Hymen reconstruction doesn't work

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

How do you prove the blushing bride is a virgin on her wedding day? Look for blood on the sheets the morning after. At least that’s the case in some Islamic and Hindu communities - an intact hymen is ultimate proof of pre-marital virginity. The need to be seen as a virgin compels some young women to go through hymen reconstruction. But new Dutch research shows that hymenoplasty doesn't cause the desired bleeding during nuptial night intercourse. According to the researchers, it's better to educate and empower women on the topic.

One of the researchers involved in the study is psychologist-sexologist Bianca van Moorst at Sint Lucas Andreas Hospital in Amsterdam. “My colleague from the Amsterdam Medical Centre and I were both amazed by the way that requests for hymen reconstruction surgery were handled,” says Ms van Moorst.

“Some gynaecologists say: ‘No problem, we’ll perform the operation.’ While others say: ‘No, that’s unethical and contributes to the oppression of women.’ Moreover, nobody was even certain whether hymen reconstruction actually works. That’s why we set up the study.”

The study
Nearly 90 women were followed over a two-year period at two different hospitals in the Netherlands. The women were closely monitored and supported through the decision-making surrounding hymenoplasty. The researchers offered education and counselling in an effort to banish a number of myths surrounding virginity.

“People believe that women should bleed on their wedding night, but, in truth, only about half of women bleed when they lose their virginity.”

Cast out
After extensive conversations with the gynaecologist-sexologist, about half the women decided not to proceed with hymen reconstruction. According to Ms van Moorst, those who ultimately decided to have hymenoplasty were motivated by emotions. “They then felt as though they had done everything possible to restore virginity.”

A woman seen in the RNW video below this article tells why women sometimes have no other option. According to Karima:

“In my culture, you can’t tell your parents or your family that you lost your virginity before you got married. My mother could not live with that. I would bring shame on my family and I'd be cast out.”

No blood
Ms van Moorst asked the women who chose to have the surgery if it brought the desired bleeding. “Our research revealed that the reconstructions don’t work,” she says. “It was very remarkable, and I'm glad because it this is yet another reason to advise women not to have the operation.”

Further education seems to be a better option than surgery.
“It’s now policy at my hospital to send those requesting hymenoplasty to a psychologist-sexologist first. We have more or less required women to look at their own vaginas during a gynaecological exam. That was an extraordinary step; you can educate women with pictures, but they have a preconceived notion about what their own vagina looks. One by one, they said: ‘Wow, it’s so small, I can’t even see the hole.' It was very enriching for the women.”

Buying virginity online
But between education and surgery, there’s a gamut of alternatives for a restaged virginity. In the video, gynaecologist Ineke van Seumeren talks about a pill that imitates the bleeding caused by a ruptured hymen. Websites sell plastic membranes that produce red fluid when touched. Yet the safety of most of these products is unknown. “Education is thus the best way forward,” says Ms van Moorst.

Karima finally chose to have the surgery. As she put it:
“I had my hymen repaired so I could get married. Everyone would think that I was still a virgin and I could just get on with my life. Life looks really good right now. I have a really sweet husband… we’re very happy together. But the operation is a secret that I’ll always carry with me."