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!

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