"I know that my hymens have passed inspection in Australia and overseas and not been detected." – Les Blackstock, cosmetic surgeon
Airdate: 
Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - 20:30
Channel: 
SBS

Les Blackstock is proud of his reconstructed hymens. He says women are requesting them for a variety of reasons: because they have had pre-marital sex, they are victims of rape, or they "want to achieve a sense of a clean slate".

He’s not the only Australian medical professional getting involved in virginity matters.

Dr Wafa Samen, a Sydney-based gynaecologist, issues doctor’s certificates in English and in Arabic certifying that a hymen is intact.

This week on Insight: virginity. Meet people who are holding onto it, who can’t wait to get rid of it, or who are trying to hide the fact that they don’t (or do) still have it.

Presenter: Jenny Brockie  

Producer: Elise Potaka  

Associate Producer: Hannah Meagher 

Transcript

JENNY BROCKIE: Hi, I'm Jenny Brockie, welcome everybody. Inez, how old were you when you lost your virginity?

INEZ MANU-SIONE: I was 30 when I got married and that's kind of part of our culture, so.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what is your culture?

INEZ MANU-SIONE: I'm from Tonga, and when I grew up, I grew up in Australia all my life but my parents always told us about our cultural values and that was really about virginity. We also have a tradition that generally you have to produce the sheets proving your virginity and that gets taken back to your family and ultimately to your husband's side of the family to show. And when they receive those sheets they put a big, it's a big feast and celebration in honour of the work that the mother has done to raise the daughter.

JENNY BROCKIE: So show the sheets with the blood on them?

INEZ MANU-SIONE: Yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: If there's blood on them?

INEZ MANU-SIONE: Yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: To the family, that's part of the ritual?

INEZ MANU-SIONE: Yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, let's have a look and hear from your mum Fatai about that.

FATAI’S STORY:

FATAI, INEZ’S MOTHER: It is a very sacred ceremony and in the Tongan culture the value of the women is like a diamond. If you own a diamond you treasure it, you look after it - you protect it. So the women in our culture is highly valued, they are precious and very important and so we treat them with respect and honour and that is why it is important.

We sort of just open it and have a look at it then close it and we have a time of prayer as well – like a thanks giving for what has happened.

I had my sister there and my cousins and my nieces and nephews and my husband, we cried and we praised her - tears of joys of course. Being a Tongan mother, it was a great honour for me and my family and of course for me as a mother, it is telling them that I did my job properly by looking after her in the proper way.

JENNY BROCKIE: Inez, you've been in Australia since you were one year old, yes?

INEZ MANU-SIONE: Yes, yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: So what did you think when your mother suggested the sheet ceremony?

INEZ MANU-SIONE: When I grew, when my father actually raised it before I was getting married and my first reaction, because I'd grown up knowing this value, first was like oh, my gosh God, dad, that's just so barbaric but I ultimately wanted to carry through with that whole sheet ceremony to really honour my mum. And so it was like I went through with the process on her behalf to - because it's kind of like a disgrace on her if that process isn't done and I really wanted to honour her so.

JENNY BROCKIE: What if there hadn't been any blood, what would have happened?

INEZ MANU-SIONE: Probably wouldn't have come home, I probably would have, I don't know. I really don't know.

JENNY BROCKIE: You would have lost the sheet maybe?

INEZ MANU-SIONE: Yeah, or something, used the sheet for something else. But, yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: Bruce, you're Inez's husband, you're from a Samoan background?

BRUCE MANU-SIONE: Correct.

JENNY BROCKIE: What did you think of having to take the sheet to your in-laws?

BRUCE MANU-SIONE: Yeah, look, in my Samoan culture we don't, this is not part of our tradition. But this particular ceremony I was, when Inez told me about it I think, I thought, yeah, what's option, is there another option? But you know, obviously I honoured, it was an honour for me that my wife kept herself for me. So it was the least that I could do to show my respect and my acceptance of the Tongan culture.

JENNY BROCKIE: Did you keep yourself for her?

BRUCE MANU-SIONE: Unfortunately, not.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, so is virginity valued in Samoan culture?

BRUCE MANU-SIONE: It is, it is valued in our culture.

JENNY BROCKIE: For men or just for women?

BRUCE MANU-SIONE: Mainly, mainly for our women.

JENNY BROCKIE: Now the sheet was supposed to end up with your parents, wasn't it?

BRUCE MANU-SIONE: Yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: Did it?

BRUCE MANU-SIONE: No, because I said oh look, my parents would, my father, what the - you know, my parents, yeah, no, this is in our Samoan culture once you get married, that's, you know, husband and wife can obviously go and do whatever they need to do and that's their own private business between the two.

JENNY BROCKIE: Was it important for you to be a virgin when you got married, given that you had grown you've up in Australia?

INEZ MANU-SIONE: I think for myself it did because of the value it had for my parents. But also when I grew up with my best friend at the time showing me alternative options, I had an Aussie mate and she was always like you've got to try before you buy and the journey that she walked through in terms of her try before you buy option, she went through abortions, she went through major relationship issues, depression, I - the alternative option didn't look very attractive so I guess I went back to what I knew and value.

JENNY BROCKIE: That's interesting, that's very interesting. Now Rose, you had a bit of an opposite experience round"?

ROSE RUSSO: I did.

