Britain's 'revirginisation' industry revealed in UK investigation

The procedure appeals to women who, for cultural or religious reasons, need to prove their "innocence" before marriage.
The procedure appeals to women who, for cultural or religious reasons, need to prove their "innocence" before marriage. Photo credit: Getty

An investigation has revealed that doctors are earning thousands of pounds from performing covert "virginity repair" operations on young women as part of Britain's booming "revirginisation" industry.

The Sunday Times investigation uncovered at least 22 private clinics in the UK offering hymenoplasty, a procedure which creates the illusion of an "unbroken hymen", traditionally seen as a mark of virginity.

The operation is mainly targeted at young women - particularly Muslim women from conservative backgrounds - who are forced to appear "pure" on their wedding night in keeping with cultural or religious customs or at the demand of their families.

According to the Regency International clinic in London, the hymenoplasty procedure takes less than an hour and is performed under local anaesthetic. 

The surgery stitches a new hymen, constructed out of a thin layer of skin, at the entrance of the vagina. The skin will tear when the woman next has sex, mimicking the misconception that women's hymens always break - and bleed - when they lose their virginity. 

It's believed hundreds of women, predominantly from Middle Eastern families, are travelling to London to undergo the procedure. Extramarital sex is strictly forbidden by the Koran, the central religious text of Islam.

Director of MAS Gynaecology Mohammad Masood told the outlet that patients at his London clinic were "almost exclusively Muslim".

"Some of the girls are going through situations where if they don't bleed, there is stigma and there's no way the marriage will survive... their wellbeing hinges on virginity and not bringing a bad name to the family," he said.

The investigation revealed that some clinics are charging up to £3000 (NZ$5892) for the surgery.

Regency International offers hymenoplasty as an option for women who may experience "complications" or even death due to the "questioning of virginity" in her culture. 

"We strongly believe we're giving these women a second chance. A woman who has lost her virginity when underage or as a result or rape or assault should not suffer for the rest of her life," the clinic says on its website.

"The hymen is repaired and connected using dissolvable stitches... the patient should then expect to bleed on her first subsequent sexual penetration."

Another London clinic, the Gynae Centre, also offers the procedure "for cultural and religious reasons" as "in many cases marriages are even annulled if the hymen is torn".

"Revirginisation" surgery is a controversial practice, with some campaigners believing that clinics capitalise on the fears and vulnerability of women. 

"There are a lot of people making a lot of money out of very vulnerable women," Dr Leila Frodsham, from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, told the outlet.

The UK's General Medical Council (GMC) advises that practitioners must obtain a patient's "informed consent" before performing the surgery. However, their consent "may not be valid if it's given under pressure or duress exerted by another person".

Roughly 50 percent of people with vaginas won't bleed during their first vaginal sex experience. It's also well-documented that tears in the hymen can be caused by other activities, such as sport, long before the person has penetrative sex. 

"What happens is that 50 percent of those people, their hymen will stretch like it's supposed to and maybe they're a bit more relaxed and maybe they're a bit more lubricated and the penis will go in and there's no damage to the hymen at all," medical health nurse Kathy Lowe told The Spinoff.

"The 50 percent who do bleed, maybe they're a little bit tense, maybe not so lubricated - their hymen can stretch and maybe it can develop a tear on the side, and that's where the blood is coming from... not from something being ruptured."

In November, US rapper T.I. faced backlash after he revealed he has his 18-year-old daughter's hymen checked annually by a gynaecologist to confirm her virginity.