Artificial Virginity?

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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More articles in WMC FBomb by Tag: Sexuality, Television, Europe and Central Asia, Activism and advocacy



Julie Zeilinger
Founding Editor of The WMC FBomb
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