Sex Ed

Can A Woman Be “Revirginized” Through Surgery?

March 12, 2012 by Justin Lehmiller

The hymen is a membrane that partially covers the vaginal opening and is thought be break during a woman’s first attempt at intercourse. An intact hymen is therefore often presumed to indicate virginity. Given that it may be possible to physically detect virginity status by noting the presence or absence of the hymen, this small piece of tissue has come to take on great social meaning in some parts of the world.

In fact, in some African and Middle Eastern cultures, a woman may be considered unmarriageable if her hymen is not intact, even if it was broken through non-sexual activity or as a result of rape. Because there is such great social pressure for these women to demonstrate virginity on their wedding night, “revirginization” surgery has become an increasingly popular medical procedure in some parts of the world. So how does it work, and are women satisfied with the outcomes?

Revirginization surgery is generally performed on an outpatient basis and typically involves suturing the remains of the original hymen or constructing a new hymen out of other vaginal tissue. In some cases, a gelatin capsule containing fake blood is inserted so that an artificial bleed is produced at her next intercourse. Inclusion of this capsule if often performed because, in some cultures, the bride is expected to publicly show a blood-stained sheet after her wedding night to confirm her loss of virginity [1].

Very little research has examined revirginization surgery, probably because this procedure is typically illegal in the countries where women are most likely to seek it. Thus, women often have to find an underground doctor or travel abroad for the surgery. I was only able to find one study that followed-up with patients who had undergone revirginization. All patients received surgery in the Netherlands and everyone the researchers tracked reported that the outcome was satisfactory and they did not regret it [2].

Some doctors believe revirginization surgery creates an ethical dilemma for them [3]. For instance, some have questioned whether it is appropriate for a doctor to help deceive a women’s husband, family, and community. Others have wondered whether doctors should perform a procedure on a patient that is illegal in their home country.

On the other hand, some have argued that doctors may be doing more harm than good by not performing the procedure because it is possible that these woman may be physically harmed or killed if it is discovered her hymen is not intact (e.g., she may be subject to a “cleansing” or “honor” killing). Also, not all cases of revirginization pose an ethical dilemma around deception because the hymen can be broken through non-sexual activities, as well as through rape and sexual assault.

On a side note, I’ve read about women in other cultures who have pursued revirginization for a variety of other reasons, most commonly because they wish to relive the experience of losing their virginity. Some women’s first sexual experiences occurred long ago with partners they regretted sleeping with. Thus, they may wish to symbolically recreate their first time with someone they care more about.

Regardless of the reason for pursuing this surgery, revirginization does not carry any true medical benefits (and, as with any surgical procedure, there are risks) nor can it erase one’s sexual history; however, some women opt to undergo it because they see it as serving social and psychological functions.

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[1] Roberts, H. (2006). Reconstructing virginity in Guatemala. The Lancet, 367, 1227-1228. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(06)68522-X

[2] Logmans, A., Verhoeff, A., Raap, R. B., Creighton, F., & van Lent, M. (1998). Should doctors reconstruct the vaginal introitus of adolescent girls to mimic the virginal state? British Medical Journal, 316, 459-460.

[3] Cook, R. J., & Dickens, B. M. (2006). Hymen reconstruction: Ethical and legal issues. International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 107, 266-269. doi: 10.1016/j.ijgo.2009.07.032

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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