Today, I give you a unique perspective on virginity. This is an edited version of a news story that was first published in the Wall Street Journal.
U.S. women seek a second first time with hymen surgery
Thursday, December 15, 2005
By Amy Chozick, The Wall Street Journal
For her 17th wedding anniversary, Jeanette Yarborough wanted to do something special for her husband. In addition to planning a hotel getaway for the weekend, Ms. Yarborough paid a surgeon $5,000 to reattach her hymen, making her appear to be a virgin again.
"It's the ultimate gift for the man who has everything," says Ms. Yarborough, 40 years old, a medical assistant from San Antonio.
Hymenoplasty, a controversial medical procedure known mostly for its prevalence in the Middle East and Latin America, is becoming popular in the U.S. Although there are no hard data, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons says vaginal surgery, including hymenoplasty, is one of the industry's fastest-growing segments. Gynecologists are marketing hymenoplasty in magazines, local newspapers and online. They report business is booming.
Restoring innocence this way has sparked criticism. Religious groups that value abstinence until marriage say hymen repair is a deception. Some feminists liken hymenoplasty to female genital mutilation. In addition, hymen repair, unlike other types of reconstructive surgery, isn't taught in medical residencies. Some medical associations worry that surgeons might be improperly trained.
"Revirgination" costs as little as $1,800 at Ridgewood Health and Beauty Center, a spa and cosmetic-surgery center in the New York City borough of Queens. To promote the procedure, the center's owner, Cuban-born Esmeralda Vanegas, has given away hymenoplasties on a Spanish-language radio station. She also promotes them in her eponymous magazine, Esmeralda.
Ms. Vanegas says many of her patients risk disgracing their families if they're not virgins on their wedding night. Many are Latin American immigrants. "Losing your virginity is like losing a member of your family," Ms. Vanegas says. "We can make it seem like nothing ever happened."
Named after Hymen, the Greek god of marriage, the vaginal membrane has since primitive times been a marker of virginity, even though it can be ruptured by nonsexual activity, such as athletics. At one time, a bride's intact hymen was considered the only way to be certain about the paternity of any ensuing children. A small number of traditional cultures still require brides' hymens to be examined.
Thomas G. Stovall, a recent president of the Society of Gynecologic Surgeons, a top professional body, says "hymen repair is a totally bogus procedure." In general, he says, surgery marketed to improve one's sex life rarely works. As for hymen replacement, "most importantly, it doesn't make you a virgin again."
Ridgewood's Ms. Vanegas concedes her business is based on deception. But she says hymen repair is no different than other cosmetic procedures -- from waxing to Botox injections -- that women use to impress men.
"I'm a feminist," Ms. Vanegas says, "but there's a need for this and someone has to provide it."