There are plenty of pearls of wisdom over at "www.revirgination.net," which specializes in the increasingly popular procedure of "hymenoplasty." Another such pearl: "You wouldn't want your boyfriend/future husband feel ashamed because your hymen no longer existed." No, certainly not!
There's a BBC piece today that profiles a doctor who performs the procedure - also known as "hymenorrhaphy" - in Paris, largely for young women from the city's large, conservative Muslim community (although the emphasis on virginity is by no means unique to that culture and, in fact, has no basis in Shariah law.)
Dr Abecassis performs a "hymenoplasty" as it's called, at least two to three times a week. Re-connecting the tissue of the hymen takes about 30 minutes under local anaesthetic. He says the average age of the patient is about 25, and they come from all social backgrounds. Although the surgery is performed in clinics around the world, Dr Abecassis is one of the few Arab surgeons who talks openly about it. Some of the women come to him because they need virginity certificates in order to marry. "She can be in danger because sometimes it's a matter of traditions and family," says Dr Abecassis. "I believe we as doctors have no right to decide for her or judge her."
It's a strange mix of helping women, and implicitly reinforcing the taboos that drive them to it. But for these young women, the option surely feels like a godsend. Although the surgery and its variants is minimally invasive and low-risk, it's not cheap - which may explain the market for other innovations. Says the BBC, "One website sells artificial hymens for just £20 (23 euros). The Chinese hymen is made of elastic and filled with fake blood. Once inserted in the vagina, the woman can simulate virginity, the company claims." That a young woman would be moved to try this shows, I think, how much anxiety must be attached to marrying without one's virginity in tact. Or, for that matter, hymen - which, as we know, can be torn any number of ways.
The story's author interviews one young man who "says he believes in equality for women," yet declares that "even if society accepts [lack of virginity], I would still refuse to marry her." But an even more distressing picture of the pressures comes from the web site NewHymen.dk.
Are you living a double life having sex before marriage? Are you feeling pressured by tradition and by your family? Do you know what your hymen is and what it looks like? Did you grow up with sayings like "A woman is like a vase. If she sleeps with a man before marriage, the vase is broken, and can never be repaired"?
Do you feel that hymen surgery is your only option, or do you just want more information? If so, you are not alone. I hope this website provides you with the answers and the information you need.
The site is run by a woman who describes herself as "a nurse and a social worker as well as being a certified educator." It does indeed contain practical information - advising against the age-old practice of using a chicken liver due to the fear of infection and instead suggesting, "Talk to your doctor about getting a prescription for the pill. If you are on the pill, you can plan your period to coincide with your wedding night." Pragmatic advice that, strangely, understands the frequent crevasse between worlds in which these young women find themselves.
That sites like this - or indeed, the readily-available surgical option - exist is, I imagine, a lifeline to some young women. That they continue to feel the pressure to resort to them - for fear of ostracization, family pressure or worse - is heartbreaking. As the site's moderator wrote to one young woman who'd written, panicked, into the "agony column," "Don't feel bad, that you had a past. It is your right, your life."
The Virginity Industry [BBC]