Restoring virginity

Doctors who “repair” women’s hymens are being threatened, apparently, by people who judge women’s value by the state of their hymen. While the stereotype of someone getting this surgery is a veiled Muslim woman, that isn’t entirely accurate.

Young also said that it’s not just women with Middle Eastern backgrounds seeking the surgeries. There has also been an increase in the number of women requesting hymen repair from both the Orthodox Jewish and Christian fundamentalist communities, as well as from women of all nationalities who want the surgery as a sexual enhancement.

“Within the fundamentalist Christian population as well there has been an apparent recent movement towards ‘traditional family values’ and there is pressure put on women to be virgins,” Young said.

Hymen repair is “sexual enhancement”? That’s odd to me… I don’t really understand how having a piece of tissue torn is sexually pleasurable for anyone, especially when that tearing comes complete with blood spillage.

So what exactly is hymen repair?

Typical hymen repair surgery involves stitching the remnants of a torn hymen together and inserting a gelatin capsule that contains a blood-mimicking substance. After the hymen has been surgically repaired, a woman will bleed the fake blood the next time she has sexual intercourse. The surgery, which costs from $2,500 to $4,500, is performed on an outpatient basis. Healing can take from a few days to a few weeks.

Fake blood. How sexy. The article is interesting, but what nags at me is the fact that no one really discusses the real problem: the fact that women’s hymens are equated with their purity, value and general worth, and the fact that women are ostracized and sometimes even killed for making their own sexual decisions (or for having those decisions made for them). While I obviously don’t believe any doctor deserves to be threatened or killed for doing their job, I would hope that this problem is being more seriously attacked at its roots. And I would also hope that these doctors are offering their patients information about domestic violence and family abuse resources. If a woman comes in and is afraid of being beaten or killed for having sex, repairing her hymen isn’t going to solve the problem.

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14 comments for “Restoring virginity

  1. May 29, 2005 at 3:17 am

    Hmm. The religious guys threatening these doctors…sounds strangely like another group of religious guys who threaten to kill doctors for performing medical procedures on women….

    This shows, yet again, just how similar Christian & Muslim fundamentalists actually are, despite their protestations to the contrary.

    (Let me also say that I’ve been lurking for some time & that I really enjoy your blog:)

  2. May 29, 2005 at 7:09 am

    You are right – the idea girls must be virgins when married causes the “need” to have such surgery. I have heard it is done a lot here in Egypt. Also people practice all kinds of non-vaginal sex so as not to disturb the hymen. Also people are afraid to let their daughters practice sports, especially things like bike riding. It is really strange, this equating the hymen with virginity in the first place. It is a terrible custom that really makes girls messed up. But I don’t have an answer as to how to get rid of it. These cultural things need to change over time and with influential people being spokespeople for change, and the entire ME is going through conservative backlashes in part because of US policies.

  3. May 29, 2005 at 7:20 am

    What a strange and sad world we live in – women must have surgery to artificially restore something that will make them worthy in the eyes of a worthless man. It’s almost slightly humorous, that women can trick their partners in such a way. Almost like the joke is on the man. Although unfortunately it’s still the woman that is being degraded.

  4. May 29, 2005 at 10:42 am

    Fake blood capsules! Hollywood and the religious right are more similar than I thought.

  5. May 29, 2005 at 10:56 am

    I’m sure these folks can satisfy all your hymen-restoration and vaginoplasty needs:

    Do you women really fret if your labia aren’t symmetrical? The idea of a laser near my genitals is just wrong.

  6. May 29, 2005 at 11:32 am

    What that website doesn’t mention, of course, is that there are a whole lot of nerve endings in the inner labia — and lasering or cutting them to suit an aesthetic ideal often results in a loss of sensitivity. I’ll take asymmetry over that any day.

  7. May 29, 2005 at 12:13 pm

    I didn’t bleed at all when I lost my virginity and, frankly, I’d be pretty skeeved by it to be honest. I can just imagine all the hotel maids laughing at the “blood” on the sheets of honeymoon suites and snickering about how that one fooled her new hubby into thinking she was a virgin.

    Doesn’t this constitute bearing false witness?

  8. May 29, 2005 at 8:35 pm

    Hell, in the old days you just put a small sponge soaked in some kind of animal blood in there, and that worked fine, since foreplay wasn’t usually on the menu. There were lots of ways to fool the husband that didn’t require surgery.

    I lost my hymen at 10, riding horseback; guess I’d need the surgery too. And lots of women are born without. What a stupid cultural artifact.

  9. Linnaeus
    May 30, 2005 at 2:17 pm

    Am I out of line in saying that this new surgery is downright ghoulish?

  10. michelle
    May 30, 2005 at 5:50 pm

    I’m p*ssed that these “cosmetic” plastic surgeons are charging so much for these surgeries. They don’t make enough off rearranging our faces? It’s yet another luxury that only rich women can obtain – poorer women don’t have access to such “protection”. If these doctors really cared about these women’s safety, they’d do it pro bono or at least at cost – while at the same time supporting human rights’ organizations working to change the underlying causes.

    Of course, that would eliminate a large chunk of their customer base, wouldn’t it?

  11. May 31, 2005 at 1:59 am

    It’s usually wealthy kids who want the surgery. They already know it’s an option before they have premarital sex, in fact. At least, here in Cairo that is how it works. Therefore doctors charge a lot. Also because like Jill’s post says, there is an element of danger to performing the procedure.

    I agree that it is totally not an answer to the underlying problem of girls’ virginity defining them in the context of these conservative religious societies (and i was a bit surprised that hymen repair is practiced among religious Jews and Christians – I really had thought that this was a Muslim society thing – I had never heard about it until moving to the Middle East). That problem must be dealt with at the grassroots level and in the schools. The whole attitude towards girls/women needs to fundamentally be altered.

  12. May 31, 2005 at 9:42 am

    I don’t even know when I broke my hymen. I played sports a lot as a kid, and used tampons regularly from when I was about 14. The first time I had sex it didn’t hurt and it didn’t bleed. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

  13. May 31, 2005 at 11:50 am

    You’d think a piece of tissue paper and a bladder of fake blood would do the trick. Just more slicing and dicing of women’s bodies.

  14. janet
    May 31, 2005 at 3:36 pm

    It just struck me that it’s a completely unfair accident of biology that we have a physical symptom that (sometimes) indicates whether a woman’s vagina has been penetrated. What does the hymen do, physiologically? Do other mammals have it? It’s almost enough to make one believe in Intelligent Design (or in this case Stupid Design).

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