ITV reveals UK surgeons offering "hymen repair" surgery

·3-min read
Photo credit: ITV, Britain's 'Virginity' Clinics Uncovered - ITV
Photo credit: ITV, Britain's 'Virginity' Clinics Uncovered - ITV

A new ITV documentary, Britain's 'Virginity' Clinics Uncovered, has seen reporters go undercover to expose several London pharmacies willing to conduct unscientific tests to prove women’s virginity. Additionally, the programme revealed London surgeons willing to conduct “hymen repair” surgeries.

Presented by journalist Sahar Zand, Britain's 'Virginity' Clinics Uncovered reveals the ways in which women in the UK are being forced to “prove” their virginity within religious communities where sex outside of marriage is considered taboo.

In London, reporters found that a total of five out of the nine pharmacies they visited agreed to do a “virginity test” or recommend those who did. One undercover reporter also visited a clinic on Harley Street exploring hymen repair, one of more than 30 clinics offering the service in the UK with prices reportedly starting at £2000.

When asked what might happen if the practice is outlawed, a surgeon at the clinic indicates that he would employ a false premise in order to break the law, saying; “We have to lie. We have to say we are doing something else.”

Beyond the issue of legality, the documentary also explores the personal impact of virginity tests. One woman, who uses the pseudonym Naz, describes what happened when she “failed” the virginity test done by a clinic in London; "[At] the front of the clinic, my dad, he had a smile on - a fake smile on his face - and he said, 'Don't worry.' So when I got home, my dad started hitting me so badly, I couldn't even get out of bed for a week. I feel like I have no control over my life."

Photo credit: Sahar Zand, Britain's 'Virginity' Clinics Uncovered - ITV
Photo credit: Sahar Zand, Britain's 'Virginity' Clinics Uncovered - ITV

What is hymen repair surgery and virginity testing?

Controversial “hymen repair surgeries”, which can be referred to as hymenoplasty surgery, are a procedure wherein doctors construct a layer of skin at the vaginal opening, to give the appearance of an intact hymen.

The “virginity testing” explored on Britain's 'Virginity' Clinics Uncovered is also known as a per vaginal examination, and has been shown to have little scientific or clinical accuracy. The test involves examining the hymen to see if it is still intact – ignoring the fact that some people with vulvas break their hymen through non-sexual activity, others are born without hymens and not everyone bleeds after having penetrative sex for the first time.

Are virginity tests and hymen repair surgeries legal in the UK?

The World Health Organisation has referred to virginity testing as “a violation of the victim’s human rights” and drawn attention to the fact that the practice has detrimental consequences that impact “physical, psychological and social well-being”.

With virginity testing being condemned by charities and human rights organisations, on 20 July the UK government announced their intention to ban the practice in the Home Office-led tackling violence against women and girls strategy.

More recently, on 27 October, UK Health Minister Edward Algar further emphasised his commitment to banning the practice, saying; “We are in the process of seeking four-nation-wide agreement on virginity testing in each of the nations, and we are working through options on what that might look like, reflecting our shared view that virginity testing has no place in any part of our United Kingdom.”

A possible amendment which would also ban hymenoplasty or hymen repair surgery has also been discussed in parliament.

Britain's 'Virginity' Clinics Uncovered is now available via the ITV Hub

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