discuss the subjective and symbolic use of these practices as a means of social control of women and women's sexuality; the relationship between research and advocacy work and what sorts of information are needed for each of them; the methodological and ethical constraints in conducting studies on the harmful effects of these practices; the relationship between national and international advocacy work on FGM; and the importance of challenging the culture of silence on this subject and bringing discussion into the open in order to bring about change.