JENNY BROCKIE: Around - you really wanted to lose your virginity.

ROSE RUSSO: I wanted to lose it, yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: Why?

ROSE RUSSO: The sooner the better. Just because I thought I was the last one on earth to still have my virginity. But after I lost it".

JENNY BROCKIE: How old were you?

ROSE RUSSO: I was actually 22 so I felt like I was really old at that point but looking back now, I'm 27 now, I realise I wasn't that old at all. So - a big rush.

JENNY BROCKIE: So what did you do?

ROSE RUSSO: I actually hired an escort to lose my virginity.

JENNY BROCKIE: So it was just specifically for that purpose?

ROSE RUSSO: Yeah, I've was in a relationship, I identify as bisexual, I was in a relationship with a woman at the time, we'd been together for four or five years at that point, and"

JENNY BROCKIE: Having sex presumably?

ROSE RUSSO: Yeah, yeah, of course, but for me I felt that I still hadn't actually lost my virginity unless I'd had sex with a man.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what was the male escort experience like then?

ROSE RUSSO: Interesting, expensive, not really worth it.

JENNY BROCKIE: Such a contrast, it's such a contrast.

ROSE RUSSO: Um, a bit embarrassing but I was comfortable and, yeah, and when it was over"

JENNY BROCKIE: Was it worth it?

ROSE RUSSO: Um, at that point in time, yes. Looking back now, probably not - I should have waited for someone.

JENNY BROCKIE: Why did you want to get rid of it so much?

ROSE RUSSO: Because it was just consuming all my thoughts, like I couldn't go a day without thinking about it, like it was ruining my relationship with my girlfriend. It was, yeah, it was just everything to me. I just thought until I get rid of it I'm just not, I can't live my life.

JENNY BROCKIE: And why do you think it was playing like that in your mind? Do you have any thoughts about why?

ROSE RUSSO: Um, just became a bit of an obsession I think, from when I was in high school everyone was, you know, having sex and I wasn't.

JENNY BROCKIE: Nathan, you're here with your girlfriend Bek. How did you and your mates view your virginity as young men?

NATHAN MCGUIRE: Generally, like when I was younger it wasn't really a massive deal, but once I sort of hit 15, 16, it was almost like a bit of a competition, like losing the V plates. Yeah, it was almost a competition - who could do it first and like"

JENNY BROCKIE: So pressure - was that pressure or was it just a game?

NATHAN MCGUIRE: I guess I sort of felt pressured too but it was a little bit of a game to the point like we almost, like you'd brag about it as if you were at like at footy and you kicked like five goals on the weekend it would be sort of like that. But yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: And did girls' virginity matter to the boys, whether they were virgins or not?

NATHAN MCGUIRE: Like boys, sleep around but it's almost seen as alright. Whereas girls if they do that then they're looked down upon. But in my, like in my view, I don't really see it as a negative thing I don't think.

JENNY BROCKIE: Bek, you were smiling then listening to that. What were you smiling about?

REBEKAH STUBBS: Um, the whole how boys can get away with, you know, sleeping around. Because I'm still in school and I have a lot of girls in my class, , well not a lot but a few that have, you know a couple of times and the boys would be like oh, that's, like the boys are like.

NATHAN MCGUIRE: She's like, she's like a slut or something like that.

REBEKAH STUBBS: Yeah, the boys will

NATHAN MCGUIRE: She sleeps around.

REBEKAH STUBBS: Yeah, they will make fun off and the girls other girls look upon the girls that are sleeping more and be like, a lot of the social media, a lot of the Facebook statuses are posted so it's more the girls. It's never about the boys.

JENNY BROCKIE: How did you feel about your virginity?

REBEKAH STUBBS: It happened too fast for me. I was actually quite young and it was before Nathan so, and I didn't think a lot of it at the time. Not going to lie. I didn't think it was a big thing and then afterwards I did. I changed my views completely.

JENNY BROCKIE: Why you change your views?

REBEKAH STUBBS: I didn't, it wasn't with the right person. It wasn't the right age I didn't think.

JENNY BROCKIE: Did you place any value on it in the way that Inez talks? You know, did you have any value on your virginity?

NATHAN MCGUIRE: I did when I like originally, like I was one of the last one out of my mates so I was very, like at the start it was a massive deal for me and I felt like I needed to catch up.

JENNY BROCKIE: So what did you tell them once you've done it?

NATHAN MCGUIRE: Yeah, I was pretty excited. Yeah, I had a mate who used to joke about it all the time and he’d say 'Did you lose your V's?" I'd be like no, not this time mate, like relax. Like that time like I texted him and I told my other best mate, I was like excited. 'Oh, I finally done it". You know, like it's over and done with sort of thing. Like it was like a big deal but I felt like I was the last, like one of the last people to do it so I wanted to get it over and done with.

JENNY BROCKIE: John, you're 30 years old, tell us your thoughts about virginity.

JOHN ENGLEZOS: Sure. So, I am 30 years old, I'm a Christian and I haven't had sex with anyone. I'm waiting till marriage. I believe that when it comes around to the person that I meet and the person I want to be with, whoever that ends up being, I want to be able to tell her you were worth the wait, I knew how amazing and beautiful you were going to be. Why would I settle for anything else or anyone else?

JENNY BROCKIE: But your definition, I mean how far have you gone in terms of sexual behaviour?

