What is Hymenoplasty?
Hymenoplasty is 'repairing' a broken hymen surgically. Having a hymen that is intact is still thought to be a way to tell if a woman is a virgin. This thinking is flawed since a woman's hymen may be broken in a number of ways that have nothing to do with sex: vigorous exercise; bike riding; gymnastics; horseback riding or simply using tampons. Some women can even be born without a hymen.
While the practice of hymenoplasty is not a new phenomenon, it is only in recent years that such surgery has increased in the UK.
An investigation conducted by The Sunday Times uncovered a minimum of 22 clinics offering hymenoplasty in London alone, and with many patients travelling in from abroad. The procedure is entirely cosmetic - giving the illusion of an unbroken hymen - takes less than an hour and is performed under local anaesthetic. Some private clinics charge up to £3000 for the procedure and lure patients in with adverts promising to "restore your innocence" or "become a virgin again!". Although hymenoplasty is popular within different communities, it is particularly favoured by Muslims.
In 2019, with an estimated 9,000 people searching for the procedure on Google, it is apparent that the virginity myth is not going anywhere. Hymenoplasty is more in demand than ever, with the number of requests quadrupling in the last six years according to the director of the MAS Gynaecology clinic (Daily Metro).
The Regency Clinic advertise their hymenoplasty services with the phrase 'Become a Virgin Again.' They declined to comment on their advertising technique when they were approached by The Sunday Times.
Artificial hymen kits can be found online.
Why is this happening? Who is it affecting?
The topic of virginity is only ever centred around women. The false understanding that the hymen is an accurate indicator of virginity, a notion positively disproved by science, is used by men to control women and their bodies and to crush their sexual freedom. A freedom society happily allows men to enjoy. According to Islamic customs, it is still highly expected that Muslim women should be virgins before marriage.
There is also the issue of consent. Hymenoplasty is not a surgery any woman would undergo willingly. The consequences of a woman not being a virgin and not married in Muslim societies are very serious. At best she risks humiliation and embarrassment from her family, her husband or fiancé and his family, as well as the wider community. At worst, it is cause for the breakdown of a marriage or engagement, being sent back to her family in disgrace, being disowned and casted out, or becoming the victim of an honour killing by her father, brothers and uncles. All of these beliefs and pressures that women have been indoctrinated with since childhood, will FORCE her consent.
"I was so alone - I didn't know anyone who could support me. No one in my family knew about how far I went in my relationship with my ex-boyfriend. Then I remembered that when I was at Uni, girls would talk about a special kind of surgery. I was terrified, but I didn't have a choice."
Anonymous, 39 years old
Posters from the World Health Organisation as part of their campaign to ban Virginity Testing.
'These women who have been forced to undergo hymenoplasty are reduced to nothing more than an object to be desired, rather than a human being.'
MEWSo's Executive Director
MEWSo wants to tackle the source, not the symptom
Banning hymenoplasty is not enough. We at MEWSo want to challenge the systematic belief that pressures women to go for these surgeries and hopefully live in a society which does not equate a woman’s worth to her virginity.
MEWSo’s Executive Director, Halaleh Taheri has participated in several interviews around this topic, with the BBC, The Sunday Times, Dazed Beauty, and even the French publication Le Figaro, to name a few. She believes that before we can ban hymenoplasty, we must first ban virginity tests still being conducted around the country.
Despite condemnation from the UN Human Rights, UN Women's Rights, and the World Health Organisation (WHO), which classifyed virginity testing as violence against women in October 2018, women are still being forced to provide a virginity certificate from their doctors. Hymen reconstruction then becomes a quick and necessary solution for these women who feel they have no other option. MEWSo's campaign is for accessible education around the hymen - the myths and the truth - and on female sexuality in general.
"Although we would like to eventually ban hymenoplasty, banning the practice without proper education will only do more harm than good. The only reason these practices are in business is because of this backward mentality concerning virginity. If we were to help educate our communities and to reverse this belief, then there would be no need for hymen reconstruction. It would go out of business on its own. Banning these practices without adequate education will only force these poor women to resort to clandestine practices which will expose them to even greater risks in terms of hygiene and unsafe medical practices, as we once saw with abortions."
"I would never, ever, do such a thing to my children. I try to teach them to live free."
Anonymous, 40 years old
Picture from the 2016 demonstration outside Capitol Hill, DC pushing for the Violence Against Women act. Demonstrators: National Organisation for Women (NOW).
A snippet from a Guardian article published in 1979 about the barbaric virginity tests on Immigrants carried out by the government. The tests were banned just after this article was released. Virginity testing still continues despite this action.
Banning hymenoplasty on its own runs the risk of hurting the very women many feminist organisations are trying to help. It is a measure that may give short-term satisfaction but is not in the interests of women, women's health and society in the long-term.
MEWSo wants the Department of Education to make sexual education a mandatory part of the school curriculum to eradicate these archaic notions of virginity in future generations.
UK laws and regulations should be implemented on all communities in the UK, with an emphasis on protecting Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women, who are the most vulnerable in our society, instead of leaving them in the hands of community faith leaders and their barbaric customs.
We hope that our actions will bring us a step closer to living in a society of equality, diversity, and compassion.
If you would like more information about our campaign, please don’t hesitate to contact us. If you would like to support our cause, please consider donating or look at our vacancy page for volunteering options.