'Virginity repair' surgery and testing is finally set to be banned – but not everyone is happy about it

·3-min read
Photo credit: Javier Sanchez Mingorance - Getty Images
Photo credit: Javier Sanchez Mingorance - Getty Images

After years of campaigning from activist groups, hymenoplasty surgery (also referred to as 'virginity repair' surgery) and virginity testing is finally set to be banned in the UK. Previously, the UN and WHO have branded both as 'harmful' and "a violation of human rights" – but not everyone is in support of the decision.

Some doctors have expressed concerns that if the new clause to the Health and Care Bill, which would see any medical professionals who perform either facing jail time, does go ahead, that young women will only be driven underground and receive inadequate medical care.

Others have branded it a 'quick-fix' to the deeper problem that some communities still put such emphasis on the concept of virginity, despite the fact that the hymen can be broken in numerous ways outside of having sex, including by using tampons or through exercise/sports. Three in every 100 women are born without one.

North West Durham Conservative MP, Richard Holden, who is credited with introducing the clause to Parliament, said he decided to push the change in law forward after a BBC investigation found multiple (often private) clinics in the UK offering virginity testing for £150 to £300.

A further report, published by The Sunday Times earlier this year, also revealed at least 22 private clinics in the UK were charging up to £3,000 for the surgery. Yet, it's still difficult to pin down the exact number of women undergoing virginity checks or a hymen restoration operation each year, as the facilities aren't required to provide any data on the matter.

However, one American study in 2017 found that 16% of obstetricians and gynaecologists confirmed they'd been asked to check that a young woman's hymen was still intact (with the inaccurate belief that if it wasn't, it would indicate she's no longer a virgin), with some then begging their doctors to surgically construct a new one.

Photo credit: Alvarog1970 - Getty Images
Photo credit: Alvarog1970 - Getty Images

One anonymous woman told Cosmopolitan during our investigation that she was forced to have her hymen checked by her parents ahead of an arranged marriage. "I told my parents it was insulting, but if I didn’t do it, I would be kicked out. I had no money and nowhere to go," she said. "I felt like I had been assaulted."

Professor Colin Melville, from the General Medical Council, said of hymen tests and 'repair' procedures, "Doctors should not provide intimate examinations that are not clinically appropriate and should only do so if they consider them necessary and with the permission of the patient.

"We would be very concerned to hear that a doctor had carried out a procedure against a patient's wishes or without authority. Our guidance is clear; where a doctor has seriously or persistently breached our guidance, we can and do take action."

Elsewhere in the world, leading the way, France has already put and end to virginity testing, introducing a fine of £14,000 for any medical professional found to be breaking the rules. However, virginity testing remains very much legal and widely sought after in at least twenty countries in all corners of the world, from the Middle East to North America.

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