Husband stitch - what is it, and is it even legal?

Plus the five reasons you probably wouldn't say yes to having a husband stitch...

The husband stitch illustrated by woman on back in blue gown waiting for surgery
(Image credit: Getty images / Future)

The ‘husband stitch,’ is also sometimes called the ‘daddy stitch’ or ‘extra stitch,’ we speak to the experts to find out more about the practice.

The husband stitch is an informal term used to describe an additional stitch that some people believe tightens the vaginal opening and enhances sexual pleasure for the male partner. Some women have described being given the husband stitch when they have stitches after a tear or episiotomy during a vaginal birth, or worse, their husband requesting it without their consent. 

Editor's note

 If you, or anyone you know, is affected by the topics discussed in this article, you can seek further help from your doctor or midwife or find more information from sources such as the NHS and the World Health Organization

If you have any concerns about the husband stitch, preparing a birth plan can help you communicate with your partner on how you want to be treated during labour and birth and inform medical staff of your wishes.

Although we don't know how common the husband stitch is, it’s causing concern among female rights campaign groups, legal experts, and medical professionals. If you are worried about any aspect of your medical care during childbirth, it is essential to communicate openly with your midwife or GP. They are there to provide confidential support and guidance to you throughout your pregnancy. 

Husband stitch

During vaginal birth, the perineum (the area between the vaginal opening and the anus) may stretch and tear as the baby moves along the birth canal. Sometimes, your midwife or doctor may need to make a small cut into the perineum, called an episiotomy, to help your baby be born sooner or to avoid a more severe tear.  But they're not always routinely necessary.

Tears can be divided into first, second, third or fourth-degree tears, with first-degree tears considered minor and requiring no stitches. Any tears larger than this will require stitches and possibly some physical therapy further down the line.

Your midwife or doctor will stitch up the tear or episiotomy after you give birth, and they’ll tell you how to look after your perineum to help it heal. Your stitches will dissolve after a few weeks.

While stitching up a tear or a cut after childbirth is common and routine, the ‘husband stitch,’ whereby a medical professional adds an extra stitch to help ‘tighten’ the vaginal opening isn't. We find out more about the practice and what it means for women who are worried about it or have had it.

 What is the husband stitch? 

The ‘husband stitch,’ sometimes known as the ‘daddy stitch’ or the ‘extra stitch,’ is a colloquial term given to the practice of adding an extra, medically unnecessary, perineal stitch when repairing a natural tear or episiotomy following a vaginal birth. If the term doesn’t already give you the ‘ick’ then the fact that it is allegedly carried out to provide more sexual enjoyment for the husband or male partner during sex certainly will.

Read any parenting or mum forum, and you will find examples of people who have heard about the husband stitch from a friend or colleague. Some even claim to have had it, or at least had it offered to them. However, it remains an area in which there is little to no medical research, mainly because there is no medical definition of the practice and there is no medical reason for the extra stitch.

Vaginal tightening surgery has a history dating back to the mid-1950s in the US, when gynaecologists used to add an extra stitch while repairing vaginal and perineal tears or episiotomies after childbirth, according to an article in the journal Seminars in Plastic Surgery. This procedure was called the ‘husband's knot’ or ‘vaginal tuck.’ It was also discreetly referred to as ‘improving a woman's well-being.’ 

According to the History of Episiotomy in the UK, episiotomies weren’t common practice in the UK until the 1960s. Once introduced, they became increasingly popular, so much so that by 1978, more than half of women routinely had episiotomies to give birth. 

The prevalence of episiotomies during this time is thought to have led to some obstetricians and midwives adding an extra stitch when suturing the perineal tear or cut to ‘tighten up’ the vagina. While some people dismiss the modern-day husband stitch as an urban myth, the National Organization for Women in the US says that many women are still victims of the husband stitch after giving birth, most of whom have not consented to the procedure.