JOHN ENGLEZOS: You could ask most activities and the answer would be no.

JENNY BROCKIE: Kissing?

JOHN ENGLEZOS: Kissing on the cheek. Tonguing - no, yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, so you're really probably in a very small minority in the community?

JOHN ENGLEZOS: Yeah, I am the anomaly, yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: Tegan, what about you?

TEGAN BRUCE: Um, well I was 18 when I lost my virginity but it wasn't to do with giving it away to someone else, it was about me taking that next step as a woman. Yeah, um

JENNY BROCKIE: Circumstances? What sort of circumstances?

TEGAN BRUCE: It was a one night stand, I was tipsy I would say, just a club in town and just a random guy was interested and I felt that I was ready to take that step in my life and I said yes and we went out and, yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: Was it a bit like we heard then from Rose about wanting to do - to just get it out of the way?

TEGAN BRUCE: In a way, yes, but I was ready. I was mentally ready to do it.

JENNY BROCKIE: So it was something you did for yourself?

TEGAN BRUCE: Yeah, it was for me, it wasn't giving it away to someone it was my next step in my life. I've never regretted anything. Taking that step was just, yeah, it was great.

JENNY BROCKIE: Tinashe, you say that being a virgin gives you power in your culture?

TINASHE DUNE: Yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: In Zimbabwe. Tell us how, how does it give women power?

TINASHE DUNE: So this is particularly in the Shona Zimbabwean group, women are, you know, similar to people in Tonga, they are very precious. But for Shona women, they are the, they carry the social and cultural value. So having virginity or being a virgin is important in the sense that women need to find someone who is worthy of them. So we don't necessarily have the concept of losing it, like you've given it away or lost something, you share it with someone and is the person who you're sharing it with worthy of you?

JENNY BROCKIE: Now you have spent quite a lot of time living in other countries other than Zimbabwe.

TINASHE DUNE: Yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: So how do you cope with all of that yourself as a teenager, that cultural background and those values?

TINASHE DUNE: Yeah, it was quite difficult growing up cross cultural so I lived in Canada and the UK and now Australia and my parents are, you know, born and bred Shonan Zimbabwan. So they had particular views on making sure that virginity was, you know safeguarded because as a young woman I'm very valuable. But in North American or western culture, you know, like the gentleman was saying, it's kind of like are you having sex yet? What's happening, let's get on with the show and you're sold sex and losing virginity constantly. So my friend were saying well, we have boyfriends, we're doing this, and my mother was saying don't you dare.

JENNY BROCKIE: So how did you deal with that?

TINASHE DUNE: Well I shared my virginity when I was 17 with a boy that I was with for about six, seven months at the time, and we were each other's first and it was fantastic. Interestingly I didn't bleed so I wonder what would have happened if I was in the Tongan situation, that would have been a shame. But I have no regrets and I didn't tell my mother. She, I think she just knew, you know mothers have that kind of telepathic, she just knew and, but she didn't, I guess, vilify me for that.

JENNY BROCKIE: How are girls who've had pre- marital sex viewed in Zimbabwe?

TINASHE DUNE: In Zimbabwe they're viewed as, they're shunned in a way. Because it would have seemed as though the family didn't do a good enough job, particularly the women of that family didn't do a good enough job of teaching that girl about how valuable she is.

JENNY BROCKIE: And there's a dowry issue here too?

TINASHE DUNE: So in Shona we called it labola but the closest thing would be dowry, and essentially what happens is that the young woman's fiancée would make an investment in the family. So it's not a one off payment like here's $10,000 we're done, it would be an investment over time, and if the girl was a virgin, then her value could increase, or that investment would increase. But I guess cross culturally now what's valued is she educated? Is she able to make money? So what value does she bring to the relationship and what does the fiancée have to invest back into the family over time in order to compensate?

JENNY BROCKIE: So the values changed in a sense?

TINASHE DUNE: Yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: So you can trade off not being a virgin for having an education?

TINASHE DUNE: Right. So having a PhD, you know, that's boosted me up, right? So my parents have even said to my fiancée look, you know, she keeps going to school and now she has an MPH and she has a PhD, you're looking at some hard funds here my friend and you know, he's up for the challenge.

JENNY BROCKIE: Interesting. What would happen to a boy who had sex with a girl before marriage? Any consequences for the men?

TINASHE DUNE: I'm not too sure exactly what would happen but people would perceive him to kind of be a very mischievous sort, a kind of sketchy, sleazy character. Kind of like, well, why would you sleep with, you know, a woman before marriage?

JENNY BROCKIE: Benjamin, you're Tinashe's boyfriend. What did you think of all this, this cultural attitude to virginity?

BENJAMIN LAWSON: It wasn't any big thing to me. My background's indigenous Australian so I guess it's about respect really.

JENNY BROCKIE: Did you place any value on virginity yourself?

BENJAMIN LAWSON: No.

JENNY BROCKIE: Either for your partner or for you?

BENJAMIN LAWSON: No, and I'm not brought up in a religious household so there's no, from what I see most virginity aspect has a religious aspect to it and I was not brought up in that sort of household so for me we saw it as a natural prospect of life. You know, you go through it, you lose your virginity, you're not judged for it, you just hope they do the right decision.

JENNY BROCKIE: Adela, does virginity matter to you?

