Virginity is the key to a young unmarried woman’s survival in many Middle Eastern cultures. The hymen is the focal point of the definition of virginity according to certain strict religious traditions such as fundamentalist Islam. In some areas of the Middle East, if it’s suspected that a young woman’s hymen has been broken or she has engaged in premarital sex, she can be considered a criminal and even face death. Though the hymen can be broken in other ways besides sexual intercourse, such as athletic activities or a tampon, in certain countries of the Middle East however a broken hymen before the wedding night means only premarital sex. Middle Eastern women who have broken hymens or no hymen are using surgery to create the illusion of being virginal before returning to the Middle East according to this Women’s eNews article. But the surgery creates a danger for both the women and the doctors who perform them.
LOS ANGELES (WOMENSENEWS)–Some doctors perform these specialized surgeries on women late at night when there’s no one else in the waiting room.
The patients are most often women of Middle Eastern descent, some with origins from countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. They frequently give false names and pay in cash. They arrive alone, faces hidden, under elaborate hats, wigs, scarves and sunglasses and, afraid, say doctors.
They are there for hymenoplasties, or the repair of hymens, which, when intact, are widely recognized as evidence of virginity. The surgeries could save their lives, noted the physicians who perform them, because, according to some interpretations of Islamic law, if a male relative suspects them of having premarital sex, the woman is a criminal. In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, the penalty could be death.
Although for the most part, many of the women who seek these surgeries live in the U.S. with family members or to attend school, many return to their home countries when its time to look for a husband.
Doctors say that while there are no official statistics, they have seen an increase in requests for more hymen repair surgeries in recent years. In addition, more doctors are receiving threats.
“Yes, there has been a degree of danger to doctors from fundamentalist groups who believe you are violating a law or culture. You can get in bit of trouble.”
Young also said that it’s not just women with Middle Eastern backgrounds seeking the surgeries. There has also been an increase in the number of women requesting hymen repair from both the Orthodox Jewish and Christian fundamentalist communities, as well as from women of all nationalities who want the surgery as a sexual enhancement.
“Within the fundamentalist Christian population as well there has been an apparent recent movement towards ‘traditional family values’ and there is pressure put on women to be virgins,” Young said.
Even though the hymen can be broken in other ways or some women simply aren’t born with one, but okay. Those wacky fundamentalists and their ideas of virginity and sluthood.
Typical hymen repair surgery involves stitching the remnants of a torn hymen together and inserting a gelatin capsule that contains a blood-mimicking substance. After the hymen has been surgically repaired, a woman will bleed the fake blood the next time she has sexual intercourse. The surgery, which costs from $2,500 to $4,500, is performed on an outpatient basis. Healing can take from a few days to a few weeks.
Doctors Get Death Threats
The women who undergo the procedures are not the only ones who fear for their lives or well-being. A number of U.S. physicians who perform these surgeries have received death threats by some who identify themselves as Muslims.
The threats to the doctors shadow the greater danger faced by women who undergo the surgery. Many live in fear of violence or honor killing, a practice in which a woman is murdered by her family members for supposedly shaming or tarnishing the family name with “unchaste” behavior. The practice occurs in traditional communities around the world, including the United States and Europe.
A report on honor killings by the Los Angeles-based Muslim Women’s League says that while sexual relationships outside of marriage are prohibited, honor killings are not a part of Islam.
“The problem of ‘honor killings’ is not a problem of morality or of ensuring that women maintain their own personal virtue; rather, it is a problem of domination, power and hatred of women who, in these instances, are viewed as nothing more than servants to the family, both physically and symbolically,” the report said.
The Islamic law of chastity before marriage does not distinguish between men and women. But women are often uniformly singled out for punishment of sexual crimes.
As there usually is no “punishment” or “crime” when men engage in premarital sex or sex outside of marriage. We can relate to this.
Dr. Laila Al-Marayati, communications director for the Muslim Women’s League and a gynecologist, says that women seek hymen-repair surgeries to cope with cultural pressures and not to comply with Islamic law, which does not stipulate a need to check a woman’s virginity.
“While Islam requires that both men and women be chaste before marriage; it doesn’t require women to prove it,” she said. “The need for surgery is because of the culture in some countries. Those same cultures do not require a man to prove his chasteness.”
Fear of Reprisal
Many doctors interviewed who have heard about the threats or have been threatened themselves would only talk off the record to Women’s eNews for fear of reprisal. They did not want to advertise the fact that they perform the surgeries and said they like to keep a low profile on their work with hymen repair.
Dr. David Matlock, a Beverly Hills gynecologist, was an exception. Matlock, who pioneered laser vaginal rejuvenation, said he has been performing hymenoplasties on hundreds of women for over 21 years. Most, he said, were of Middle Eastern descent.
He said he recently received death threats in the mail and his office has received numerous calls from men, identifying themselves as Muslims, who threatened to kill him and his office workers if he did not stop performing hymen repair.
Southern California is home to a large number of people who have emigrated from Iran. Matlock noted that, while many of patients have lived in the U.S. for much of their lives, they still need to adhere to traditional practices and often undergo the surgery before looking for a husband.
More Cautious Now
Miklos says colleagues have told him about receiving threats and he has been warned by the women coming in for the procedure. In recent months, he says, he has become more cautious himself. He no longer advertises the procedure in local newspapers and he said most of his business comes from personal referral.
The fear these women and doctors face are very real, but sadly not surprising. The culprit is religious fundamentalism and the misogynist culture it creates. Though as the article mentioned, this is surgery and the demand for ‘the-hymen-proof-of-virginity’ is spreading into strict fundamentalist Christian communities here in the U.S., who are gaining more political and cultural influential power. The fear and possible violence and death these participants in this surgery face seem eerily similar to that of women’s clinics that perform abortions. The threats of violence and death are committed by zealous fundamentalists believing they are doing “God’s will” and pervert religious texts to justify their violence. But I suppose if women just “stop being sluts, stop using tampons, and stop engaging in any physical act that could break their hymen,” then all of this misogynist violence will just go away, right? And as I mentioned earlier we can relate to this inequity as we have yet to see real cultural and public shaming for men who come to the marriage bed unchaste or cause unintended pregnancies especially out-of-wedlock, in the same way women and girls endure all the time. The burden of sexual purity always lies heavily on women and girls and almost never on men and boys.