'Virginity surgery' should be banned, campaigners urge

Asian doctor and an assistant in the operating room for surgical venous vascular surgery clinic in hospital.
At least 22 private clinics across the UK are said to perform hymen-repair surgery. [Photo: Getty]

Campaigners are urging the government to ban “virginity-repair surgery”.

Muslim women can be outcast or even murdered if their other half or family discovers they had sex before marriage.

READ MORE: When's the 'right' time to lose your virginity?

Many therefore opt for surgery to “restore a layer of membrane at the entrance of the vagina”, creating the illusion of an intact hymen, the BBC reported.

Although technically legal, the General Medicine Council (GMC) guidelines state consent may not be valid if “given under pressure or duress exerted by another person”.

Banning “hymenoplasties”, however, may drive “backstreet operations” that put Muslim women at risk of infections, bleeding and a host of other complications.

The hymen is a thin piece of skin that partially covers the entrance to the vagina, according to the NHS.

It “usually” breaks during sex, however, it can also easily tear as a result of exercise or tampons.

Often considered a “hallmark” of virginity, women may not know if their hymen is intact, with not all experiencing pain or bleeding when it breaks.

According to the World Health Organization, “there is no examination that can prove a girl or woman has had sex – and the appearance of girl’s or woman’s hymen cannot prove whether they have had sexual intercourse, or are sexually active or not”.

Nonetheless, at least 22 private clinics across the UK are said to perform hymen-repair surgery, according to The Sunday Times.

The procedure costs around £3,000 ($3,925) and lasts up to an hour.

READ MORE: I Was a Virgin All Through College, and This Is How I Feel About It Now

Campaigners argue these clinics are cashing in on Muslim women’s fear of appearing “impure” on their wedding night.

Extramarital sex is forbidden by the Quran.

One clinic offering the procedure is The Gynae-Centre in London, which claims the operation is “simple”.

The surgery reportedly involves “excision of the torn edges before stitching them with fine dissolvable sutures”.

“The hymen actually has a secondary layer that will be sown up to cover the torn skin,” its website states.

“As it grafts together once more, the hymen will appear intact.

“Or if for any reason this is not possible then a new hymen can be created from the lip of the vagina.”

Another medical centre - Regency International Clinic in London - adds: “We strongly believe we’re giving these women a second chance.

“A woman who has lost her virginity when underage or as a result of rape or assault should not suffer for the rest of her life.”

One Muslim who knows the dangers of sex before marriage all too well is Halaleh Taheri.

The student, 26, arrived in the UK from Morocco in 2014.

After moving in with a man, her father demanded she return to Morocco for a “virginity test”.

Discovering her hymen is not intact, Miss Taheri’s father reportedly hired someone to murder her.

Miss Taheri, founder of Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation, fled back to the UK but lives in fear her father will discover where exactly she lives.

Rapper TI sparked a social media backlash last year when he said he subjects his daughter to an annual hymen examination to ascertain she is a virgin.

READ MORE: What It’s Like to Be an “Old” Virgin

Around 9,000 people “Googled” hymenoplasty or similar terms in the UK last year, the Independent reported.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock claims he is looking into ending the “dreadful practice”.

The British Society for Paediatric and Adolescent Gynaecology argues the operation has “zero medical benefit”, with doctors bound to “do no harm”.

Writing in the BMJ Journal of Medical Ethics, gynaecologist Dr Ihab Usta - from the American University of Beirut - claims men are going into clinics “requesting a gynaecological examination of their prospective wives before marriage to ensure that such an operation has not been done”.

He worries the procedure makes women “suspects in the eyes of their men”.

“The operation is done for women, yet the sole purpose is to deceive men”, Dr Usta wrote.

Yet, not everyone is convinced a ban is the best course of action.

“Girls could end up dying if banning this procedure isn't done with proper care,” Miss Taheri said.

Others think the surgeons behind the procedure have good intentions.

“I believe doctors' motives are genuinely for protection against abuse,” Dr Khalid Khan, professor of Women's Health at Barts and the London School of Medicine, said.

Colin Melville, medical director and director of education and standards at the GMC, argues it is up to the doctor to gauge whether a “cosmetic intervention” is voluntary.

When it comes to safety, The Gynae-Centre claims the procedure is “relatively safe” but carries a “small risk of infection and prolonged bleeding”, on top of the complications that can come with anaesthetics.

Side effects of general anaesthesia are “rare”, however, patients are at risk of anaphylaxis, waking during the operation and even death, according to the NHS.

“Occasionally there is a resulting problem of ‘stricture’ or hymen over-correction,” The Gynae-Centre’s website adds.

“This is where the opening becomes narrowed, meaning that the next act of intercourse will be difficult.”

The Gynae-Centre and Regency International Clinic have been approached for comment.