Awareness | Posted by Julie Z on 10/21/2009

Artificial Virginity?

Just another naked woman on the cover of a widely available magazine

Just another naked woman on the cover of a widely available magazine

In this nation so full of blatantly sexualized imagery, it’s hard not to feel numb when talking about sex. From the pretty graphic jokes that circulate through my high school (and, of this I’m sure, every other high school in America), to the nearly naked women routinely featured on widely available magazine covers, I haven’t been truly shocked by sex since I was pretty young.

In fact, virginity (or purity…what a truly terrible word) in this country is a burden. It’s something to get rid of. We are amazed when we hear that Tina Fey was still a virgin at the ancient age of 24, and wonder why people would ever in their right minds wait that long.

So, when I read an article describing how women in Turkey are paying as much as $2,000 to have their virginity restored in an operation called “hymenoplasty” I was pretty astounded.

The article reports that in Turkey, virginity is not only a respected quality, but a necessary quality for a woman to have. Losing one’s virginity before marriage (and by one, I mean members of the female gender) can mean “social alienation, forced marriage with an inappropriate match, physical abuse and even death in some cases.”

Yes, there are countries where women are still dying for having pre-marital sex. Y’know, the same thing that the same demographic in our Western nation is being overly encouraged to do. The same thing that American girls are being shamed for not doing, girls in Turkey are being ostracized for doing.

Even more upsetting to me is the fact that men who seem to posses modern views in many other ways, who are educated, still participate in shaming non-virgins. One Turkish psychologist, Dilek Ak?c? Tayanç, stated of male partners of women who had pre-marital sex, “No matter how much he may seem to hold modern views or how unaffected he may seem, in many instances men change their behavior toward their wives due to this (having had pre-marital sex) — they’re more distant, less trusting and display passive-aggressive behaviors.”

However, truly the most disturbing part about this practice to me was the type of response from women who are self-electing to have this surgery. As one patient, Ceyda, 24 years old, stated:

“I’m marrying into a modern family…I’m sure that [my fiancé] would stay with me if he knew I wasn’t a virgin…But my mother says…men will value you more if they think they are the only ones who have had you. A  fresh product is better than a spoiled one. So why not?…My husband should value me, and I don’t mind doing something this easy to make him happy; it takes only half an hour.”

So, even in instances where a woman’s life or well being isn’t in danger, when she is certain that her marriage or relationship isn’t even in danger, she thinks of herself as a “spoiled product” for having had sex, and elects to have surgery to make her “fresh.”

I’m not advocating promiscuity, but can I just say, having sex before you’re married doesn’t ruin you. It doesn’t make you a bad person. As long as you’re safe, as long as you’re smart, as long as you’re doing what’s right for you – sex isn’t an evil overpowering force that will destroy you. But that is my westernized mind speaking. I admit – it’s hard for me to get into any other mindset. The United States is not a patriarchy in the same way that countries like Turkey are, and though I definitely believe that there are cultural messages ingrained into the minds of young American girls, I doubt they are anything like those ingrained in the minds of Turkish girls.

So if my limited, Western perspective is not enough to convince you that hymenoplasty is just not a good idea, maybe the scientific side will get you. Tayanç states that:

“With the surgery an individual cements alienation from their body, and this can lead to increased denial and repression mechanisms; the result can be a decrease of introspection on the part of the individual, value-related issues, desensitization and even dissociation…[the patient] by yielding to the wishes of her spouse and society and viewing her own bodily integrity through someone else’s eyes to satisfy another person, at a result of which she is willing to go under the knife, becomes a psychologically self-destructing individual.”

Of course, it’s undeniable that in extreme situations, this procedure can actually save a woman from being physically, emotionally or socially abused, and even save her life. In that way – this surgery can not only be beneficial, but a blessing.

Bottom line: I really don’t think this procedure, hymenoplasty, as absurd and upsetting as it is to me personally, is the problem.  It’s the cultural beliefs that perpetuate women to want this procedure, that convinces them it’s a good idea – or more seriously the cultural practices that make it necessary, that are the problem.

