Barefoot: Hymenplasty and the obsession with virginity

Abigail Barefoot

Do you regret giving away your “special gift” of virginity to that boy who refused to call you back again? Do you wish you could go through the pain of your hymen tearing again for your wedding night? Well for $6,000 you can!

There is a new procedure in which the fragments of the broken hymen are made raw again using a laser, which cuts and cauterizes simultaneously. Then the fragments are pulled together and stitched, leaving only the small vaginal opening associated with virginity.

Women are going through this painful surgery, paying thousands of dollars only to have more pain and be deflowered in a matter of minutes. Seems like a waste of money and a bad idea to me.

While this is a relatively new procedure, some of the known side effects of having plastic surgery on your vagina can involve trouble reaching an orgasm and painful scarring or nerve damage that could result in loss of sensation or hypersensitivity, according to Vaginismus Awareness Network.

Considering sex is all about pleasure (or babies, depending who you ask), it would suck to not enjoy sex, especially if you went through the pain to be a virgin again.

But this surgery makes me wonder, what is virginity and why is it a big deal to lose it? Sure there is the obvious answer of virginity is never having sex, but let’s break it down.

Since when is virginity just about hymens? What happened to genital contact equals sex? Is it not sex if a guy doesn’t break it? What about the emotions and mentality of sex? You can’t just forget you had sex just because you’re stitched up, you will always know.

What about the fact that hymens can break from bike riding, tampon use or exercising? Are we not virgins if we use tampons and it breaks?

In one survey only 43 percent of women reported bleeding the first time they had sex; which means that in the other 57 percent of women the hymen stretched enough that it didn’t tear. So roughly half the people who were “virgins” didn’t meet the breaking the hymen requirement, so were they really virgins to begin with?

Then we have the issue of oral and anal sex, and if it counts as losing your virginity. It seems that people everywhere seem to disagree on if you are a virgin if you go down on someone. The meaning of virginity varies from person to person. Some argue if you can get as STI from it, then it is sex, others say penetration is sex, everything else is just foreplay. But if sex is penetration of a vagina, where does that leave lesbians and homosexuals?

Why are we so obsessed with virginity, and why is there such an urge to undo what has already been done?

I think the answer lies in how we treat virginity and the act of losing it. While I agree completely that having sex for the first time shouldn’t be a decision to take lightly, I think it is taken to an extreme to the point where you are a bad person if you do the deed outside of marriage. If you have sex, you are considered dirty, loose and have low morals. This may seem outdated, but it still rings true today.

Take the language for example. Virginity is a “precious gift” and we use words like “deflowering” or “popping the cherry” to refer to having sex for the first time. I like to believe I am more than the status of my v-card, and I have more precious gifts than what is in between my legs. If the most important thing I can give a man is my virginity and he cares that much about my sexual past because I could be “damaged goods,” I don’t want him.

Terms like deflowering make it seem like we are losing something, becoming broken and will never be complete again, even though sex is a natural part of life. I am not damaged if I had sex, and I refuse to believe people magically change the first time they have sex.

On the other side, if you don’t have sex you are “pure” regardless of how much of a jerk you might be in other parts of your character. Of course if you do have sex with your partner after marriage, this “pure” idea vanishes. Even today people seem to take you as a good girl if you are virgin and a bad girl if you have sex.

Then there is how we teach about sex in school. Take these common use analogies used in sex class. You have a classmate stick a piece of tape on their skin and rip it off and show the class the tape filled with hairs and skin particles. The teacher says that is what you are like after sex. You are a dirty, unsticky piece of tape and can never go back to being the clean piece of tape.

Then there is the lollipop example given in the wonderful book the “Purity Myth.” You unwrap a sucker and suck on it until it is gone, you then see the slimy, gross stick and say this: if you lose your virginity this is what is left. You are now empty.

Chewed up Cheetos, a half-eaten sucker and a piece of used tape, all these images show that sex is a dirty, unclean thing to scare teens away from sex, as well as reinforce that who you are is based on your sex life.

Of course this goes into the abstinence movement, the most popular form of sexual education; with funding increased from $73 million a year in 2001 to $204 million in 2008. Even though we know it has been proven that it is less successful than safe-sex education. But that is an article for another time.

We are taught to abstain until marriage, because of the risks and the religious view that it is wrong. Yet after marriage all the bad things we learned about sex being dirty are supposed to magically disappear and you will become a sex goddess on your wedding night.

Now I understand that there is a health standpoint too when it comes to sex being dirty. If you have sex there is a possibility that you could get pregnant or an STI, but we have advanced in our civilization where we have condoms that are 97 percent effective against pregnancy. Condom’s effectiveness against STIs depends on the type of condom and infection [clarification added]. I think there is a low risk of being dirty with an STI as long as you’re careful and get check ups with your doctor. Sex can be safe and clean.

And this virginity ideal is stretched to other aspects of life. Why is it that when a rape victim is cross-examined in trial, her past sex life is brought into play? If she is a virgin the rape is a horrible crime, if she isn’t then she was asking for it, or that is the angle used. 

Also coming into play is HPV vaccinations and giving out condoms at schools, which some people wrongly think will make teens more sexually active. Rather than give teens the tools to be safe where they might not get them anywhere else, some schools would rather believe if they push purity down student’s throats, they won’t have sex.

It keeps women from owning their bodies and embracing sexuality, because the world around them is telling them no. Sex is bad, while at the same time, throwing hyper-sexualized images from the media of scantily-clad models and Playboy bunnies and being told that is what guys want.

Is it no wonder that these women are trying to get there hymens stitched up? With all the cultural and religious resentment toward sex, women can feel pressured by society to fit the virgin role, even if they thought their decision was the right one. What we need is a more open attitude about sex, and less of a focus on virginity.

If losing your virginity was a bad move in your mind, why not just make the statement that you are a born-again virgin, and leave it at that. No need to get all technical about it.

Losing your virginity doesn’t make you a man or a woman, it’s a part of life. Should we really be judgmental of people trying on the pants before they buy them?