ADELA TANG: For me virginity has been a struggle in my life. I've actually grown up in Australia but I've got a very strong Asian influence where virginity is very important and I think now I've actually made a firm decision and for me it's about having a blank slate when I get married. I'm waiting for sex after marriage and I think of it as a sort of a journey. So it's sort of a step forward where afterwards, you know you both grow together in your own sexual journey and how you decide to grow together and enjoy.

JENNY BROCKIE: Ferrer, you're Adela's boyfriend, what about you, do you place a value on it? You're from a Singaporean background, yes?

FERRER ONG: Yes, that's right.

JENNY BROCKIE: And your parents were Chinese background, yes?

FERRER ONG: Yes, I'm from Chinese background too. I totally respect her for, you know, keeping herself for me and I think this is great.

JENNY BROCKIE: Have you kept yourself for her?

FERRER ONG: Oh, yes, definitely, definitely, I respect her and, likewise.

JENNY BROCKIE: I'm interested in the cross cultural stuff here. I mean would you have sex if she wanted to?

FERRER ONG: To be honest with you, I actually think that it's not possible. Because even if I did, I actually feel bad inside me and it feels as there's this burden telling me that you have just ruined somebody's precious, you know, prize.

TINASHE DUNE: Why is it ruined? I mean if you're going to be with that person regardless for the rest of your life, how are they ruined?

FERRER ONG: Yeah, because I think it has to be after marriage, she really respects her virginity and I think as partner I should give her the support and respect as well.

JENNY BROCKIE: Adela, how do you define virginity?

ADELA TANG: For me, I've actually struggled. Like sometimes you've got the definition where it's about just any sexual activity, and then you've got the technical version where you're talking about vaginal penis penetration intercourse and for me personally I've decided that, you know, I'd stick with just the technical terms. Just, because

JENNY BROCKIE: Sorry, what do you mean by the technical terms I'm really interested if people's definitions here of what virginity actually is.

ADELA TANG: Quite often, because I've been raised in a household where, you know, heterosexual relationships are very important so it's just been vaginal and penis intercourse.

JENNY BROCKIE: So that's the way you define virginity?

ADELA TANG: Virginity.

JENNY BROCKIE: So if you'd oral sex, for example, would have you lost your virginity?

ADELA TANG: For myself, no.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what about other types of penetration, what about digital penetration or anal penetration, would you consider that losing your virginity?

ADELA TANG: Previously I really believed in the whole no sexual acts at all but I think over time, in terms of you know, having relationships, having past relationships where you just want to feel pressured into having, getting to, you know, sexual play and sort of enjoying yourselves and having, you know, good fun and pleasure. Having intimacy as part of, you know, the relationship as a healthy relationship.

NATHAN MCGUIRE: Is that not more or less the same thing though. Like personally I would find that more or less the same thing. Like if you can do everything else, or like if like the big no, no is like penis and vaginal penetration, it's not like, doesn't that almost defeat the purpose? Like if you're going to do everything else what's the difference?

TINASHE DUNE: It's another body part? What's the difference.

NATHAN MCGUIRE: It's not like you're missing out completely, you're just more or less.

TINASHE DUNE: Sitting on a fence?

NATHAN MCGUIRE: Yes, exactly right.

JENNY BROCKIE: What do other people think? Rosa?

ROSA ROBERTS: I think it's interesting that, yeah, penetration is considered a really important part of losing your virginity and why do we place the value on like those particular body parts being involved together? Like it's so, it's heteronomitive, it's all these things that I just find really difficult to sort of come to terms with. But I don't think it works.

JENNY BROCKIE: Tim, how do you define virginity?

TIM NEAL: Probably a little bit differently, I suppose. I'm gay and you know, my first time was with another man. So for me it was kind of like other young gay friends of mine, we all had this in our mind that maybe we had two different virginities. You know, we were kind of greedy, I suppose.

JENNY BROCKIE: Depending on which way you did it?

TIM NEAL: Yeah, pretty much. So we had, as Adela mentioned, like a penetrative virginity but then sort of another one which was for everything else, our sort of, our coming out, sort of fooling around with the guy for a the first time and all that kind of thing.

JENNY BROCKIE: What about other people here? Who else would like to buy into this definition?

TURKAN AKSOY: I come from a culture where virginity is valued very strongly as well, but what happens to women, for example, if they get sexually assaulted and then there's shame put on her and that value's gone? So if you're associating that with fear, I wonder what it does to you as a woman and what it does to your experiences as well?

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, anyone else, yeah?

BENJAMIN LAWSON: I find the interesting the way the double standards for males and females, like we're allowed to play around, do whatever we want basically, but women have to be chased. They have to be pure, it's sorts of like a control factor really, we're trying to control the females.

ROSE RUSSO: That's because we're the ones being penetrated, we're the ones being violated.

JENNY BROCKIE: A very grim view, it's a very grim view.

WOMAN: Well what's the difference between a woman being penetrated and a woman engulfing a man? Surely it's just semantics?

JENNY BROCKIE: Tonight we're talking about virginity and the lengths that that some people will go to prove it. Wafa, you're a gynaecologist and you give out these certificates in Arabic and in English stating that women's hymens are intact. Why do you give out those certificates?

DR WAFA SAMEN, GYNAECOLOGIST: Actually I give the certificate on woman's request, either herself or her parents, and that certificate states that I have examined such and such and her hymen is intact.

