Sex & Love

I Need A New Hymen, STAT!

The most popular article at the NYTimes.com right now is about Muslim women in Europe getting their hymens surgically re-stitched so as to simulate virginity. Gynecologists say that in the past few years, more Muslim women are seeking certificates of … Read More

By / June 11, 2008

The most popular article at the NYTimes.com right now is about Muslim women in Europe getting their hymens surgically re-stitched so as to simulate virginity.

Gynecologists say that in the past few years, more Muslim women are seeking certificates of virginity to provide proof to others. That in turn has created a demand among cosmetic surgeons for hymen replacements, which, if done properly, they say, will not be detected and will produce tell-tale vaginal bleeding on the wedding night. The service is widely advertised on the Internet; medical tourism packages are available to countries like Tunisia where it is less expensive. “If you’re a Muslim woman growing up in more open societies in Europe, you can easily end up having sex before marriage,” said Dr. Hicham Mouallem, who is based in London and performs the operation.  “So if you’re looking to marry a Muslim and don’t want to have problems, you’ll try to recapture your virginity.”

First of all, the idea of “recapturing” virginity is a little silly. Makes it sound like the virginity ran away of its own accord, which is clearly not the case.

Beyond semantics, the whole idea is depressing. Is faking virginity really the best way to deal with a young woman’s sexuality? And perhaps more importantly, why are Muslims placing such a high price on virginity? Not that this issue is a particularly Muslim one—an article in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago addressed the procedure in the context of a spa and cosmetic-surgery center in Queens. That article talks about New Yorkers getting the procedure to spice up their sex lives (doctors say it probably won’t work), and women from South America getting it because their Catholic upbringing places a high premium on marriage to a virgin. Traditionally, virginity is associated with virtue and modesty, though I can name twenty friends who are virtuous, modest, and sexually active, and I know more than a few virgins who are horrible and slutty. In Jewish law, being a virgin means you’re worth more in your ketubah, but the text of a ketubah generally refers to the woman as a betulah, a virgin, unless she has been previously married. And since ketubot are rarely—if ever—used to sue for money, it’s a moot point. I know of at least one Jewish text that seems to separate sexual experience and a broken hymen. There is a question as to whether one can have sex with a virgin on Shabbat, because it is assumed that during the act of sex the hymen will be torn, and it is forbidden to tear on Shabbat. The rabbis mention that there are some who are “precise in their positioning.” That is, they can have sex with a woman without breaking her hymen. These people, in theory at least, can have sex with virgins on Shabbat. (Ketubot 6b) This implies that an intact hymen wouldn’t necessarily mean that the girl in question is a virgin. Which makes the whole idea of hymen replacement pointless in the eyes of Jewish law.

Nishmat, the Jerusalem Center for Advanced Jewish Study for Women, addresses the issue of hymen replacement and Jewish law more fully here. A nice highlight:

On a purely theoretical level, it would also seem that a return to virginity is not to be strived for. Breaking of the hymen within the framework of marriage is viewed as a completion of the woman and the contract between the husband and wife, not a detraction (see for example, Encyclopedia Talmudit sv Be'ilat Mitzvah).

It’s frustrating that some women see lying to their communities and spouses at great personal expense as the only way to deal with their pasts. If only we spent more time teaching people to make good choices, and value honesty, and less time coming up with ways to get around the rules. In that vein, evangelical Christians may have beat us to the punch—they’ve been promoting a kind of mental revirginization for a while. Instead of a surgical procedure, one just re-declares him or herself a virgin. It’s a little flimsy, but somehow better than needlessly going under the knife.