- Sexuality - Culture
Virginity begins at the tip of the doctor’s scalpel
Young women in France resorting to hymen repair
The majority of women who seek hymen repair in France live in constant fear that the absence of blood on the wedding night risks betraying their sexual history. The operation, which has seen an increase in demand, sometimes costs several thousands of euros. Although it is described as a shameful "business", by some practitioners who opt for cheaper alternatives, to young women who resort to hymenoplasty, it is a life saver.
"I am Algerian. I am 27 years old and I’m in deep deep trouble, just like you. I am also looking for a place to get a hymenoplasty (hymen repair)… my very life depends on it. For me it’s a matter of life and death. But I do not know if this kind of surgery is done here in Algeria. I am hoping to find someone who can help me or just tell me where to go for help.” This appeal for help is one of many messages that can be found on various Internet forums, where petrified Muslim women turn to for information, from those who have gone through the same predicament, as their wedding day approaches.
Hymen to bleed on cue
"The operation is quite simple”, indicates a hymenoplastic site Chirugie Intime.info (intimate surgery). One of the most natural techniques is the use the hymen’s residue by making an incision in the median and joining them together. The operation lasts a half hour under local anaesthesia with sedation. "The repair may take a few days to several weeks, depending on the process and the type of thread used. But above all, it must provoke bleeding during the wedding night – despite the fact that it has been proven that not all hymens bleed during the first penetration.
Only a few decades ago, some European religions insisted on an unbroken hymen before marriage. "I have been working for thirty years now. When I first began, the pride of the first generation of immigrant Portuguese and Spanish Catholic families depended to a high extent on the virginity of girls. Girls at the time expressed the same anxiety concerning virginity like North African and Gypsy women of today," declares Emmanuelle Piet, a doctor who specialises on issues of violence against women, she is also the chairperson of the organisation Feminist Collective against Rape.
A big difference in price
Today, mostly north African women or women of north African descent, from all backgrounds and in general under the age of 30 years, make up the single largest population to seek hymen repair. The operation is available in certain hospitals and clinics that specialise in cosmetic surgery. But the National College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in France does not condone the practice and many experts believe that it is "an affront to the dignity of women." Demand, however, has gone through the roof.
Dr. Stéphane Saint-Léger, who practices the surgery in a Parisian suburb agrees that there is a considerable “increase” in demand, albeit a small number. “It is not done every day”, he says. But Dr. Mark Abecassis, a plastic surgeon in central Paris, operates on more women than his colleagues from specialist hospitals. "Only five years ago, there were about four or five operations per year. Today, there are three and sometimes more per week," says the specialist.
The price difference between public and private institutions is enormous. "I consider it as a vulva surgery, to enable the patient file a claim from either their national or health insurance," a gynaecologist tells Afrik-news.com. According to Dr. Abecassis the operation can cost as much as "2 500 euros, all charges included”.
Money is not an issue
2 500 euros, is a huge sum of money, but when one is gripped by fear, it does not matter. Tamia * is well aware of that. This month, she gets married to her boyfriend, who is not a virgin but does not know she is also not a virgin. She does not intend to change that. "I once asked him what he thought about girls getting the operation to start marriage life on a proper footing with their partners. He said no, and that the were sluts," she says, enraged yet unable to do anything about the injustice for fear of confirming his suspicions, causing a family scandal and being “called a whore”
Following a friend’s advice, Tamia decided to have her hymen repaired at Dr Abécassis’ Clinique du Rond-Point des Champs-Elysées in Paris. "I saved 1 700 euros baby-sitting for two years, but I had to borrow the remaining 800 from a girlfriend. Financially, it was a hassle!" says a regretful Tamia. Particularly after she "found out that some doctors in Nice, in the French Riviera, operated for only 300 euros", about 8 times less than what she paid. She, however, acknowledged that the Clinic had a professional team that made sure her presence “over there was closely guarded so as not to meet anyone” she knew. Priceless.
A lucrative business
Her relief was however short lived. "I was worried because a week after the operation I lost a thread. I thought it had failed! Because if that were the case, I would have wasted all my money with no hopes for a refund! It is not fair!" Tamia points out with concern. Embittered, she adds: "It’s a lucrative business. It is the surgeon who walks away with the jackpot because the girl is too desperate to wait or compare prices”. It must be noted that some gynaecologists strongly disagree with this way of doing business.
They argue that there are other, much cheaper, ways to help these women: like the use of a raw chicken liver or an ampoule containing a mixture of chicken blood and anti-coagulant. The boyfriend may be involved in the subterfuge – after all, most men accompany their fiancées for hymenoplasty - to support his soon-to-be wife, with whom he may already have had sex or who’s sexual past is not much of a deal. Should these examples not help, he could still become part of the hype: some believe that the stress of the wedding night is such that the young man only sees trouble. Tamia is doing her very level best, but she is still doubtfull her operation would succeed. “I thought I would feel better after the operation, but I am now in an even worse shape than before”
* Her name has been changed