JENNY BROCKIE: And why do people want them?

DR WAFA SAMEN: Well, for religious reasons or cultural demands. So I am Muslim from background from Iraq and so Islam, sexual intercourse before marriage is prohibited. So for men and women, expected to keep and preserve their virginity till marriage and doing otherwise is sort of considered as a major sin.

JENNY BROCKIE: So how common is it for women to come to you and want those certificates?

DR WAFA SAMEN: It's not very common and actually it helps in such situations, if you like I can give you an example. Like occasionally I get a woman who had sort of engagement before and that sort of, that relationship ceased before marriage, and then will be rumours and gossips in the community that this person has lost her virginity and she comes to me asking if I can provide her with such a letter confirming that she's a virgin.

And sometimes I get, give this letter for a medical reason. As you mentioned, when you had first intercourse you didn't bleed because like with the hymen there are few different types of hymen. Elastic one, people don't bleed and of course it stretches with the penetration of penis and sort of the patient doesn't get any bleeding. But that doesn't mean she's not virgin, she's a virgin but that type of hymen has stretched.

JENNY BROCKIE: What are, sorry, no, go on, finish.

DR WAFA SAMEN: So I get the patient, either woman herself or just she want to prove to her husband that she never, that she's still virgin, she hasn't had sex before and she wants me to tell that the husband or in-laws that she is, she was a virgin and I give her that letter as well.

TINASHE DUNE: How about girls who are athletes? I mean I was a gymnast, a competitive gymnast and that could have been why?

DR WAFA SAMEN: Or course, yes.

TINASHE DUNE: So how do you prove it then?

DR WAFA SAMEN: Well then again you can tell if the hymen torn because of sexual intercourse, you just see the minute of the hymen, just something like penetrated the vagina and damaged that hymen and the vagina will be stretched and you can see that and tell that, yeah.

FEMALE: What about masturbation?

DR WAFA SAMEN: That won't affect the hymen.

FEMALE: No, but if they're using a dildo.

DR WAFA SAMEN: Of course if you're using any dilators and anything to penetrate the vagina, of course that would be.

FEMALE: Is that considered?

DR WAFA SAMEN: Well, yeah, there's no hymen.

TINASHE DUNE: So then you're not a virgin if you've used a toy?

DR WAFA SAMEN: Look in our, in Islamic culture, even they not use tampons. The two, as you mentioned in your culture that is so precious, so valuable you cannot lose it. And that's why.

JENNY BROCKIE: What are the consequences for these women if their hymens aren't intact?

DR WAFA SAMEN: Well, again would be, depends on the family, depends on the partner, if he accepts it like in Islam it's encouraged to forgive woman who had fallen in error and to marry them, that's the culture in Islam to do that. But again depends on the person if he accepts it or not.

TINASHE DUNE: Does it work the same for men?

DR WAFA SAMEN: Yes, it applies for both men and women.

JENNY BROCKIE: How do you tell with a man, if a man's not a virgin?

DR WAFA SAMEN: Well it is very difficult because that's the nature. His physiology is very difficult to tell.

BENJAMIN LAWSON: Do you just accept a man's story and the women have to be tested?

DR WAFA SAMEN: Well as I said, in Islam this is, we have this rule and I think we should simply accept it and comply with that. From my experience, as a gynaecologist, for my daughter I wanted to stay virgin till she got married.

JENNY BROCKIE: Hanne, can I bring new here from Boston because you've written a book about virginity mostly in western culture, why do you think such a value is placed on it in some cultures?

HANNE BLANK, HISTORIAN: Well, there are a number of theories about this. Nobody really knows for sure. The value that's put on virginity is so old that we don't actually have documents to tell us how that formed or when that formed. The going theory that I believe has the most weight is that a pre- marital virginity for a woman makes it very easy to tell the paternity of her first child at least. It's very easy to tell who a child's mother is, we all know when a woman has a baby, it's very hard to tell who the father is. If you've prohibited sexual access to that woman by anybody else but one man, then you know who the father of that child is.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what other kinds of ways of testing virginity have there been throughout history?

HANNE BLANK: Virginity has been tested in ways that seem really laughable to us now. Urinalysis has been used, the texture and size of a woman's breasts, the shape of her hips, whether or not she meets a man's gaze. That has been often thoughts to mean that she was unchaste, if she was willing to look a man in the eye. There have been tests where women have been sat over barrels of chopped onions or over burning fires that were smoky with a theory that if their bodies were opened, if their vaginas had been opened, then the fumes would be able to travel all the way up through their bodies and out their mouths and noses and you'd be able to smell it on their breath.

So the tests have been many and varied. The hymen itself has not been considered a definitive diagnostic ever as far as I can tell in the western medical literature, but it wasn't even identified as a structure until the 16th century. So we have a lot of virginity, a lot of history of virginity prior to even the possibility of any kind of medical or forensic exam.

JENNY BROCKIE: Gokhan, you're Turkish Muslim and I wonder whether it matters amongst your peers as to whether women are virgins or not?

GOKHAN SINGET: Oh, well it does. Again it's looked upon as you should have it but it doesn't mean you have to, I mean if you do have sex before marriage, we should forgive the woman. If she has made that mistake because I grew up in a relaxed family, like I come from Islamic background as well, both my parents are really relaxed and they always said to me go and do what you have to do. My dad always said just no grandchildren before you're married.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, but you having sex before you married is okay?

