Sunday, March 05, 2006

Lost your virginity? Find it again!

I've been hearing a lot about this article on the feminist grapevine recently: apparently, it's now all the rage for women to get hymen surgery so they can "lose their virginity" all over again.

Hymenoplasty is not licensed by any official plastic surgery or gynaecological association, it is not officially taught and it is so new and on the fringe that there are only anecdotal statistics. All the operations are done privately and paid for in full by the individual.
None of which bothers Jeanette Yarborough, who decided to have her hymen reconstructed in a combination operation with vaginal “rejuvenation” tightening. She looks adoringly at her husband, Louis, as she says: “What an awesome gift to give the man in my life who deserves everything. It was the most amazing thing I could give him as a woman,” she says.

Where do you start with what's wrong with this?

First of all, there's the assumption that all virgins have a hymen, in which case, I lost my virginity when I was nine, when my hymen broke bloodily and alarmingly all over my Rainbow Brite knickers after an energetic bike ride. (Damn, I was mad - they were my best pair.) I'd be amazed if most women still had a hymen by the time they got to their first partnered sexual activity. I mean, it's a teeny itty bitty little piece of skin, and if you've ever ridden a bicycle or a horse, fallen on a fence post (v. painful - I don't recommend it), inserted a tampon, or (gasp!) masturbated penetratively, chances are you don't have one. I'm sure most women have done one or some or all of these things prior to their first partnered sexual experiences, so there's got to be a lot of hymenless virgins out there.

Secondly, there's the assumption that there's only one way to "lose your virginity" is to have PIV sex, which smacks of heterosexual privilege to me. Since when was a woman's sexuality All.About.A.Penis.?

Now, are we supposed to be grateful that plastic surgeons have thoughtfully, paternalistically come up with an operation for a) reconstructing what's been broken by non-sexual activity, to conform to an absurd stereotype, b) reconstructing what's been broken by sexual activity, because women who have sex before marriage are evil sluts, or c) reconstructing what's been broken by whatever means because of some ridiculous, nauseating fetishization of "virginity" by people who have more money than they know what to do with? Are we supposed to buy into the idea that women's sexuality is so dirty and so yucky that their first experience of intercourse has to be painful and bloody, otherwise they're not doing it properly? Are we supposed to thank these ever-helpful surgeons for giving women who face persecution for not being virgins a chance to avoid this persecution? ("Oh, great, thanks so much for that, now we don't have to face the tiresome bother of overhauling society's ridiculous, hypocritical double standards re: women's sexuality.")

Now that surgeons have come up with ways to "improve" virtually every part of a woman's body (facelifts, breast implants, liposuction, cosmetic dentistry, gastric bypasses, etc), the last frontier, made possible by porn-saturated Western culture, seems to be trying to give them "better" vaginas. They can have those nasty protuding labia trimmed. They can have their vaginas sewn up tighter to accommodate that all-important, magical penis (because apparently PIV intercourse is the only valid form of sex for some folks). And now!!! Oh joy!!!! you can have your hymen back, so you can have the fun!fun!fun! of pain and bleeding, just like the trauma of your first time. And it'll only set you back £2,860!

I should probably mention that I'm not particularly dismayed at the thought of women undergoing procedures that genuinely improve their self-confidence and their comfort in their own skin. But to have one that will deliberately cause pain???!! Where is the joy, the mutual pleasure, the reciprocal love and intimacy and tenderness that I thought sex was supposed to be all about? Is it just me being a soft, sentimental, sandal-wearing, granola-munching Guardian reader, or is this trend a terrible, terrible pity? Shouldn't sex be a wonderful, beautiful thing that's pleasurable for both partners? Is this just another symptom of our absurdly sexualized culture, where women's sexual pleasure is expedient, or at any rate less important than the concept of "sexiness" and feigned desire? What loving male partner would really, honestly want to make his wife or girlfriend bleed and experience pain? Or do I have too much faith in that outdated old concepts of caring and tenderness?

How long will it be before this practice becomes normalized in Western society? How long will it be before fake hymens start appearing in porn, and men start asking their partners to have the operation on the grounds that men are "programmed" to find blood-spurting hymens sexy? I hope and pray this doesn't happen, but I'm afraid that it will.

3 Comments:

Blogger Winter said...

Brilliant post!

It's hideous of course, but it does rather confirm my biew that "virginity" is really little more than a heteronormative cultural construct, a fantasy and a fetish.

4:58 AM  
Blogger existsnomore said...

I hope and pray this doesn't happen, but I'm afraid that it will.

I'm afraid it will too. Naomi Wolf wrote about cosmetic surgery in The Beauty Myth in 1991 and asked what was next, labioplasty? How horrifyingly prescient of her.

12:12 PM  
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6:07 AM  

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