2, 4, 6, 8, Let’s All Go Re-Virginate!

For Jeannette Yarborough’s 17th wedding anniversary, she wanted to give her husband something special. So she had her hymen re-attached.

Wow, better than new golf clubs or even tennis balls! This gift would allow hubby the thrill of conquering a “virgin” all over again!

According to news reports, hymenoplasty, or “revirgination” surgery, is increasingly in vogue across Asia, in the Middle East and in Muslim communities in Western Europe and the U.K. While there is no hard data about hymenoplasties in the United States, approximately one to two thousand vaginal rejuvenation surgeries are performed in the U.S. each year. And on promotional websites like Revirginization.net, the surgery is being billed as the Next Big Thing.

Swallow hard, then go to the site, which offers a segment on “Designer Vagina(s)”, and the promise that you can look and feel like a virgin again. Here you can find the reassurance you are seeking that restoring your virginity will please your man, not to mention spare him the shame of bedding a hymen-less woman.

I do not understand any of this.

First of all, where do doctors get new hymens from? Is it fabric? Discarded fat left in the bin from somebody else’s tummy tuck? Pig skin? I could investigate this, but I’m afraid of what I might find.

Secondly, when did virginal conquest become hotter than good old sex? My guess is that it’s come back into vogue courtesy of the “purity” movement, in which young women pledge–to their fathers–to remain virgins until they marry. It’s spawned father/daughter Purity Balls, purity jewelry and a lot of flapdoodle about saving your most precious gift for your husband.

In the purity scenario, young women are supposed to transition from the patriarchal oversight of their fathers to the patriarchal oversight of their future husbands. The father “gives” his pure-as-pure-can-be girl to the man who will own her, who will “conquer” her and make her His Wife. This retro ideology is part and parcel of the abstinence-only movement, which has churned out much bad information and created a creepy nostalgia for the good old days when Father Knew Best.

This constant yammering about the “gift of virginity” has apparently shamed some women into really missing their hymens. Some miss them so much they will pay $5,900 to get them back.

Virginity as an ideal started back when it was vital for a pregnant woman to know who her baby daddy was. Today we have DNA tests. But somehow, along the way to now, virginity came to mean “something about a person’s morality, character, and spirituality,” according to historian (and Ms. blogger) Hanne Blank in her 2007 book Virgin: A History.

While many of us are fighting to maintain a woman’s access to safe and legal abortion and the right for consenting adults to express their sexuality in ways they see fit, the re-virginization folks seem to want women to refocus on their husbands. Revirgination.net promises rather vaguely that the surgery will be “for him.” Are we to believe men get off on “deflowering” women, or that having sex with a pretend-virgin saves their fragile egos? Has anyone asked any men about this?

The women who go to get their hymens reconstructed sit side-by-side in plastic surgery offices with women about to have basketball-sized implants stuck in their healthy chests. Is plastic surgery’s repackaging of women as Barbie dolls so far from dressing up teenaged girls in Purity Tiaras so they can waltz around with their dads at a Purity Ball? Sex as commodity is the same whether you’re “saving” it to give as a gift to your husband, or giving it away by presenting a plastic-enhanced, hyper-sexualized image to the world.

What’s healthier and ultimately safer: a patriarchy-enforced “purity” or a self-aware understanding of the joys and responsibilities of sex?

So sorry, honey, I’m not re-virginating for our upcoming anniversary. Instead, how about a nice subscription to Ms. magazine? Just a suggestion.

Photo from Flickr user whologwhy under Creative Commons.

Comments

  1. I think the fake ones from china might be a better move. Cheaper too! Plus then you can be "deviginized" over and over again. That's way more fun. My BF and I use them all the time so I can recreate the excitement of my most empowering moment. The moment I "gave my virginity away."

  2. "The women who go to get their hymens reconstructed sit side-by-side in plastic surgery offices with women about to have basketball-sized implants stuck in their healthy chests."

    Kind of a blanketing statement. What if the person who wants this procedure was raped?

    • That’s what I was thinking. While Vanity Virginity seems odd to me, as well as sounding REALLY uncomfortable, this seems like an incredibly useful option for women who currently live in places where, for instance, it’s legal for their fathers to strangle them to death if they get raped before marriage.

      I would also think it could be psychologically empowering for some women or children who have survived rape. It wouldn’t be for everyone, mind you, but it could be important for some.

