The Ethics of Iran’s Virginity Pills

Virginity has long been regarded as a sacred state of being—with inextricable ties to a patriarchal, heteronormative and archaic narrative of what it means to “lose” it.

In some cultures, the act of losing one’s virginity signifies a woman’s deflowering, her “coming-of-age,” her much-anticipated arrival into society’s—and her partner’s—awaiting arms.

For some societies, though, losing it “too soon” can be a death sentence.

That’s the case in Iran, “where women who do not bleed on their wedding night may pay with their lives.” But there’s a new product on the Iranian market that could change all that.

Known as “vaginal suppositories” or “plastic membranes,” the product was originally developed in Hong Kong but is now distributed domestically in Iran by pharmaceutical companies. It simulates a woman’s loss of virginity by “creating the illusion that she has bled as a result of her hymen being broken.” The capsule can be inserted “two or three centimeters into the cervix of the womb, 30 minutes to an hour before intercourse” and contains a “blood-colored gelatin.”

Depending on the person, the membrane surrounding the suppository may, after being heated up by the body, discharge the plasma anywhere from 30-35 or 45-50 minutes after insertion (the membrane doesn’t require penetration or contact with a penis to break open). Due to the sensitive and timely nature of the simulated breaking of the hymen, each pack comes with two suppositories—one to try before the wedding night “to find out how your body works” in relation to your body temperature, and one for the night itself.

In the 1970s, hymen repair surgery, or hymenoplasty, was “one of the most sought-after procedures among the urban middle classes of Tehran,” and advocates for hymenoplasty received support from the high-ranking cleric Ayatollah Sadeq Rouhani (Qom) back in 2009 when he “issued a fatwa permitting the operation.” But the complicated and costly procedure could be difficult to acquire or hide from family and friends as it requires a recovery period.

So, to offer women a safer and cheaper alternative, so-called “virginity suppositories” were created. According to a distributor of the suppositories, one pack costs “300,000 tomans ($110)” online, plus shipping and handling. In January of this year, the seller was receiving upwards of 100 calls and 15 orders per day.

Said a marketer for the suppository in a recent interview,

Look, there are girls who have lost their virginity out of negligence…or lost it because they simply made a bad choice. Sometimes people call me and pour out their hearts; many of them lost their virginity because they were looking for self-gratification. They have the right to live, too.

In instances where a bride does not bleed on her wedding night—perhaps because she’s had sex before or because her hymen broke during physical activities, sports, or even falling down—these suppositories have the potential to act as a shield from the subsequent shame, abuse, or “honor-related violence” that she may experience as a result of her “impurity.”

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Photo of Táhirih courtesy of Robby Virus licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 



Jenevieve Ting is a student at the University of Southern California and an editorial intern at Ms. She has written for The Hollywood Reporter, Next Magazine and Thought Catalog. Find out