Nurse Carol Roye has an interesting counterpoint in Women's eNews to news reports about hymen reconstruction (something some of us would never, ever sign up for). Given how little most people know of what a hymen "ought" to look like — as though there's only one way for it to look, which there isn't — what exactly are these doctors reconstructing?
Roye notes, rightly, that a hymen is mostly known for its supposed effects, which is to say, the blood that is shed when a woman is first penetrated. Most people have never looked carefully at their own, let alone someone else's, and don't know what they are looking at. So when a doctor is supposedly reconstructing a hymen — which is as different on each woman as the rest of her external genitalia — he's mostly making the geneialia into something that will bleed, and what people expect to see. In effect, doctors who perform the surgery are not only perpetuating the fetishization of virginity but actually constructing a new myth of what it's supposed to look like and be.
Roye is often asked by parents to examine their daughters and prove that they are still intact — though, under state law, she's only allowed to answer if given permission by the teenager. The problem is that, if she can tell at all whether a hymen is intact or broken, she can't tell whether it's due to sexual intercourse or not. Those answers aren't helpful to young women, or their parents, seeking some sort of yes or no without even knowing what they are asking the doctor to examine.
As someone who had sex for months with an intact hymen after losing my virginity, the larger point Roye wants to make rings the most true for me.
I believe that virginity is what the individual thinks it is. It certainly is for men, who bear no tell-tale signs of lost virginity.
The concept of virginity has an emotional connotation. It is more than just the physical disruption of hymenal tissue.
If a young woman has had a sexual relationship with her partner, and she feels that she has lost her virginity, then she has, regardless of what actually happened to her hymen during the encounter.
The problem with Roye's logic, of course, is that it gives the woman agency over her body, her choices and her opinions. The kind of people that want their daughters' or potential wives' hymens parsed — or restored — want exactly the opposite.
Hymen Mystique Remains Intact In Bare-All Culture [Women's eNews]