GOKHAN SINGET: No, because then my mum would kill me.

JENNY BROCKIE: But in general, for men?

GOKHAN SINGET: No, but obviously people do make those mistakes before marriage, it should be forgiven and not put back in their faces and given names and what have you .

JENNY BROCKIE: Turkan, do checks happen in your community, checks of women, to see if their hymen is intact?

TURKAN AKSOY: Not that I've known in Australia but I've heard of in Turkey, yes, absolutely, like you hear about situations happening. More so I've heard in other Middle Eastern countries more so than Turkey. I'm sure it does happen in Turkey. I'm mortified that it happens, I feel terrible that young girls get taken to a doctor to see if the hymen's intact.

JENNY BROCKIE: Les, you're a cosmetic surgeon, I just wanted you to comment on what Wafa said about being able to tell whether a hymen has actually been broken through having sex or through, you know, some other activity?

DR LES BLACKSTOCK, COSMETIC SURGEON: I have a differing opinion, there are twelve varieties of the hymen, three are most common. It would be like saying the eardrum could be perforated by coming down in a plane or putting an ear bud in and being able to tell the difference. I don't think you can tell how it's been perforated from that time.

I'm aware of research that says between 8 to 10 percent of women at the time of first intercourse do not have an intact hymen. Most common reasons for no sporting activity, pure curiosity, fingers inserted, exploration and it may be sporting accidents, falls, things like that as well. Another 2 to 4 percent of women don't bleed with an intact hymen. It's my experience up to 14 percent of women don't bleed during the first intercourse.

JENNY BROCKIE: Now you're a cosmetic surgeon Les, you do hymen restorations.

DR LES BLACKSTOCK: Yes I do.

JENNY BROCKIE: What are they?

DR LES BLACKSTOCK: I've done these procedures since 2008 and when I was first training overseas I told my mentor I don't think I need to learn this because in Australia we don't know what a hymen looks like and after a period of time I found that women were just coming and asking for it and I've fifteen this year.

JENNY BROCKIE: Now what does a hymen look like and what is it for the people who don't know?

DR LES BLACKSTOCK: It is a small piece of skin that is inside the vagina just in front of the introitus and it can take many shapes when it's been perforated and broken from that way. It can be torn in many different directions from that side and I repair the hymen.

JENNY BROCKIE: So what's the aim in having it reconstructed? What do women want to achieve?

DR LES BLACKSTOCK: They want to very much achieve a sense of a clean slate I heard a term down here. I've done women from most cultures and most religions; I've done women who have been victims of rape, I've done a woman who was raped at 6. I've done women who have no sexual interest, they've been returning to be a nun. I've done couples that have come together that have been sexually active and they're going to get married, they want the hymen repaired so that their families will feel that it's right from that time.

JENNY BROCKIE: Have you had any ethical qualms about doing operations?

DR LES BLACKSTOCK: I will not do the operation if someone's doing it to sell or if I believe there's some ulterior motive that they're being forced into it.

JENNY BROCKIE: Sell meaning sell their body?

DR LES BLACKSTOCK: Yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: And how often do you do the operations?

DR LES BLACKSTOCK: It's 15 this year, probably 40'ish, maybe 50 a year from that side.

JENNY BROCKIE: Can you tell if someone's had a restoration done?

DR LES BLACKSTOCK: I know that my hymens have passed inspection in Australia and overseas and not been detected. I also know that the

JENNY BROCKIE: That's quite a statement.

DR LES BLACKSTOCK: They discreetly contact me after.

JENNY BROCKIE: What do people think about this?

ROSA ROBERTS: I find the concept of restoring hymens particularly interesting. I actually had to have surgery to have my hymen removed. It wasn't perforating during sex and in fact would sort of stretch quite painfully and then pretty much snap back into place over a period of time afterwards. So for me it was several years of painful sexual intercourse when penetration was occurring. I find that really bizarre because then I had had sex a number of times, it was like the immaculate conception or something, I could have been pregnant with a hymen. So what kind of judgment is that if we're using this little piece of skin which may or may not exist, exists in lots of different forms.

JENNY BROCKIE: May or may not bleed, may or not provide evidence on the sheet.

ROSA ROBERTS: Yeah, may or may not break during intercourse, like it's a ridiculous standard.

JENNY BROCKIE: Lady here.

KAYLENE LANGFORD: Coming from a Christian background there was a lot of pressure. I kind of took on myself to not have sex before marriage but now I'm in a same sex relationship so technically if we do penetration I'm not having sex, but my question is the pressure that we put on young girls particularly to not have sex before marriage, is that actually a positive thing? Like are they taking this sex which is this act of love in a marriage to commit to someone for the rest of their lives, is that a damaging thing that we're actually, you know, they're going into a relationship really suppressed from years and years of being told don't do this. That's dirty, that's wrong and I know I personally had an experience of that being in a Catholic environment for a while.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, gentleman down here. Yes, I'll come to you in a minute.

MAN: I guess for me the common threads is that it's kind of an indication of the wider gendered control by men in a lot of ways. And I think in cultures as much as it might be well intentioned, the idea of being pure I feel is something being put upon by men on women and that's the norm.

TINASHE DUNE: But I think women are getting mixed messages.

MAN: Oh absolutely.

