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Swedish ‘hymen tip’ for newlyweds ‘unacceptable’


Summary of story from The Local, 24 August 2011

Swedish doctors are facing stark criticism over advice to women born into so-called honour cultures that they should pierce their genitals with a needle in order to draw blood and satisfy tradition and family expectations on their wedding night.

The controversial guidelines were first developed by Karolinska hospital’s SESAM unit for sexual health in 2004 and were composed by Lotti Hellström, a doctor employed at the South Stockholm General Hospital unit for rape victims.

The recommendation given is that on their wedding night girls should pierce their genitals with a concealed needle, to simulate the breaking of the hymen.

Eduardo Grutzky regularly deals with issues such as integration, racism and culture through his work at ALMA europa, and believes this message is wrong: “Society should never condone or accept or promote, give fuel to this kind of madness.”

“On a normative level,” he continued, “it is a catastrophe, it is a violation of any idea of dignity and human rights to go out and give information and tips to propagate something that societies accept.”

Grutsky said that this advice causes confusion on a grass-roots level as through visits to youth health clinics across Sweden he has found that many are uncertain what attitude to adopt:

“The clinics don’t know what to do. I have suggested that they have a (virginity) certificate ready, posted at the door on which girls can just fill in their names,” he said, underlining the difficulties in proving virginity and that the needle advice is just one of the “many systems for simulating chastity”.

Despite the fierce criticism the advice is still offered by several major Swedish healthcare institutions and Hellström has defended the advice in order to protect the lives of vulnerable young women.

However, other changes are occurring in Sweden to alter more traditional attitudes towards virginity.

The Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (Riksförbundet för sexuell upplysning – RFSU) published an informational leaflet on female reproductive organs in 2009 which featured a new Swedish term for the hymen, slidkrans (vaginal corona).

The group hoped the new term would displace mödomshinna, which translates literally as “virginity membrane” and according to RFSU, led to misconceptions about female sexuality.

Grutzky called for a major information campaign to address the issue of virginity and to “expose the myth of the hymen”.

“What society has to do is to create a huge campaign of education and give information to everybody and the public – the hymen is a myth, it doesn’t exist, if they bleed it does not mean anything.”

Sweden’s Minister for Integration and Gender Equality, Nyamko Subuni, deemed the advice unacceptable and called upon the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) to develop more comprehensive guidelines for the Swedish healthcare system to implement regarding the issue of virginity:

“Girls should be given support based on the accurate information. Swedish healthcare should not be devoting its time to maintaining myths.

“If there is a real threat to the girl then the social services should be contacted and the perpetrator dealt with,” Subuni said.

  1. While I agree that people under threat should be protected it doesn’t always happen, does it? Seems extraordinary advice for a health body to give. Perhaps continuing education along with this sort of charade to ‘satisfy honour’ in the meantime will keep the most women safe?

    Interesting to see the effects words can have too.

  2. Wesley Harris says:

    Middle Eastern culture is different, it’s about 500 years behind western culture in terms of societal development. The women I know from the Mid East typically tolerate much and voice their opinion seldom.
    In many countries in the Mid-East women are little better than property, this is the result of such mentalities.

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