Until we stop viewing women as useful only for their bodies, and therefore their virginity or purity, procedures like hymenoplasty will continue to exist. Sad, but true.

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  • Toongrrl @ at 12:56 pm, October 21st, 2009

    Why is virginity still important?

  • Maria D @ at 2:28 pm, October 21st, 2009

    @Toongrrl

    Ancient religious doctrine that states women are only valuable if they are virgins and untouched. If they’ve had intercourse with other men before their husband, it’s sinful and women bring shame upon the family as she is obviously a whore.

    Christianity has this too. It’s part of the argument the religious right has against abortions; those women shouldn’t be having sex anyway. But even within those communities there is a double standard where girls are pressured to have sex in their teens.

  • Helen H. @ at 2:49 pm, October 21st, 2009

    Well. This really has been getting at my nerves for a while. Here in Jordan things like that are still practiced, even valued.

    And yeah, toongrrl, like Maria’s said, it’s mostly pressure from religion, culture and tradition.

    I can also say quite confidently that in some less developed areas of Jordan (and Turkey, for that matter) there’s actually a sort of ceremony to make sure the girl’s a virgin. Basically, family wait outside while the newlyweds have intercourse, then the husband comes out with the ‘hopefully’ bloodied bed-sheet. *Shudder*.

  • Maria D @ at 3:11 pm, October 21st, 2009

    Which is even riskier since not all women bleed, even if they were virgins. If a girl is physically active, especially if that activity is horseback riding or if she rides a bicycle a lot, the hymen can get worn down or even break without any intercourse. Btw, this is why ladies used to have to ride side-saddle AND why there was such an aversion to women riding bicycles when they were first invented.

    Want something really horrifying related to womens sexual purity? research female circumcision. thank god some countries are finally outlawing it or making it the girls decision, not enforced.

  • Steph @ at 4:58 pm, October 21st, 2009

    If any of you guys haven’t read it, I just finished Jessica Valenti’s “The Purity Myth”, and it’s a really good read about just WHY we still value virginity, and just how insidious the virginity movement is.

    It’s really kind of amazing how much of our obsession with virginity is linked with the tired old ‘women as property’ shtick. If you’ve had sex before your (straight) marriage, it reflects badly on your husband – “damaged goods”. Your father, too, since you’re supposed to be HIS property until a nice young man comes along.

    Ugh. The whole thing makes me sick, especially since the system would just rather I didn’t exist, since it doesn’t know what else to do with me.

  • Alex Catgirl @ at 10:50 am, October 22nd, 2009

    @Helen H
    there’s actually a sort of ceremony to make sure the girl’s a virgin. Basically, family wait outside while the newlyweds have intercourse, then the husband comes out with the ‘hopefully’ bloodied bed-sheet. *Shudder*.

    The first time I heard about something like that was on a Comedy Central sketch, only the Comedian was Jewish, and such ceremonies were happening in NYC.

    Ohhh images of Beatrice Kiddo(a/k/a the Bride from the Kill Bill saga) keep dancing in my head.

    where she’s at the restaurant in Tokyo and slashes the arms off all the crazy 88s…Only I’d give them all bedsheets to stop the bleeding.

  • Toongrrl @ at 11:40 am, October 22nd, 2009

    Okay girls, I know why virginity is important to the Religious Right. What I said was: why is IT out of all things, still important?