      • I don't think having a fake hymen put in would undo the damage of a rape. OR make it as if it never happened. As for cultures that punish victims, lets work on informing the cultures rather than distorting woman's vaginas

    • What if they were raped? Being raped is bad enough, even more so when it is a woman's first sexual experience, without having the false "value" of virginity placed upon it. Virginity is much more in the mind than in that little piece of skin. What is the point in being re-hymenised? It does not take away the woman's knowledge of what sex is like, it is purely for the husband, (for some kick he gets out of it which baffles me). Having said that, I can understand why a woman may want the procedure to fool her husband into thinking she is a virgin if she is at risk of being abused or rejected if her husband found out she was not a virgin. It just saddens me that such things are still seen as desirable in some cultures/sub-cultures. It is part of the concept that women and wives in particular, are commodities which can be owned, bought and sold.

  3. Not Guilty says:

    Until women stop caring about their "purity", we will never conquer misogyny. Such nonsense…

  4. Plastic surgeons are always looking for new ways to bring in clients, so making us feel bad about our ladyparts was inevitable, wasn't it?

    What we think of as the hymen is actually a collection of very fragile folds of skin which are difficult, if not impossible, to reconstruct. So hymen surgery often amounts to one or two stitches in the inner labia to ensure both pain and blood at penetration. The very saddest part of this is that some women who have never had any kind of vaginal penetration get the procedure done to ensure they bleed on their wedding night.

    There's more info about this, as well as a link to a fantastic booklet put out by a Swedish health organization all about myths surrounding the hymen. http://bit.ly/gNvncs

    • OMG, that awful word, penetration. Only in a rape culture would we call sexual intercourse, penetration. It sounds so violent when we say something like "Bob penetrated Lisa."

      As feminists, we need to show new words and new ways. Let us say enclosure instead of penetration, as in "During the moment of enclosure between Lisa and Bob. . . "

      And if someone says, "We always need to have a leader during sexual intercourse," then we need to say, "OK, Lisa engulfed Bob."

  5. wow… you know, if a woman is going to spend all this money to tighten something – wouldn't the husband prefer something that would last a bit longer? breasts? chin? Hymen? pretty stupid to go for a hymen.

    Even if you'd been raped, what's the significance of a hymen? a lot of women don't have one by the time they have sex anyway – disappeared thru horseback riding or whatever. All it does at most is allow some blood to get on the sheets.. that's not that sexy really.

  6. I'm glad that this was brought to my attention. I am truly horrified though. Absolutely absurd.

  7. As someone raised fundamentalist, I'd like to mention that the Purity Balls may be the only time these girls are allowed to attend a dance. (I was not allowed to attend most school dances, myself.)

    • With all due respect, so?

      I'm not much of a dancer, but to me that would be the least of my gripes about growing up in a culture that forced participation in a purity ball. My horrible dad…I can't think of a worse person to be involved in my budding sexuality…

      • dancing ability is irrelevant, honestly, at least as far as the social experience of dances go during high school. going to a dance as a teenager is rich in statements of autonomy and growing sexual self knowledge (ie. you can choose who you dance with, and possibly dance with the he or she you have your eye on), both of which are anathema in the eyes of those who enjoy purity balls.

  8. An excellent essay. I particularly like the point about how Barbie-ization and purity are two sides of the same coin: the commodification of women’s sexuality.

  9. the thing that kills me about the purity thing is it is not two way. The men get their experience and the women don't and they don't have any idea how it can really matter what it is like between you and your partner in bed. I had a friend who waited until she was married. She had dated the guy for 3 years and she said on her wedding night, "That was it?, That was what I waited so long for?" She was so disappointed.

  10. That the fact that such a thing exists is beyond me.

  11. So here's a question: You get a new hymen for your guy, have sex, it breaks…then what? You've just laid out $5,900 for a one night stand? Doesn't anyone remember…it HURT when you had the hymen to begin with!

    It seems to me that the only one who really gains from this creepy procedure it the plastic surgeon.

