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A UFO Pleasure Cult Is Fixing Vaginas in Africa

Raëlians, popularly known as the UFO pleasure cult, are leading the way on reconstructive surgery for victims of female circumcision in the developing world.

Wendy Syfret

Wendy Syfret

If you’re the kind of person who keeps up with UFO spiritualists, you’ll know Raëlians as the group who believe that Earth was created by a vastly superior alien civilization. According to its French founder, a racecar driver and singer-songwriter named Raël, the aliens (called Elohim) created humans in their own image and have been guiding us throughout history with the help of messengers—humans they’ve had special contact with. If you guessed these messengers include people with names like Jesus and Buddha, you guessed right.

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 led them to create a nonprofit called Clitoraid, which champions reconstructive surgery for victims of female circumcision in the developing world. This month they opened their first “Pleasure Hospital” in Burkina Faso, where world-class surgeons will treat women for free, rebuilding their clitorises 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 there's 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 second or third of March. Surgeons from the United States came on the first, and that’s when we started treating people. We’d never treated anybody in that hospital before.

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?
Are you saying that orgasms are not necessary for women's health?

You can see how some people might 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 just 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 my involvement in Clitoraid is that their 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.

Of course, there are many charities 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, however, there to 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 and 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 end up coming to Africa?
Oh, I have to tell you the story. Raël, the head of the Raëlian philosophy, was in Africa in 2003. He was taking a tour of West Africa and 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 realized this was a major problem. 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 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. Ten 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 that the technology was not really there. Until 15 years ago, that surgery was nonexistent, so there was nothing to offer them. And once it became existent, there were still taboos 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 makes intercourse horrifically painful. They offer to open the women's vaginas so they can 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 world has a problem because there is 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 clitorores literally, but 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 partners. All of this needs to be retaught. When people have not enjoyed their sexuality it’s difficult to open up, and this needs to be worked out with a professional.

And yes, in the community, we have women involved with Clitoraid in Africa who go around to villages and give sexual education the women can understand; it’s amazing. They open their eyes wide, and they ask questions. And all of this happens between women. We have to teach one another and not feel bad about it.

What are your long-term goals 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, and that needs to stop. Then we want to remove taboos and create a balanced society where women are respected and not thought of as sluts.

Would all of this be easier if you didn’t have the Raëlian reputation in the background?
We are not asking ourselves these kinds 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 it would make a difference if we were a traditional or mainstream religion—it doesn’t matter. It’s humans helping other humans.

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