Medics from The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) have called on the UK government to ban ‘revirginisation’ surgery, or as it is medically called, hymenorrhaphy. Both the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have previously called for its ban calling it a “violation of human rights.” But what is it?
Also called hymen reconstruction surgery, the procedure entails a ‘restoration’ of the hymen. The surgical restoration’s aim—for some cultures—is to ensure bleeding through intercourse as ‘proof’ of an individual’s virginity.
The procedure reportedly takes less than an hour and often requires sedation or local anaesthesia. The aim of the surgery is to create another layer of skin in the entrance of the vagina that can be easily torn when a woman has sex. The end goal is to make sure bleeding occurs as the result of an ‘unbroken’ hymen as proof of chastity.
The government’s recent pledge to criminalise the procedure of virginity testing—offered by some private clinics to ascertain virginity by examining if the hymen is intact—will not be enough unless surgical ‘revirginisation’ is also banned, the RCOG cautioned, as reported by The Guardian. Doctor Edward Morris, president of the RCOG, said, “We believe both procedures should be banned in the UK. Neither have any medical benefit and both are harmful practices that create and exacerbate social, cultural and political beliefs that attach a false value to women and girls in relation to their sexual history.”
The RCOG also stated that because most of these procedures are carried out in private clinics, the true number of hymenorrhaphy being conducted every year remains unknown. However, some studies have shown these archaic methods actually appear to be on the rise. The national honour-based abuse helpline, run by the charity Karma Nirvana, shared exclusive data with The Independent stating that there had been a 75 per cent rise in calls to its helpline reporting such procedures since 2020.
Director of Karma Nirvana, Natasha Rattu, told The Independent, “Virginity testing is essentially a form of violence against women and girls. Every woman deserves the right to take any decision about her body and be free from shame and stigma without fear of experiencing harmful repercussions.”
The Sunday Times also carried out its own investigation in 2020 that uncovered a booming ‘revirginisation’ industry—discovering at least 22 private clinics in the UK that offered the above procedures and doctors earning up to £3,000 for each surgery. Such unattainable prices had even led some women to try ‘virginity pills’ instead.
The irony of such procedures claiming to ‘restore’ the hymen as proof of virginity is that the hymen itself has little to do with virginity in the first place. Do none of these (I’m assuming male) doctors know anything about the vagina? It showcases the widespread and insidiously dangerous emphasis on the social construction of virginity to measure a woman’s value in many cultures.
Doctor Paula Briggs, author of Her Hormones: A Book For Men and licensed gynaecologist, told Cosmopolitan that “under the influence of the hormone oestrogen, the hymen becomes more like the trumpet of a daffodil. Although in some women tearing can occur with penetration…in some women the hymen will stretch to accommodate an erect penis, leaving no evidence of sexual activity.” The hymen can often break during physical exercise, a growth spurt and some women are even born without one.
Morris also stated that “we are very concerned that women are either being coerced into having these procedures or feel pressurised into having them so they can bleed during sex and can demonstrate they are a virgin on their wedding night.” He continued by demanding that virginity testing and hymen reconstruction surgery be banned in the UK—shockingly, it isn’t already? By banning these dehumanising and invasive methods it will “send a clear message that there is no place in the medical world for these procedures and that women deserve the right to have ownership over their own sexual and reproductive health.”
About damn time.