  • Lucy @ at 1:14 pm, October 22nd, 2009

    You know what thoroughly amazes me more than anything else in this whole ‘virginity as value’ schtick? That – in this modern, technologicised culture of Turkey, which is a country member of the EU, full of qualified and highly trained doctors, therapists, scientists and experts of all kinds, just like in a ton of other countries where there are beliefs that virginity equates to ‘purity’ and the possession of a hymen, and even maybe a little here in the US, where beliefs about the ‘hymen’ still pervade – a single, tiny, and I’d say rather unreliable part of a woman’s physical anatomy, in this case her hymen (you know, a part which medically speaking, can be defined just like every other single bit of a woman’s body without any particular social meaning attatched to it; like ‘the appendix’ or ‘the ribcage’) and yet somehow it’s still held up as the absolute expression of a woman’s virginity! I mean, cooooome oooooooon, we KNOW this isn’t true. Any doctor could tell you about the notorious inability of the prescence or abscence of a hymen to define a woman’s ‘virginal’ status, yet the womens’ culture and even the women themselves seem to accept that their entire social status rests on this prescence of an ‘objective’ part of their bodies – like the prescence or abscence of an appendix. Waaaay to separate the whole “women as objects” /
    “‘purity’ [here dressed up as a hymen] totally = respect” debate, you guys! Doctrine like this, I find, also represents a serious lack of trust in all the women inside the ‘virginity culture. You’re seeing women here as all being or becoming potential “offenders”, as being universally untrustworthy and lying about their sexual history, and ultimately as being just that inferior to men – their whole seems to be able to be reduced down to that of an “object” -or at very least the presence or abscence of one. And it’s that issue – of women as objects, as women as being the ‘inferior’ party in a situation that’s meant to be based around mutual love and respect, of women as intransient conferrals of status on men – that I find so damn hard to grasp here. And THAT makes me so damn unhappy

  • Lucy @ at 1:16 pm, October 22nd, 2009

    You know what thoroughly amazes me more than anything else in this whole ‘virginity as value’ schtick? That – in this modern, technologicised culture of Turkey, which is a country member of the EU, full of qualified and highly trained doctors, therapists, scientists and experts of all kinds, just like in a ton of other countries where there are beliefs that virginity equates to ‘purity’ and the possession of a hymen, and even maybe a little here in the US, where beliefs about the ‘hymen’ still pervade – a single, tiny, and I’d say rather unreliable part of a woman’s physical anatomy, in this case her hymen (you know, a part which medically speaking, can be defined just like every other single bit of a woman’s body without any particular social meaning attatched to it; like ‘the appendix’ or ‘the ribcage’) can somehow it’s still held up as the absolute expression of a woman’s virginity! I mean, cooooome oooooooon, we KNOW this isn’t true. Any doctor could tell you about the notorious inability of the prescence or abscence of a hymen to define a woman’s ‘virginal’ status, yet the womens’ culture and even the women themselves seem to accept that their entire social status rests on this prescence of an ‘objective’ part of their bodies – like the prescence or abscence of an appendix.
    Waaaay to separate the whole “women as objects” /
    “‘purity’ [here dressed up as a hymen] totally = respect” debate, you guys!
    Doctrine like this, I find, also represents a serious lack of trust in all the women inside the ‘virginity culture. You’re seeing women here as all being or becoming potential “offenders”, as being universally untrustworthy and lying about their sexual history, and ultimately as being just that inferior to men – their whole seems to be able to be reduced down to that of an “object” -or at very least the presence or abscence of one. And it’s that issue – of women as objects, as women as being the ‘inferior’ party in a situation that’s meant to be based around mutual love and respect, of women as intransient conferrals of status on men – that I find so damn hard to grasp here. And THAT makes me so damn unhappy

  • KS @ at 3:20 pm, October 22nd, 2009

    Obsession with virginity really is disgusting… in some Southeast Asian countries, sex trafficking has a lot to do with virginity. Young girls -and I mean YOUNG- are kidnapped and the prices go up if they are virgin because many men in the region still believe in virginity’s “power of immortality.” What’s even worse is that brothels would be mutilate these young girls’ genitals to make them seem “virgin” (or “de-penetrated”) so they can re-sell their products. It’s really horrifying…

    Weddings have so many virginal impositions as well. The white dress… the grooms don’t have to wear white. Plus, the bride walks the aisle with her father who literally hands her over to the soon-to-be husband. And the bouquet for other single women in the room -the bouquet they would one day throw to other single women in a white dress of sinless purity.

