Ban hymenoplasty too along with ‘virginity tests’, says medic body Representative image by iStock
MINISTERS’ pledge to outlaw “virginity tests” will be undermined if the surgical procedure of hymenoplasty- done to “restore virginity”- goes unchecked in the UK, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has warned on Sunday (15), saying “the two practices are inextricably linked”.
The warning came after it emerged that ministers are committed to criminalising the unscientific “virginity tests” offered by some private clinics which claim to determine a girl’s “virginity” through an invasive examination to see if the hymen is intact.
However, RCOG has claimed that efforts to ban virginity testing should also be accompanied by the laws to ban hymenoplasty, a procedure that some clinics use to “restore virginity” by reconstructing the hymen, reports said.
Dr Edward Morris, the RCOG president, 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.”
“A ban on virginity testing is undermined without a ban on hymenoplasty, as the two practices are inextricably linked.”
In 2020, a report by Sunday Times has identified 22 private clinics across the UK charging up to £3,000 for the procedure of hymen restoration, which is performed under local anaesthetic. During the course of a year, about 9,000 people in the UK had searched Google for “hymenoplasty” and related terms, reports said.
Hymen restoration or “virginity restoration” is done by constructing a layer of skin at the entrance to the vagina to create the illusion of an unbroken hymen.
Since in some cultures, it is important that a woman is a virgin at the time of her marriage and is expected to bleed on her wedding night, many girls and women are forced into such surgery by their relatives though scientific studies have proven that bleeding is not routinely observed after first vaginal intercourse.
Such procedures often come with claims like “fixing shame” and making “woman a girl again”.
The World Health Organization is also reportedly clear over both the issues, saying the appearance of the hymen is not a reliable indicator of intercourse and virginity testing is a violation of human rights.
Calling hymenoplasty a “form of violence against women and girls”, Diana Nammi, executive director at IKWRO Women’s Rights Organisation also emphasised that a ban on virginity testing is essential but on its own will not be enough.
Meanwhile, MP Richard Holden is hoping for cross-party support for two clauses banning virginity testing and hymenoplasty that he has tabled for the health and care bill going through parliament.
“Virginity tests and hymen repair surgeries are being conducted by doctors to check or ‘restore’ the virginity of girls and women, often prior to marriage. These practices are not founded in science, are abusive and perpetuate dangerous myths,” Holden said.
Although the UK government has already committed to banning virginity testing saying it will legislate to make virginity testing illegal at the “earliest opportunity”, hymenoplasty is not mentioned in the agenda, as per reports.