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Swedish docs under fire for newlywed 'hymen tip'

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Swedish docs under fire for newlywed 'hymen tip'
11:58 CEST+02:00
Swedish doctors have come under fire for advice to women born into so-called honour cultures to pierce their genitals with a needle in order to draw blood on their wedding nights to satisfy tradition and the expectations of their families.

"Society should never condone or accept or promote, give fuel to this kind of madness," Eduardo Grutzky who works with social issues such integration, racism and culture at ALMAeuropa, told The Local on Wednesday.

Grutzky expressed support for doctors on an individual level and explained that in Sweden they are faced with dual challenges on a practical and a normative level.

"Doctors should make decisions according to their conscience when they meet concrete cases, if they feel their patients are in great danger. This is something they do all the time," he said.

"But on a normative level, 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."

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

The advice given is that girls should pierce their genitals with a needle hidden perhaps in the fold of her dress on her wedding night to simulate the so-called breaching of the hymen.

Despite the criticism the advice is still offered by several major Swedish healthcare institutions and Hellström has defended the advice in order to protect a young woman's life.

Eduardo Grutzky told The Local that in visits to youth health clinics across Sweden he has found that many are at a loss at what to do.

"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 that virginity is impossible to prove and that the needle advice is just one of the "many systems for simulating chastity".

The Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (Riksförbundet för sexuell upplysning – RFSU) in 2009 published an informational pamphlet on the female reproductive organs which featured the 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 led to misconceptions about female sexuality, according to RFSU.

Eduardo 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."

Gender Equality Nyamko Sabuni considers the advice given to some girls to be unacceptable and called for the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) to be tasked with developing guidelines for how the Swedish healthcare system can give advice on problems posed by the virginity issue.

"Girls should be given support based on the accurate information. Swedish healthcare should not be devoting its time to maintaining myths," Sabuni told the TT news agency.

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

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