    And don’t even get me started on the magazines. Patriotic sex kitten just says so much about this country…

    KS

  • Maria D @ at 4:54 pm, October 22nd, 2009

    On the flip side of the ‘virginity=purity=good’ perspective is the ‘modern girl’ thought that your virginity is something that you have of get rid of asap. Also, that being experienced is a sign of maturity and wisdom.

    During the 60′s, women rebelled and ‘gave away’ their virginity, expressing their disgust and displeasure at having so much value put on their virginity. I appreciate the sentiment. However, in the process, they just twisted it around. Now, sexual experience is valued among many women, and a woman who remains a virgin is often treated as more of child or put in some other condescending role.

    Personal story and minor bitching begins here. Feel free to stop reading. ;)

    Most of my female friends lost their virginity in their teens and all of them are sexually active now. I’m nearly 21 and I’m still a virgin. I CANNOT talk to them about sex or any of this stuff because, for those who do know, their first thoughts were ‘why aren’t you having sex?’ and ‘we must find you a guy now. or a girl. whichever works for you.” And always, ‘you must loose this dreadful thing so that you may become a REAL woman.” What, like Pinocchio? do I only have a toy uterus now, to be replaced in a magical uterus ceremony after I have sex?

    The idea that I don’t like any of the guys I now enough to want them to touch me that way is irrelevant. Just pick a guy, any guy. Get it over with so that you may join the ranks of womandom.

    The ironic part? Before they knew I was a virgin, I was considered the most mature, worldly, and levelheaded girl they knew and the one most of them went to for advice or a shoulder to cry on. Now I’m a child because I lack ONE human experience. Blarg.

  • wandering soul @ at 10:52 am, October 24th, 2009

    i think virginity of both gender should be imposed!!!! we should not have sex before any marriage! divorced should be crossout. marriage should should be bonded until death.

  • Para las lectoras. XXVI « El Rincón del Ornitorrinco @ at 2:17 pm, October 24th, 2009

    [...] noticias menos alentadoras, en Turquía la práctica de la cirugía de himenoplastía o reconstrucción del himen para “recupe…. Y lo que es peor es que en algunos casos puede salvar la vida de las mujeres que la llevan a cabo. [...]

  • Kath @ at 9:25 pm, October 24th, 2009

    I’ve had pretty much the same experience as Maria D., and it was equally as frustrating. I waited until I was 18 to have sex and I was treated like some kind of freak for not wanting to have sex with my boyfriend of 2 years (I never had intercourse with him, and that’s fine with me!). I didn’t understand the big deal! I just didn’t wanna risk getting pregnant and I think that’s a perfectly good reason not to have sex (for me, not for everyone of course).
    Now that I’m no longer a minor and I’m more comfortable with my sexuality/reproductive choices, I have sex. And nothing fundamentally changed for me. The floodgates didn’t open. I didn’t suddenly emit some mature, womanly aura.
    I practically expected someone to shake my hand and say “welcome to The Club.” :P

    Another thing that irks me is that hetero sex is considered THE sex that “de-virginizes” you, yet masturbation is just as valid a sexual experience as intercourse. Therefore, I could consider myself no longer a virgin from the time I started exploring my sexuality on my own.

  • Maggie @ at 8:42 pm, October 28th, 2009

    I trust these woman to know what is right for them and their bodies. There is nothing I find more distasteful than a western feminist telling women from other countries what to do when we obviously don’t understand. We can’t have a women’s rights movement for them.

  • 866 Toll @ at 12:11 am, November 28th, 2009

    In most cases I don?t post on blogs, but I would like to mention that this post really forced me to do so. Really nice post!

  • Anonymous @ at 12:04 am, September 18th, 2010

    Though we’re 14 or 15, some of my friends still haven’t even begun menstruating, so our version of “becoming a woman” is a bit different.
    I think that the sex trafficking of young girls is perverted and awful. I can’t even imagine that happening to me.

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