  12. Alafia good people:
    This is a great example of American madness. The surgery to re-instate the hymen first came to my attention in the later sixties-early seventies when it was being used to "heal and re-establish" women who had been gang raped by soldiers in Viet Nam. Its original intention was to help the women overcome the effects of the rape and to have their own "first experience" in a culture where virginity was valued as "first rights" of the husband.
    Of course whatever "healing" intention it may have had has been perverted into the "cosmetic surgery" that makes millions off of women's self-esteem issues and men's interest in sexual conquest. Historically women and gold are the booty of war and rape is just one of its many tools. Now we can have the effects of war in the waiting room at the doctor's office. I'm not clear on what else we can do to help these women see themselves as acceptable human beings whose character is more important than their boobs or a pice of flesh in the vagina. However this is one of those rare times when income ( or the lack of money) is a preventative measure. I'm sure that this surgery will not be endorsed by Medi-Cal. As for the "material" used to replace the hymen I shudder to even speculate on what it is, its side effects, and who is exploited in order to have it.
    Luisah Teish
    Author of Jambalaya: The Natural Woman's Book of Persoanl charms and Practical Rituals"

  13. carol p christ says:

    virginity was not necessary for a woman to know her her baby's father was, in matrilineal societies that didn't matter at all. it was men who wanted to know if a baby was "theirs" who insisted that their women not have sex with other men.

  14. Let's make sure not shame and blame women who get this procedure and instead blame the societies and cultures which commodify virginity and women's chastity. Imagine a woman who faces shame and ostracisation by her family and friends if the bloodstained wedding sheet isn't produced – she could lose everything. She may not be in a position to fight the status quo and resist cultural pressure. But this does not condone plastic surgeons taking advantage of women in these situations, either.

  15. In countries where the risks of being raped are not limited to physical and psychological trauma resulting from the act itself, but includes being societal ostracizes and/or put to death, I can understand why a woman would opt to have an otherwise meaningless piece of flesh reattached. This, of course, does nothing to address the problem of rampant rape around the globe, misogyny, or a complete lack of human rights for women in these countries and cultures. Is it not insane to hold a victim responsible for her assault, rather than the assailants?

    As an American, though, I like to believe that these conditions to not exist here– at least not for the most part. We do live in a rape culture, true, misogyny and shame still surround survivors, but at least honor killings are not the norm. As a rape survivor myself, of all the things I have lost–and missed–after being raped, my hymen has NEVER been one of them.

    Does it seem strange to have a procedure that is only used in either desperation (to avoid death) or vanity (trying to obtain that mystical, non-existent "perfect" vagina)? Sure– but how is it any different from the fact that thousands die everyday from starvation in impoverished countries, and in the richest country in the world people who otherwise have access to food die from starvation in pursuit of (yet another mystical, non-existent) "perfect" body?

  16. How about the idea of reclaiming virginity for girls in terms of giving them the opportunity both to establish their personalities and decide for themselves when they want to have sex? I didn't lose mine till I was 32 and I think I'm a stronger person for it. I deliberately chose when and who to lose it with and a good time was had by all!

    Purity movements, new hymens etc should all be seen for what they are: just another way of making women second class, 'other' and oppressed rather than equal human beings with the right to decide how they live their own lives.

  17. My guess would be that the ideals that have led to these surgeries root much further back then the purity movement. Blank's book which is referenced states as much. While I agree the purity movement caused a resurgence of obstinacy rooted from male dominance, the issues run much deeper. It's too easy to blame the purity movement.

    I might I also add that there is more then sexual freedom that needs to be discussed when talking about virginity. While I wholeheartedly agree in the right to safe and legal abortion as well as the right to express your self sexually (and commend the author in her work toward such), I think we do ourselves a disservice when we don't carry the conversation further then rights. We need more of a critical consciousness, how do we respect our bodies in a non-sexist way?

  18. All that I can say that a relation must be very shallow to have a woman feel that she must have such a drastic surgery to her body, to make her man happy.. This is absurd… Did the husband have a penal implant, and a hair growth at the same time, bet not??? Women, stand up and love yourselves first, your kids second, and then your man, in a reasonable way that will not harm you or your children… or your future…

  19. Wow, unbelievable, bizarre and sad.

  20. Nancy Mikelsons says:

    Does anyone imagine that the Republican congress is going to allow such a surgery to be covered by medical insurance? $5,900.00 is quite beyond the vast majority of women in this country or any other. The whole thing is sexist foolishness and I couldn't agree more with the blogger who said that the only person who comes out ahead is the surgeon! Once again Ms. Rubin has addressed a timely topic and exposed the sadness of women even contemplating being 're-virginized'!

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