March 06, 2006

Fake Virginity

Perhaps the ultimate in Orwellian rewriting of history is the relatively new surgical technique known as hymenorraphy (hymenoplasty), or hymen repair surgery. It takes 45 minutes to perform and recovery for women takes six weeks. The surgery is particularly popular in cultures where there is a social and religious imperative for brides to have an intact hymen before marriage. There are a dozen or so American medical clinics and physicians who offer the procedure and it costs anywhere from $2000 to $5000.

For most women who don't sit around all day preserving the status of their hymens, living sedentary lives careful not to place any stress on their groins, the odds of their having intact hymens by the time they marry are not good anyway, even if they have never had sexual intercourse. Research has shown that many women, through normal ordinary physical activity, -- not to mention the increased numbers of young women around the world involved in sports, yoga, dance, horsebackriding, etc. -- tear or rupture their hymens long before they are betrothed. Tampon use is another frequently cited cause for lack of intact hymens.

In cultures governed by strict religious and social beliefs and practices, it can be a matter of life and death for a young woman whose hymen is not intact. To varying degrees, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, and Judaism all have formalized beliefs and teachings regarding virginity.

In India and Egypt, for instance, husbands or family members of either the husband or the bride sometimes feel justified to murder the bride if it is discovered that she has no hymen. Although outlawed in most countries, and condemned by religious authorities as well, there are cultural and social compulsions that drive male members of some families to punish their brides or daughters, sometimes fatally. No questions asked, just death. In some rare cases, more than one member of the family joins in.

Happily, however, in 1996, the English medical journal, The Lancet, reported that there was an 80% decrease in the death of brides in Eygpt because of the availability of hymen repair surgery. How fortunate that young women in Egypt don't have to die because they have lost their hymen sometime during their youth, in most cases through no fault of their own. They can now undergo corrective surgery, because of a patriarchal demand that they be pure and clean, judged only by the physical health of their hymens.

In countries like Egypt and Turkey, the procedure is very expensive and is out of reach for most poor women, who, of course, continue to be the women most often suffering the consequences. Because the consequences of not bleeding during first sexual intercourse on the marriage night can be so severe, many hymenoplasty procedures, especially in Muslim and Hindu countries, involve the attachment of a small sack of red liquid to simulate bleeding so that the husband can be reassured of his bride's virginity on his wedding night.


Naturally, there is no test to determine whether a man is a virgin before marriage, nor any requirement, social or otherwise that he be a virgin. The hymen, by the way, is named after a man, a mythical one at that, but nevertheless a male. Hymenaeus is the Greek god of weddings and marriage. He leads the wedding procession and prepares the marriage feast. He is the brother of Priapus, the bastard son of Aphrodite (the father is unknown) and the god of virility and fertility. In many parts of the world, marriage, therefore, is definitely a male event. Priapism in today's sexual lingo is both a medically defined long-term, painful erection, but also has become a sign of tremendous male virility -- the never-ending erection. Look out, girls!

Women are murdered around the world for many reasons -- failing to conceive, failing to conceive males, failing to submit to prostitution, failing to obey a husband or male family member, failure to provide a large enough dowry. Not having a hymen is yet another way women fail in the eyes of the patriarchy. And how fortunate for some physicians, who now have yet another way to make money off of women's "imperfections."

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Here's a Wikipedia entry about "honor killings" that has many sources and other links, as well as a list of some countries that explicitly and implicitly permit or forgive or punish lightly men who murder their wives.

4 comments:

pissed off patricia said...

Your last statement about doctors making money off of female imperfections, wraps it all up nicely.

Women in our country allow this foolishness to happen. Society puts the burden on the woman but it's our job to reject it. Sadly not nearly enough do and as a result the pressure builds to conform rather than the strength building to reject.

enigma4ever said...

Well, Stephen thnaks for posting on this issue- and once you posted you had a story on Virgins I think more will be over from Watergate Summer.... I am a little shocked that this is now a sugery that is performed here....and is desired...Sad reflection of what Society values and focuses on and that this does not help women or promote ANY health issues....and What if that Focus could be put on AIDS or Woman and children that die during delivery and recieve less than adequate prenatal care....Better Prenatal care and Education and Contraceptive Care- that would be truly Life Affirming...

J.D. Ryan said...

eeeew... gross. On so many levels. Does that summ it up?

That Damned Jezebel said...

Well done post, man. As you pointed out it is not a cosmetic issue, at times it is a life or death issue.How terrifying for the woman that cannot afford this who is the subject of an inspection. Imagine the terror of being discovered, for something naturally occurring. Great blog.