THE 'HUSBAND STITCH'
I had never heard of the term 'husband stitch' until last week. Someone sent me an article about it and at first I thought it was some kind of disgusting joke, but as I read up about it I discovered that sadly, it wasn't. The husband's stitch is a surgical procedure in which one or more stitches than needed are used to repair the area between the anus and the vulva (perineum) of a woman after childbirth. As you know, many women who have vaginal births suffer from tears in the area and may in some cases need to be cut and stitches are very commonly used. But apparently, the purpuse of the 'husband's stitch' which as mentioned is extra stiches, is to tighten the opening of the vagina in order to enhance the pleasure of her male sex partner during intercourse.
Though some view it as an urban legend or a (get this) 'feminist issue', evidence show that it is still performed today, often without the consent of the patient.
The husband stitch got attention recently following the publication of Carmen Maria Machado’s story The Husband Stitch. Later, writer Jane Dykema wrote an article about the story. This paragraph in particular got to me:
"I was first introduced to the husband stitch in 2014, when a friend in medical school told me about a birth her classmate observed. After the baby was delivered, the doctor said to the woman’s husband, “Don’t worry, I’ll sew her up nice and tight for you,” and the two men laughed while the woman lay between them, covered in her own and her baby’s blood and feces. The story terrified me, the laughter in particular, signaling some understanding of wrongdoing, some sheepishness in doing it anyway. The helplessness of the woman, her body being altered without her consent by two people she has to trust: her partner, her doctor. The details of the third-hand account imprinted into my memory so vividly that the memory of the story feels now almost like my own memory. Later that year, Machado’s “The Husband Stitch” was published, and sometime after that, I read it, and the details of Machado’s scene were so similar, down to the laughter, down to the words “don’t worry” (though in Machado’s story they’re directed at the woman), that I’m not sure now what I remember and what I read".
I can't even put into words how I felt reading this. Shock, humiliation and absolute disgust are only but a few emotions I could identify in what felt like a storm in my stomach. My eyes were burning, I wanted to cry but my tears won't come out because I was too stunned and paralysed with anger.
Not just for all the women whose bodies have been altered in this way so that they would give someone else more sexual pleasure, but for any woman whose body has ever been used and abused by others in her most vunerable moments.
I also couldn't help but think about female genital mulitation (FGM) which is the partial or complete removal of a woman's clitoris for no medical reason. A procedure that is still carried out in some areas in the world on girls between infancy and age 15.
I know it is something completely different but it was the first thing that popped in my head. You see, FGM is used to control girls’ and women’s sexuality. It obviously involves a mixture of cultural, social and religious traditions, but the bottom line is control and ownership.
The same goes for the husband stitch. That control and ownership as if a woman's body is not just her own once she is married may seem like a thing of the past for many people but sadly for many women is their current reality.
And then I started thinking about women's sexuality and ownership over it in general.
You see, as a woman, owning up to my own sexuality has been a struggle. It's hard to explain but in many ways I feel like the only way I knew how to do that, was by trying to live up to society's expectations of me as a female rather than be the sexual being that I am naturally. What I mean is, women's sexuality is often dictated by culture and the media and doesn't necessarily reflect what women really want or how we feel. I was told to be a "good girl", to cover up and play hard to get. Later, during sex I felt ashamed, I don't even know why but somewhere in my psyche I was already programmed in a way that made it feel "wrong" to enjoy it and when I did enjoy it I felt bad. I think that as women we are under a lot of pressure to express our sexuality in a certain way: be sexy, but not too sexy, be flirty, but not flirty, enjoy sex and be good at it, but not too good etc... When actually many of us may have never had the time to think 'hey, is this really how I feel? do I actually like this? Why am I doing this? Is it for me or for someone else?' And the thing is, women's sexuality is almost automatically linked to men - to their needs and their pleasures, it's almost as if our sexual identity doesn't exist independantly without them.
It makes me wonder what it would look like and if I will ever find it.
And no, this not a 'feminist issue', this is a women issue. I have no interest in having a war of the sexes. I couldn't get care less if a male got offended by reading this becasue I know it has nothing to do with him and everything to do with me.
As I get older, I am discovering more about my own sexuality. It has been on my mind a lot recently, which I guess is why this story hit me harder than it would have normally and maybe that's why I am chosing to share this with you now.
As always, my thoughts are incomplete and I don't have answers but what I would love is to start a conversation about our sexuality as women and I hope you will join me.