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LIKE A VIRGIN? THE PAIN AND POLITICS OF RESTITCHING YOUR HYMEN
It’s hard to believe that the hymen, a thin piece of mucosal tissue that partially covers the vaginal opening, has been getting so much airtime recently. It was only a few months ago that rapper T.I. made (unlikely) headlines when he revealed that he takes his 18-year-old daughter to the gynecologist every year to check if her hymen is intact. Earlier this year, the UK health secretary began an investigation into the “dreadful practice” of “virginity repair” surgery, following a report by the Sunday Times, which revealed that there’s at least 22 private clinics across the UK offering hymenoplasty procedures. In short: it’s 2020 and, somehow, men are still trying to control our bodies.
Despite years of research that disproves the myth surrounding the hymen – that it breaks after the first time you’ve had sex – it’s connotations of purity pertain. You can break your hymen horse-riding, or riding a bike, but the social constructs surrounding virginity seem dependent on it staying intact.
“In Muslim communities, women should be virgins when marrying their husbands. If it’s found that a woman has lost her virginity before marriage, the consequences can be dire,” says Halaleh Taheri, who heads the Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation, which supports women refugees or asylum seekers who have experienced gender discrimination and honour-related violence. “Even if a woman is not directly pressured by her family to undergo it, the beliefs that she has been indoctrinated with since childhood, the shame and dishonour that she will bring to her family if they find out she’s no longer a virgin is enough pressure to force herself to resort to this practice, whether she wants to or not.”