The husband stitch is an "extra" stitch in the perenium after a woman gives birth and either tears or is cut (episiotomy). The extra stitch is designed to make the vagina tighter and please her partner, thus the name, "the husband stitch".
Some say that the husband stitch is a myth, but sadly it isn't. Many women have had the ugly privilege of living it, and can tell you without a doubt that it is, in fact, real.
Because the husband stitch is something rarely talked about but still done on a fairly regular basis, I want to share some basic information and quotes from real women who have experienced this and the aftermath. Women should at the very least have the option of informed consent before someone tries to improve their vagina and sex life. (Sometimes care providers ask a woman or her partner if she would like to be "tighter" down there before doing it. Other women are not told this is being done to them.)
The husband stitch is meant to tighten up the vagina by stitching the vaginal opening smaller than it was before giving birth. Women are often told that it will feel like she is a virgin again and will be nice for her partner. I think it is safe to say that many women fear being too "loose" after having a baby so the idea can sound appealing.
In reality the husband stitch is far from fun or pleasurable for anybody involved. First of all, stitching the outside of the vagina tighter only makes that opening tighter. It does not make the inside, or the vaginal barrel tighter.
What are common side effects of a the husband stitch? Namely women report that sex is painful (often until they have another baby and are repaired properly afterwards or have sought extensive physical therapy with someone specializing in female health). Rather than making anything better for the partner, it can be very harmful to the sex life since women are often fearful of making love at all because of the pain involved.
Here are some quotes from women about their experiences with the husband stitch.
"I wasn't right til my second baby stretched me back to normal, I decided that OB's who attempt that stitch have no idea how vagina's work, tightening the skin does not tighten the vagina...
No nothing about the stitching was explained except that I had been "laced back up," but it was very clear that too much skin had been stitched back together. Three days postpartum some of my stitches pulled, most excruciating pain in my life. At my 6 week check up I still wasn't healed but was told "I looked great considering..." Not comforting!!! Sex was impossible for 3 months, bearable by 6... most women think having a baby will ruin you, but having another baby fixed me. It's possible this was a mistake, but if you don't let anyone cut you there's no room for mistakes or any extra stitch work.
My poor husband was always so worried about hurting me... Husband stitches hurt husbands too."
"I got a hubby stitch, it was not right till next baby lots of lube creative positioning, never too fast (jerk doctor) I seriously had a pleat in my perineum.
Yeah it was terrible, forceps giant epsiotomy but doc said no worries it will be "better" than before... what the? I was clueless.
I had a a mediolateral episiotomy (I suspect second degree) with a forceps delivery no idea if necessary because I only pushed on my own for about 15 mins. Then it felt like he brought my perineum back completely over each other so that I had some tissue that poked back into my vagina. Imagine a pleat in pencil skirt. Healing was bearable but sex in the traditional missionary position was not comfortable I almost had to be on top and angled forward far and sex had to be slow or it would give me small cuts at the scar, if that happened we couldn't have sex again for at least a week- so it always made sex sort of stressful with my husband asking a lot "is this ok". Mood. killer.
My doc was old school too! I don't necessarily know my feelings about the term birth rape but I would not have agreed to how he altered my body, stitching skin over top of skin is not repairing - my perineum is not your canvas."
"I was given the husband stitch.....my provider was a midwife (hospital birth). It was absolutely horrific. I was told nothing. First I was given an episiotomy that I didn't know about and then I was given the husband stitch without knowing about it. I found out about it way after the fact when I learned more and realized what had been done to me.
Recovery seemingly took forever and I couldn't believe how much it hurt just to sit down. My husband and I couldn't have sex successfully without excruciating pain for months. I had no idea why. I would cry and cry and cry. I was a virgin when we got married and the husband stitch was WAY more difficult and painful than first-time-intercourse. (And for me, the first time was a challenge...) I vaguely recall her saying during my birth "And we're just going to get the baby out a little faster." Then she cut me. (I didn't know this, my husband told me later. He saw it happen all too fast to stop.) When she did the husband stitch she said, "And this one is just for your husband." At the time I had no idea what she was talking about. Like I said.... I figured it all out in retrospect.
My husband said that he found no pleasure in 'the husband stitch' and it did absolutely nothing for him."
"I didn't know I was getting one as part of a third degree tear repair, I only found out months later when I was being investigated for painful sex, amongst other things. I don't know why anyone would ever choose to have one. It has ruined our sex life. "
" I had it done to me. My daughter was born 28 yrs ago at U of M. I was 18 and had never even seen the man catching my baby because that's the way it worked at that time. He was rude and completely disrespectful. My daughter had slid completely back up and he pulled her out with forceps causing such bad tearing it took 3 hrs to repair. When he finished, he stood, started towards the door while snapping off the gloves and said he did my husband a favor. I found out from the nurse what that meant. I could only have sex in one way otherwise it was excruciating and even that one way was uncomfortable. It wasn't until the birth of my second child that it was remedied."
"I had an episiotomy with my first baby (that I didn't consent to....the doctor just did it and informed me AS she was doing it). Then after, she sewed me up too tight. Sex hurt for 6 months afterward. At first it was so excruciating we couldn't even do it. I was in tears every time we tried for a couple of months. When I went in for my check-up, I told the doctor about it (a different doctor), and he said, "Well then let's stretch you out a bit." as he cranked on the speculum to make it bigger. (It was inside of me at the time and was already painful. That's why I brought it up with him.) I almost passed out from the pain."
Childbirth can be hard. Sometimes women are changed, sometimes even permanently physically damaged in the most natural and supported birth. I think that is a fact and something we can all agree on and share stories about.
The practice of the husband stitch however is something different entirely. Women should never be hurt like this by a care provider. Care providers need to know the damage this kind of thing (a husband stitch or simply an unnecessary or poorly repaired episiotomy) causes- and not just physically. This is painful emotionally, mentally, and difficult for a relationship.
It is infuriating that women and their bodies are being treated this way. I hope that this practice is on its way to obscurity. That the husband stitch is still being performed with that much regularity is shame and should be considered a source of guilt for the entire profession of obstetrics.
(I would like to believe that the husband stitch is rarely done, or is a relic of the past. Sadly, the quotes were gathered on my Facebook page late at night and were received within less than an hour. Most were from young women who birthed recently. The husband stitch is still a part of obstetric (and sometimes midwifery) care.)