Our obsession with hymens must end

Monday 3 June 201902:20 pm
My aunt Laila went to her husband's house 35 years ago without knowing anything about sex. She thought that she would simply enter her house, take off her beautiful white wedding dress alone, put on the beautiful bridal nightgown, and then sleep beside her husband who would only embrace her and kiss her.

Because she lived with a strict mother who monitored her closely, she never had the opportunity to live like the other girls, nor did her mother have the courage to tell her about sex. She sent her 16-year-old daughter to her new husband, letting it all come as a surprise to her daughter, much as she had been surprised on her own wedding night.

Fortunately for my aunt Laila, her husband Nabil was nice and kind to the innocent child before him, but the first time he penetrated her she did not bleed on the sheet, which made him suspicious.

My aunt Laila did not understand her husband's questions. She did not know the meaning of virginity, nor why she did not bleed. She simply cried.

He saw a child before him and was almost sure of her innocence, but how could he make sure of her innocence without hurting her? How can he reassure his heart that he did not marry a girl who had had a man before him? Or had been raped? How to face his family and his mother, all waiting for him to wave the bloody sheet and show off in front of the neighbors?

Cribriform hymen

Laila returned to her mother and told her what happened in tears. Only then did my grandmother tell her that she had probably inherited a cribriform hymen, and that she also faced the same crisis, So she looked for a phone (they were not common in their city) and called the husband and asked him to accompany them to the doctor.

The doctor told him that there are several kinds of hymen and that his wife has a cribriform hymen that does not lead to bleeding when it breaks, and that she is definitely a virgin. This eased his mind and he returned home with his wife who had to endure her mother-in law’s scathing comments and skepticism about “this medical lie.”

Lunar, Septate , imperforate

My mother had the same problem, but with a different kind of hymen. She was older than my aunt Laila. She had heard from her school friends about sex and the steamy night of newly-wed couples, which had terrorized and piqued her interest at the same time.

When her husband made love to her the first time, she also didn’t bleed. Fortunately, my father knew about the different types of hymen, and he was sure of her virginity, but she did not want to hear a word from him in the future or to face the looks of his family as had happened with her sister. They went together to a gynecologist who told her she had an imperforate hymen and would only break with childbirth.

Lunar, imperforate, septate, cribriform – all these kinds of hymen were unheard of by the majority of the inhabitants of the city where my mother was born. They did not know and did not want to know anything, save about the hymen which breaks and bleeds after penetration, which results in injustice against girls with unusual hymens.

Certainly, today the situation has changed and the majority of married women know in advance what will happen. There are only a few, like my aunt Laila, who enter marriage not knowing anything about sex. But it's also certain that most people to this day don’t know about the different kinds of hymen and that knowledge is reserved for those who want to learn about it.

But in conservative or even illiterate societies there is no information about this subject and women know very little about their bodies, and many spend lifetimes with husbands who have no idea how to give them sexual pleasure or orgasms.

Repairing the hymen

Today there are solutions that allow the reconstruction of “virginity”, which in a way are worse and more insulting than examining women’s bodies to check for virginity. There are widespread hymenoplasty surgeries, or the use of fake plastic hymens produced in China on the wedding night to fool sexually inexperienced husbands.

I was with my girlfriend in Damascus several years ago when she was looking for a doctor who would provide her with a secret abortion. She had suffered a little until she found a doctor who could perform the surgery soon, because the majority of doctors performing this type of operation informally are booked for months, because in this country most men want to have sex before marriage, and then want a virgin girl to marry them.

As a result, there is no solution for women except this type of operation. Of course, there are exceptions, especially if the girl is strong and knows what to do and how to defend herself against this regressive thinking.

“I will only marry a virgin”

In 2014, an NGO organized a workshop in Damascus in a hotel and claimed a staggering number of marital infidelities in Syria. The rate was 80%, the NGO claimed.

Regardless of the figure and whether it is true or exaggerated and the methodology they used to gather the numbers, in a country whose statistics authority is afraid to spread information to the public, these issues are common knowledge – sexual repression and pressure on women, the contradictions they suffer because of their natural human desires, and social hypocrisy of men who want to have sex with them, but at the same time only want to marry virgins, have led to the current state of affairs.

Add to this rampant poverty, marital disputes and other reasons which lead to marital infidelity, and this leads women to reconstruct their hymens so they can become “virgin” and “unused” in the eyes of society.

The responsibility for this situation can be laid at the door of those who starved people of knowledge, those who spread ignorance and misinformation so honor came to rest in a woman’s womb. And now it is the responsibility of the religious authorities and feminist organizations to focus on these issues and spread awareness about them.

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