What is the husband stitch? Understanding the controversial procedure laced with medical sexism

By Charlie Sawyer

Published Apr 22, 2024 at 12:28 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes

Giving birth is one of the most vulnerable things a person can do. You completely set aside rationale and control, all in the hope that the medical professionals in the room will do everything possible to ensure the experience goes as smoothly as possible. So, how would someone feel if they found out that rather than solely serving the pregnant person’s needs, a doctor was actually catering to someone entirely different, say the husband?

In this article, we will be exploring a frightening concept, colloquially referred to as the ‘husband stitch’. We’ll be exploring the origins of the term, its real-life implications, and ultimately the legality behind this crude and highly misogynistic practice.

What is the husband stitch?

The husband stitch, or daddy stitch, is a surgical procedure that occurs right after someone has given birth. In short, it involves a doctor adding an extra stitch when repairing the vaginal laceration in order to try and make the vagina feel tighter.

During childbirth, it is incredibly common for an individual to experience a perennial tear or undergo some form of episiotomy. When repairing these cuts, some doctors have been known to add in this extra stitch solely for the benefit of a male partner, as this tightening should then increase sexual pleasure for the man during penetration. Some have compared the husband stitch to female genital mutilation (FGM) due to its invasive and unnecessary nature.

This concept that an individual’s vagina may loosen or change post-birth has far more to do with medical sexism and misogyny than it does with fact. Indeed, there are zero medical benefits to the husband stitch.

@intrinsicmotherhood

#stitch with @esteban.https #greenscreensticker #husbandstitch #birth #newborn #FastTwitchContest #obgyn

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Speaking with Health, Obstetrics and gynaecology specialist Dr Jessica Shephard stated: “There is a notion that the delivery leaves the vagina stretched out and not able to have the capacity for sexual pleasure and also that it cannot return to the size it was prior to pregnancy. This is not true.”

The biggest issue with the husband stitch is the fact that it often happens without the pregnant person’s knowledge or consent. Family doctors have been known to add the extra stitch with a sideward glance and wink towards the patient’s husband, and it’s this kind of back-door secrecy that has made it almost impossible to wipe out the practice.

In an interview with Healthline, Sarah Harkins opened up about her own experience, recalling hearing her family doctor say to her husband: “Yeah, let’s go ahead and add in another stitch so we can make sure this is nice and tight.” “I was so out of it physically, emotionally, and mentally. The doctor said it to him. Not to me… I was just lying there like a lump,” Harkins recounted.

It’s also important to note that the husband stitch has been known to cause horrific pain for the recipient. Angela Sanford, another woman who spoke to Healthline about her experience, shared that she didn’t find out about the extra stitch until five years after she gave birth—during which time she’d experienced horrendously painful sex.

Finally, after going for a pap smear, Sanford was informed by a nurse that she’d been stitched up “too tight” by the doctor who had managed her first delivery.

@amarahmariah

It’s so wrong. #husbandstitch #thehusbandstitch #outdated #malpractice #injustice #fgm #notfair #hospitalbirth #newmom #notcool #newmomma #healing #healingprocess

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Is the husband stitch illegal?

The husband stitch is considered malpractice by medical professionals in both the UK and the US. However, it’s incredibly likely that the procedure still occurs across the globe—particularly in private hospitals. That being said, a patient does have every right to sue the healthcare worker responsible.

As previously mentioned, there is very little information on the number of people who have been impacted by the husband stitch, leading to greater confusion regarding its legality.

What is a virginity repair surgery?

While discussing the husband stitch we should also mention the existence of the virginity repair surgery or, as it’s also known, a hymenoplasty.

A hymenoplasty is an extremely controversial surgical procedure which promises to restore virginity. Predominantly offered in private clinics and hospitals, the goal of the surgery is to use scar tissue to construct a fake hymen with the aim of making a girl or woman bleed when she next has intercourse.

In January 2022, the UK government introduced an amendment to the Health and Care bill that made it illegal to perform any procedure that aims to reconstruct the hymen, with or without consent, as reported by The Guardian.

Over the years, several young girls have been coerced into having a hymenoplasty by their families who were fixated on the idea of offering a ‘pure’ girl to a potential suitor.

Speaking with the publication, Hafsah, who did not want to give her real name, explained that she had been raped as a child and that her Kurdish parents had then become obsessed with getting her to have the procedure done. “I told them I didn’t want the surgery but for more than a year they used emotional blackmail to try to persuade me. If hymenoplasty had been illegal when I was a teenager it would have saved me a lot of emotional abuse,” Hafsah shared.

Both the husband stitch and the virginity repair procedures speak to the persistent medical sexism that we witness on a daily basis. It’s truly difficult to imagine a world where women’s bodies will finally be depoliticised and free of external control.

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