According to an article on the practice from Durham University, the husband stitch can trigger excruciating pain for a woman during sex. Episiotomies themselves can have complications, even without the added stitch, including: 

  1. Bleeding
  2. Tearing into the rectal tissues and anal sphincter muscle 
  3. Swelling and infection at the site of the wound
  4. A build-up of blood in the perineal tissues
  5. Pain during sex

What’s clear is that no one should have the extra stitch without their express consent being asked for and given. What’s less clear is how common the practice is and whether it is legal in the UK. 

How common is the husband stitch? 

While it’s almost impossible to say how common the husband stitch is, given the fact that it’s not a recognised procedure, we do know that around 4 in 10 people having their first baby vaginally end up having an episiotomy, according to this maternal audit carried out in 2022. This is despite a National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommendation that episiotomies should not happen routinely during spontaneous vaginal birth. 

Tears are also common during pregnancy, with up to 80% of people giving birth experiencing some degree of perineal tear, according to a study in BMC Pregnancy Childbirth Journal.

While we don’t know how prevalent the husband stitch is, it’s thought that it happens often enough for women’s rights campaigners and female genital mutilation experts to speak out against the practice. 

Husband stitch illustrated by woman in surgery

(Image credit: Getty / Future)

We spoke to Tautvydas Sutkus, a solicitor at Glowbarldn, who has a background in litigation. “This practice, shrouded in controversy, raises serious ethical and legal questions,” said Sutkus. “In the United Kingdom, the law is very clear about female genital mutilation (FGM) - it is a criminal offense under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. Although the husband stitch is not specifically mentioned in the Act, it could theoretically fall within the definition of FGM given that it involves a procedure altering the female genitalia for non-medical reasons.”

“However, there have been no reported cases in the UK courts where the 'husband stitch' practice has been prosecuted under the FGM Act,” said Sutkus. “Medical professionals are not exempt from FGM legislation, though it is worth noting that there is a specific exception for necessary medical procedures, such as episiotomies, under the Act.”

So does that mean that medical professionals can carry out the husband stitch? Not necessarily, according to Sutkus. “An extra stitch that serves no medical purpose may not fall within this exemption, raising significant legal and ethical implications.”

Tautvydas Sutkus

 Tautvydas Sutkus is a Solicitor, Attorney, and Counselor-at-Law with an impressive legal background and extensive experience in international dispute resolution. He is a leading legal professional in the health, wellness, and tech industries with qualifications in the US and the UK.

Seema Dosaj, a managing partner at Berris Law, who has experience in dealing with cases of FGM, points out that an amendment to the FGM act in January 2022 may further protect women against the husband stitch. “The amendment means that it is illegal to perform procedures intended to reconstruct the hymen – including the husband stitch,” she told Goodto.

Should women be concerned about the husband stitch happening to them without their consent? “The law is clear on the issue of consent,” Sutkus told Goodto. “Any medical intervention requires informed consent, which means that a healthcare professional must fully explain the procedure, its risks and benefits, and any alternative treatments to the patient. This allows the patient to make an informed decision. A husband stitch without explicit consent is a potential violation of a patient's rights and could amount to battery or negligence.”

Sutkus also advises anyone worried that a medical professional might perform the procedure.  “The first step is to be well informed about your rights. Discuss the possibility of an episiotomy and its repair with your healthcare provider before giving birth. Explicitly state your refusal for any extra sutures that are not medically necessary. Stay vigilant, ask questions, and ensure that your voice is heard. Your healthcare decisions are yours alone, and no one has the right to override them.”

black and white image of woman looking at camera
Seema Dosaj

Seema specialised in Criminal litigation, she is also a Duty Solicitor and a Solicitor Advocate representing clients in the Police Station, Magistrates and Crown Court.

Learn more about labour and birth, including 20 tips to help you have an easier labour (according to a midwife), what to know about postpartum bleeding and 10 ways to ease soreness after stitches


Joanne Lewsley is mum to a tween, and freelance copywriter and editor who creates parenting, health and lifestyle content for evidence-based websites, including BabyCentre, Live Science, Medical News Today and more.