TINASHE DUNE: They want a freak in the bed and a lady in the street, right?

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Inez, what did you want to say?

INEZ MANU-SIONE: I think just in response to your pressure of the young person, from my own personal experience, I think because that was done away with growing up knowing okay, it happens after I've got married, it actually freed me up in terms of there were no pressures because I just knew that wasn't going to happen till whenever.

JENNY BROCKIE: See, I think that's really interesting Inez, I think your story is really interesting and it goes to what you're saying Tinashe about value, about putting a value on yourself in a sense. And that being tied, I mean we're talking a lot about men imposing this on women but I think there's a counter side to this that you're both talking about which is a sense of your own value in a way?

INEZ MANU-SIONE: Yes, and I know when we brought the sheets home to my mum and the aunties and my father, I was asked to say a speech, like who does that?

JENNY BROCKIE: What did you say?

INEZ MANU-SIONE: Well I spoke on the value of virginity and what it really meant in terms of, it wasn't really about the sexual act, it was about who, how we value ourselves as people and how we share that with one another and that's the kind of message I was really speaking to my family. What value have you put on yourselves, what value have you put on your children?

And the thing is like I've graduated from law, become a lawyer, business teacher, but I've never seen my parents, especially my dad, so proud and it was - it was like an out of body experience because you know, it's so confronting to have to go through that whole process, but I think it, I guess, just came back to the value that I felt being a young woman growing up with that.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, I just want to go back a little bit to what we were talking about a couple of minutes ago, Les, can you tell if someone's had a hymen restoration?

DR LES BLACKSTOCK: Not to my knowledge, no.

JENNY BROCKIE: Can you Wafa, can you tell?

DR WAFA SAMEN: Yeah, in some cases you can.

JENNY BROCKIE: How?

DR WAFA SAMEN: Because natural hymen looks different to the reconstructions, you can tell.

JENNY BROCKIE: So would you give a certificate saying a hymen is intact if it was restored hymen?

DR WAFA SAMEN: I need to talk to the patient, I tell her look, this is what happened, and I say this is what I think that you had

DR LES BLACKSTOCK: You've probably seen some of mine.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, but if you spot a restored hymen what do you do in terms of the certificate?

DR WAFA SAMEN: Well, I give a certificate that it is hymen is there, that she's going to bleed, or if not bleed, that it's there

FERRER ONG: So you wouldn't tell the person that it's artificial?

DR WAFA SAMEN: I tell her, of course I would, yes.

FERRER ONG: What about the consequences, when you tell say the person, saying that it's an artificial hymen, would the husband or the boyfriend or the partner accept that, because it's artificial, this is not natural?

DR WAFA SAMEN: I tell you what, the people that come for such sort of problem they usually come by themselves.

JENNY BROCKIE: So it's between you and them?

DR WAFA SAMEN: Yes, and that is and as a doctor I should keep the confidentiality of the patient.

JENNY BROCKIE: Of course. We will have more on the industry around establishing virginity after the break.

JENNY BROCKIE: Well everybody has been very busy during the break opening mystery packages that we've handed out and I did say to be careful everybody, don't open the plastic. What do you think they are?

TURKAN AKSOY: Blood for the sheets.

JENNY BROCKIE: Blood for sheets, what does everybody else think? Yeah?

TIM NEAL: They're a replacement hymen, like costume stuff almost, like you'd wear to a fancy dress party but a weired one.

JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah they're fake hymens. We got them from China. They cost around $30 for a box of two, just in case you have trouble with one, presumably. I guess you get two. And I should point out to you it's not blood, it's actually food die so you know, but just be careful because they do create quite a mess. What do people think about that idea, yes?

MAN: It's basically saying you can insert it, I think, inside and then wait for 20 to 30 minutes and then have sexual intercourse.

JENNY BROCKIE: Does it say anything else on the instructions?

MAN: No, and it says it's made in Japan but I think it's made in China because it's Chinese.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, what do people think of this idea. Lady up the back?

FEMALE: And you have this fake hymen and you put it in because it restores some kind of value but what is that value?

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, yes?

MALE: Yes, surely all these attempts to artificially construct the hymen totally divorces virginity from those reasons why people might think virginity is important so that shared intimacy and that shared experience.

JENNY BROCKIE: But if there are really severe consequences from people if they're not virgins in their communities, then it does become important?

MALE: I can see why someone would do it, but it's kind of a cultural charade then instead of what it once was.

FEMALE: If the virginity is something important in the religion and the culture, it shouldn't be distorted at all and they shouldn't have to be used.

TEGAN BRUCE: I was just saying, what is the point of the hymen in the human body?

MALE: There's none?

TEGAN BRUCE: Why do we have it then?

DR WAFA SAMEN: That's a question.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Hanne, do you know the answer to that, what is the importance of a hymen, why do we have them?

HANNE BLANK: The hymen is a little bit of skin that is a remnant of the time that the vagina hollows out and becomes a tube. It starts out as something that is separate from the outside of the body, it forms between where the cervix is and the body wall and then usually between the fifth and seventh month of gestation in a female foetus that cord becomes the vagina and the end of that process is that it opens out into the vulva space. And as far as everybody has been able to determine, the hymen is basically what's left as that cord canalises as it becomes a canal. It's the little bit of left over skin, left over mucous membrane.

