This paper includes a theoretical re-thinking of ‘female sexuality’, rooted in an empirical inquiry about ‘excision/female genital mutilation’ and nuptial advisors. The purpose of such an approach is to bring about elements of discussion that reveal the cultural basis of these practices as much as possible. In Mali, the social construction of individual sexuality is everything but a simple paradigm, which clearly states the justifications of gendered norms, values and practices in the matter. The usual causal linear model of explanation falls short of the complex motivations and mechanisms, which rationalize the decisions, attitudes and behaviours pertaining to individual sexuality. The established social order includes parallel systems, which are often contradictory if not confusing for an unfamiliar onlooker. Hence, there are social practices in Mali that promote women’s sexual enjoyment while others hinder it, at different points in their life cycle.
I have attempted to conceptualise and put in context the sexual socialization and mentoring of girls and couples. I have shown that excision/female genital mutilation is a social system, which has its own logic, different paradigms, and different means to achieve what some people believe to be a means of women’s empowerment. This is not to deny that ‘female genital mutilation’ is harmful to women’s health and sexuality, but to show that this practice is also claimed to enhance female empowerment.
The analysis points to a consensus around the control of women’s sexual behaviour. It shows that collective welfare, which is at the core of the two contradictory practices, is placed above individual interests. The discussion underscores the difficulties in trying to change the well-established and synchronized social order that sustains this peculiar construction of female sexuality in Mali. In reality the paradox around female sexuality reveals a social context of gender inequality and resistance to change of women’s status in the society.