The case for virginity-restoration surgery.

Science, technology, and life.
June 11 2008 7:39 AM

Sex, Lies, and Virginity Restoration

The case for doctor-assisted chastity fraud.

Muslim women. Click image to expand
Muslim women

Virginity is under attack. Not real virginity, but fake virginity. The kind you can get by hiring a doctor to restore your hymen.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

If you aren't familiar with this procedure, known as hymenoplasty, you can read up on it in Human Nature's previous reports. Its main customer base, by most accounts, is Muslim women whose families and fiances expect them, erroneously, to be sexually inexperienced. Today's New York Times quotes one doctor who says he does the procedure two to four times a week. That's 100 to 200 women per year in a single practice.

The latest outcry against it has erupted in France, where a court has annulled a Muslim marriage because the bride misrepresented herself as a virgin. Feminists, the country's justice minister, and even the European Parliament are getting into the act. According to Tuesday's Wall Street Journal, doctors who restore hymens are being accused of "reinforcing a gender bias" and "misleading family members of patients." The chief ethicist of the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics reports that "some physicians perform hymenoplasties on minors without the parental consent the law requires."

The objections are correct. The virginity fetishism these women endure is sexist, hypocritical, and totally unrealistic. The pressure applied by families and communities to enforce it is obscene. One woman interviewed by the Times says her fiance's family is insisting that she go to Morocco so a doctor of their choosing can inspect her for proof of virginity. Don't even get me started on the mental sickness of insisting that your wife bleed on your wedding night. And to top it off, the procedure is a sham. Restoring your hymen doesn't make you a virgin.

You and I can sit here all day rehearsing these complaints. And some day, God willing, the twisted culture of virginity hypocrisy will wither away. But until it does, hypocrisy is its own best remedy. Help these women deceive their husbands and parents. If they want artificial hymen restoration, let them have it.

I'm no fan of most cosmetic medicine. It's a surrender to stupid social pressures. It's superficial, unnecessary, and expensive. It perfectly expresses our insecurity and triviality. We should use technology to overcome tragic realities, not to alter stigmatized appearances.

But sometimes, a stigmatized appearance can become a tragic reality. That's the paradox of virginity fetishism. The quality of your soul doesn't matter. If you don't have that bit of tissue between your legs, you're garbage.

French progressives despise this fetish. "Attaching so much importance to the hymen is regression, submission to the intolerance of the past," protests the head of the French College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians. But fetishism makes intolerance easier to outwit. A technical requirement—an intact hymen—invites a technical solution. Fool the fundamentalists. Make hymen restoration safe, cheap, convincing, and confidential.

Doctors are already on the case. The Journal reports that Dr. Bernard Paniel, a Paris gynecologist, has modified the original Tunisian procedure to reduce invasiveness and coital pain and bleeding. In fact, the blood reduction is so effective that it threatens to expose the fraud. That's why he "provides his patients with vials of blood that can be spilled on wedding-night bed sheets."

Let's hear it for Dr. Paniel and his fellow fraud artists. Two wrongs don't make a right, but sometimes, they're better than one.