Does hymen restoration = virginity restoration?

This sunday, Time published a story about the rising rates of hymenoplasty in France. the operation seeks to reconstruct hymens that have been broken by vaginal penetration, and are pursued generally to avoid the potential shame attached to not being a virgin at the time of marriage.

I could go on and on about why hymenoplasties are an affront to women’s bodies and sexualities: the fact that a man’s virginity can never be tested–or perhaps that women often break their hymens when doing activities that are far from sex (like…riding a bike)–or that sometimes even when a woman IS a virgin, her hymen may not break during her first experience with vaginal penetration. I could talk about these things, but I won’t. Because you all know why hymenoplasties are ridiculous, violent, and harmful for women.

I think it is more interesting to think about why these women are paying thousands of dollars to have these operations…that, if done correctly, will be undone in one night. Is the alleged requirement of virginity before marriage about virginity or the impression of virginity?

What this seems to be coming down to is not whether a woman is actually a virgin before she is married, but more about making her new husband think that she is a virgin so his masculinity can be validated through the act of “taking” his wife’s virginity. Thus, this practice won’t be eliminated unless certain cultural beliefs can be redirected in a more woman-friendly direction.

Still, I whole-heartedly believe that people should be able to do whatever they want to their own bodies. If a woman feels that reconstructing her hymen will lead to a safer and more fulfilling life, then so be it. But I think that part of educating women on this surgery requires conversations about the larger societal implications of hymenoplasties.

The article does bring up a good point: the fact that these surgeries are happening more often is a sign that more women are engaging in sexual activity before marriage – do you think this a sign of “liberation”? I hate to use that term because its so paternalistic. But I do think it’s great that women are exploring their sexualities in new ways! Still, these explorations are staying under wraps…do you have any ideas about how to create awareness about hymenoplasty operations without condemning the women who get them? What about ways to talk to men about the reasons why they require their future wives to be virgins? I would love to hear some ideas!

  • Zeynab

    I agree that condemning women who get these surgeries isn’t going to help and is more likely to hurt the situation, adding to the stigma around sexuality and the lack of a hymen. As with all sexism, this affects men as well. Conversations with men that discuss their own virginity and sexuality, as well as that of women, and the implications of cultural double standards are important. I think another problem is that many of these men and women believe in the interpretations of Islam that require virginity before marriage, but both sexes believe it’s only imperative for women. We need to change the double standard here.

  • Anonymous

    so according to you, its OK for men and women to have sex with anyone (fornicate) before they get married, because according to you it as just an ‘interpretation’

  • Sakina

    I think the first step to “solving” the problem is to fix WHY women feel they need to get it. Too many men still have the idea that hymen = virgin, or even that a woman should bleed on her first night. They’re uneducated (or miseducated) and insecure if they need a thin piece of skin to validate their masculinity.However, I think it’s perfectly reasonable if a man prefers a virgin – not a woman with a hymen, but a virgin, as long as there’s not the double standard that men can sleep around but women can’t and if it’s a religious issue and not an issue of stroking his ego or validating his manhood. This surgery enables women to lie about their sexual history, which is not the right foot to start a marriage on. But the sad part is that women feel it’s a necessity or a woman actually may fear for her safety if she doesn’t have this surgery.

  • Arabista

    I’d be interested to know how many men actually believe that copious bleeding on the wedding night means that the woman is a virgin. I’ve never met a single woman who has bled on her first time and thus am wondering if this is just a myth that has circulated amongst women and is perpetuated by the hymenplasty business.I think it’s absolutely disgusting to have this attitude

  • Arabista

    @ Sakina: many women undergo this without having had a sexual history just to make sure that they will supply evidence of their virgnity.Also I think the attitude is what needs to change…many men and women make mistakes in their youth and experiment with sex etc…do these mistakes mean that they should jepordise any chance of getting married in future…many middle eastern men simply would not consider marrying a non-virgin despite having had previous sexual encounters themselves!

  • redwinegums

    It’s sad and silly because the hymen can be broken outside of sexual activity. The whole idea is a matter of the heart and the attitude. A technical virginity doesn’t change the fact that someone has given away something that can only be given once.I would say more but Sakina and Arabista already did so

  • Forsoothsayer

    you have a hard, uphill battle to fight on this one. i find that sexism regarding sexual activity is the last thing to go for most men, everywhere. it’s basically a matter of degree – they can always have sex with however many women they like before marriage, but every man in the world has some kind of maximum number for the woman he’s not a muslim thing, we all know that. many cultures place a huge premium on female virginity. but the chances of being killed because you are not a virgin, or do not appear to be a virgin, are that much higher. my personal opinion is, if men persist in being hypocritical sexist pricks, which they often are, then they deserve to be deceived. at least it’s better than the days (not really gone) when women would put ground glass or deer’s blood in their vaginas to ensure that they bled.but on the other hand, why do woen want to marry these kinds of guys anyway? there’s better out there.

  • Martinique

    I agree with you that hymenoplasties are a sad manifestation of patriarchal belief systems and that also women should be able to (obliviously) make choices about their own bodies. What I think is really sad is how many people think women who do this are sad, weak, misguided, under-empowered women (and I don’t think YOU think this or say this in your article) but that they don’t pay much attention to the fact that their husbands (or fathers or even mothers afraid of the social repercussions imposed by their husbands and fathers) have these expectations. I feel like doing this is like the fact that we work with women on ‘preventing’ (avoiding) rape instead of working with men on NOT raping, after all – they’re usually the ones doing the raping, creating the sanctification of virginity, treating women as objects. sigh….I really like this blog – I was excited to learn you’re writing for it Fatima!as a sidenote (and a VERY big one): sex is good! I wish no one thought not having it was noble.

  • Anonymous

    I was a virgin on my wedding night, but didn’t bleed. My (middle eastern, Muslim) husband questioned my virginity, but fortunately didn’t push the issue when I insisted that I was. I stayed in the marriage for a number of years, and had several kids. Now, it’s over.Personally, if I had the money I’d be tempted to do the hymen reconstruction thing right now. Why? I’m not sure. I guess in order to feel whole, complete, independent… Oh, I don’t know. I certainly don’t intend to marry again, much less try to “fool” anyone into believing that I’m a virgin (my kids kind of make it very evident that I’m not). Maybe to have some closure on the whole Muslim marriage thing, which was marred by double standards throughout. Maybe the influence of the “hur al-’ayn” model is more powerful than I’ll admit to myself?Any other formerly married Muslim women out there who want to “revirginize” for THEMSELVES, not in order to pass as a virgin for some man? Or am I the only one?

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