Keeping a hymen intact to avoid being labeled a “whore”

Reading time 5 min.
Hymen is a small, thin piece of tissue at the opening of the vagina

Certain muslims weigh a woman’s integrity by virtue of their virginity, thereby, prompting those who may have succumbed to carnal pleasures to find ways of bleeding artificially during their wedding night, thus, giving the impression that their hymen have remained intact. Others opt for sexual lifestyles that preserve the membrane.

“In fact, the biggest mistake i made was not telling him right from the onset. There was, however, a risk involved due to his closeness to my family. My reputation would have taken a downturn if he ever let the cat out of the bag”, says Lamina*, a 19 year old Moroccan living in Paris. “Being taken for a whore”, evokes obsessive fear among many women, mostly muslim, who lost their virginities in an abusive encounter or with another man other than their boyfriends or future husbands.

A crime of honour to cover the shame

Sandwiched between tradition and their european culture, these young women – mostly north africans – feel guilty for giving way to sexual pleasures while they doubt a bright future. This is because their future husbands may be seeking virgins to marry, even if they themselves are experienced sexually. In the final analysis, those who are deflowered live with a sharpened sword of damocles hung right above their heads. They would hate disappointing their families as well as their in-laws nor would they like provoking a scandal.

Others strive to prevent the worst from happening. “It is so anguishing. Some girls are disowned by their families or even shot by brothers upon their return home, to their countries. Others come asking for help because they may have heard of a sister or cousin who might have undergone this predicament” explains Dr. Stéphane Saint-Léger, who works at the Robert Ballanger hospital located in the Parisian surburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois.

Surprisingly, islam does not provide any historical reference about a hymen staying intact, nor bleeding nor an unbroken hymen to prove one’s virginity nor does it give anyone the right to scrutinise someone’s body to verify their virginity.” States the league of french muslim women’s site. In real life, however, things happen differently ; the backward practice of stained bedsheets on wedding nights still remains unperturbed. There are even places where matrons have the right to slip their hands into the brides private parts to check for blood …

Brief penetrations and sodomy

These customs are not just, in that, not all females bleed when penetrated for the first time. There are in fact the so called “complacent” hymen, they are large and do not give in to pressure exerted by the penis. “it was well known in north africa. In Egypte, doctors were called upon to check virginity” said a gynaecologist who asked for anonymity. Families aware of these differences in anatomies ask for virginity checks from doctors on the D day.

It seems though that the vivacity of the myth surrounding the membrane about profuse bleeding remains uncontested. This has led certain women to strive against all odds to “keep themselves”. “there is such anguish, anxiety and obsessive fear, that they only allow short penetrations so as to keep their hymen intact. Others have admitted resorting to sodomy” comments François Mulet, a general practioner from Angers who specialises in birth control (gynaecological follow ups, volontary abortions, family planning…)

Talking could result in a break-up

Others conceal their sexual past from their partners. Those that have braved spilling the beans to their partners have bitterly regretted. “ i have girlfriends between 20 and 22 years old who have experienced break ups when the truth was told, whilst those that have not broken up have seen better days”, continued Lamia.

The fear of discovery throw women into abysmal hopelessness. This leads them into finding alternative means of proving an intact hymen before marriage – sometimes arranged or forced. In some cases, with the help of their boyfriends, future husbands or even mothers, they obtain certificates of virginity. This option is an escape route from the checks of local gynaecologists in their countries, particularly for those who study in Europe.

Hymenoplasty and a Virginity Certificate

In 2003, the vice-president of the national council of medical order (France) explained on the organisation’s site that “pratitioners must refuse this type of operation and the issue of virginity certificates if the reason behind it is of a religious nature”. Dr Jean Pouillard underlined “that responding to such requests constituted an infringement on the dignity of the young woman, often underage, who is forced by her entourage to subject herself to such ordeals”. However, doctors continue the issue of such certificates on ‘humanitarian’ grounds. “for the sake of the code of ethics governing the medical profession, i do not say that the girl isn’t a virgin, but then there is also no element to prove the contrary”, says Dr. François Mulet.

Another subterfuge : reparing the hymen, or hymenoplasty. This surgical operation consists of an artificial reconstruction of the membrane to provoke bleeding for the required ‘first’ penetration. Just like the certificate of virginity, this rather expensive practice divides the medical body. Lamia, our young Moroccan woman, did not think it over. According to her, “the need for this operation is unquestionable”, as her family prepares to celebrate her engagement in great pomp, knowing that her boyfriend would snub her should he learn the gospel truth.

*Lamia’s name has been changed.

Virginity  A woman's virginity is one subject that holds a very high place in most African cultures. Among other repercussions for the loss of virginity before marriage are, social rejection, excommunication from family, a bleak future... Faced with this dilemma, it is quite obvious that the subject of virginity is very delicate. Afrik-News explores the arguments of those who oppose this tradition as well as the peculiar world of virgins, ex-non-virgins and non-virgins to better understand the reasons for their drive for hymen repair.
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