The obsession with virginity: UK government moves to criminalise 'virginity repair' surgery, tests

A law to criminalise "virginity repair" surgery, known as hymenoplasty, has been introduced by the British government.

Under an amendment to the health care bill added on Monday, any procedure that attempts to reconstruct the hymen will be illegal no matter if the individual undergoing the surgery consents or not.

A growing number of clinics, private hospitals, and pharmacies offer the controversial surgery promising the restoration of virginity - with a large number of girls and young women coerced into the procedure. 

The purpose of this procedure is to make a girl or woman bleed when she next has sexual contact by creating a fake hymen using scar tissue.

Since the government committed to criminalising virginity testing last July, campaigners, including doctors and midwives, had called for the surgery to be outlawed.

It is considered a form of violence against women and girls to engage in either of these practices.

The ban will provide vital protection to girls under family pressure, according to one British survivor of "honour" based abuse who was harassed by her parents for months into having the surgery.

Hymenoplasty can never be justified on medical grounds, says  Dr Edward Morris, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

He said that they have been campaigning for the introduction of a ban on both virginity testing and hymenoplasty alongside women's health and rights organisations, as both are inextricably linked with violence against women and girls.

Neither of these practices have a place in the medical world and should never be performed, he said adding that any time they learn that someone is performing these procedures, they will inform the General Medical Council so that appropriate action can be taken.

Morris went on to say that women deserve to be in charge of their own sexuality and reproductive health.

The executive director of the Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation, Diana Nammi, said that every woman and girl who undergoes this invasive surgery do so under extreme duress, either direct or indirect. This is generally seen as a way to present the girl as a 'virgin', and oftentimes it is done to facilitate a forced marriage arranged by the family.

Approximately half of the time, hymenoplasty does not make the woman or girl bleed after having intercourse, which leaves her extremely vulnerable to 'honour'-based abuse or even 'honour' killing.

Consultations with experts led the government to come to the decision to ban hymenoplasty.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) applauded this move. In a tweet, the organisation said that they are pleased to see that the Government of United Kingdom "has tabled an amendment to the Health and Care Bill to ban hymenoplasty alongside virginity testing."

They added that, they "will continue to work closely with the Government to ensure there is guidance, support and education for healthcare professionals on how to safeguard women as the ban comes into force."


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