Hymen replacement surgery is a procedure by which a doctor, using dissolvable stitches, reattaches to a woman’s vaginal wall the skin membrane—called the hymen—that once covered the opening to the vagina. The medical term for the procedure is hymenoplasty, but it is also known as hymen restoration surgery, hymen reconstruction, and revirgination. The latter term is used because an intact hymen was—and still is in some cultures—considered to be proof of a woman’s sexual purity. Intercourse will tear the membrane, causing pain and bleeding. If there was no evidence of blood following first intercourse by a newly married couple, the woman was assumed not to be a virgin, which called into question the paternity of a child born within the first 9 months of the marriage, brought disgrace to the woman and her family, and could even result in her death if the culture imposed such a penalty on women for “sexual immorality.”
Today, the procedure is a growing part of the cosmetic surgery “industry” in the United States, Great Britain, and other Western industrialized countries, with some long-married women having the procedure done as a “gift” to their husbands. In addition, the procedure is popular in the Middle East and Latin America, particularly among Muslims and Catholics, whose religious traditions teach that a woman’s virginity prior to marriage is sacred.
Supporters of the procedure maintain that it protects women, particularly in cultures that punish sexual impurity with extraordinary penalties such as death. Supporters also point out that wider availability of the procedure performed by cosmetic surgeons prevents women in such cultures from resorting to “back alley” procedures that can result in serious injury or infection. Critics, however, liken the procedure to female genital mutilation and argue that it reinforces the primacy of female virginity over all else. Moreover, since hymen repair, unlike other types of reconstruction, is not taught in medical residencies, surgeons performing the procedure may not be properly trained. Critics of the procedure also include Catholic and Muslim religious groups, who point out that hymen reconstruction does not alleviate the sin of sex before marriage, but rather is the sin of deceit because the woman who has the surgery is still not a “genuine” virgin.
- Boodman, S. G. (2007, March 6). Cosmetic surgery’s new frontier. Washington Post. Retrieved May 27, 2017, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/02/AR2007030201549.html
- Chozick, A. (2005, December 15). Virgin territory: U.S. women seek a second first time. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved May 27, 2017, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB113461752102323170
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