JENNY BROCKIE: And you said it was only really discovered in the 16th century?

HANNE BLANK: That was when it was confirmed to exist. Andreas Versalius who was the Flemish anatomist and sort of the greatest anatomist of his day undertook two dissections in 1544 in order specifically to try to find this thing. He never drew a picture of it and we don't know why. Because his full commentary on it was "I performed the dissections on these two women's bodies in order to look for the hymen and I found it." That's it. That's all we've got.

JENNY BROCKIE: When was it given this value in terms of virginity?

HANNE BLANK: One of the first bits of written evidence we have for it comes from the work of the Greek physician, Cyanus, who practiced in Rome in the second century, where he said okay, so there's this rumour that I've been hearing that there's supposed to be something inside women's bodies that ruptures or breaks or gets torn or gets abraded and bleeds when they first are penetrated by a penis. And then he says but I've looked for it and I can't find it.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay. It seems to me that there are a lot of different values that we've heard about tonight around this question of virginity but there's also quite a bit of deception surrounding the whole area and it cuts both ways. Now Nathan, did you tell Bek the truth when you first had sex with her?

NATHAN MCGUIRE: No, no, I lost my virginity to Bek, I told her that I had done it before. I originally thought that it would look like I, I don't know, I would look like young and naive and like it was almost like the opposite

JENNY BROCKIE: It's the absolute opposite of what we're talking about?

NATHAN MCGUIRE: Innocence, it was almost like that bad boy look, you didn't want to seem too innocent as a guy.

JENNY BROCKIE: So Bek, how did he tell you the truth?

REBEKAH STUBBS: Well, it was, it actually a couple of months after we were going out and he was like, and I was who was that girl, you know, like who was that? And he got caught, and he was like well, to be completely honest with you, you're my first.

NATHAN MCGUIRE: I was so scared by the way. It was like I have something to tell you, it's like ground breaking, I can understand if you don't love me anymore.

REBEKAH STUBBS: And it turns out I was so happy, like that made me feel so good.

JENNY BROCKIE: It made you feel special?

REBEKAH STUBBS: I'd made me feel really good. Like I love him and for me to be his first makes me, you know, feel good and obviously because you know 'cause I wasn't, he wasn't mine, that made me feel even worse and that's more why I regret the person before and you know, I regret losing before Nathan.

JENNY BROCKIE: So you would have liked to have been one another's first?

REBEKAH STUBBS: Definitely. Knowing what we have now and how long we've been together now is

JENNY BROCKIE: How long have you been together?

REBEKAH STUBBS: A year and a half, that's good my age.

JENNY BROCKIE: They're like dog years at your age?

REBEKAH STUBBS: A month and it's over, you're gone, next. Yeah, so I look back and I'm just like damn it. But it's a good learning curve I reckon, I don't know, yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: Anyone else had any regrets about the way they've lost their virginity?

ROSA ROBERTS: I ended up losing my virginity at about 14 and, as I said earlier, that was, depends how technical you want to get but I had sex for the first time at 14 and I don't regret it but I think I did it sooner because I felt like it was something I should do. And that it was something that I needed to be able to sort of relate to my friends and the people around me. It wasn't like a direct pressure but it was that general sense of peer pressure.

REBEKAH STUBBS: That's the same with me, like everyone's doing it so come on, let's jump on board.

BRUCE MANU-SIONE: I felt very similar to Bek when I went through that experience of losing my virginity because growing up in, you know, my parents all would say, not so much don't have sex but just the values of keeping yourself. So when I went through that experience, I actually felt some sort of, a part of me had gone, yeah, it just

JENNY BROCKIE: And did that come from culture do you think, did that come there what you'd been taught?

BRUCE MANU-SIONE: Maybe culture and values and the teachings and my, obviously my Christian background as well from, and the teachings of my parents. So when I lost it, there was - I felt like there was so much of me had disappeared.

WOMAN: Why did you feel like you were losing something as opposed to - I don't understand all the time this feeling that some people get where they're losing a part of themselves. Why can't we feel, you commented earlier that you felt like it was just the next step for you and that you were sort of, I suppose, growing as a person. Why can't we feel like, as women in a day and age where we can be anything we want to be, why is it that our virginity is something that's so

JENNY BROCKIE: But is it, I mean I think what we've heard here tonight is a wide range of views about virginity. What do you think about what you've heard Tegan?

TEGAN BRUCE: I think religion has too much to do with it. It's a personal thing, you're a human being, religion's not who you are, it's just a part of you.

JENNY BROCKIE: For those of you who come from cultural backgrounds where there are strong views about this, or even those who don't but who, you know, decided to lose their virginity very young, I mean what will you tell your kids about this I wonder?

JULIET ALLEN: I think it's important to consider the community that do identify as lesbian or gay or bisexual or transgender because I have a daughter and if she's grows up and says mum, 'I'm a lesbian’, how do I explain virginity to her? Because we're talking about virginity as penetration between a man and a woman, I'll just tell her that when you feel comfortable to sex with someone, whether that's a man or a woman, or be intimate with someone that's the right time for you. And if it feels good for you, then go for it, explore your sexuality.

JENNY BROCKIE: Tim, what will were you going to say?

TIM NEAL: It's interesting that most of the conversation has featured around virginity being the penetrative side of things but it doesn't take into account - like I went to a very small Catholic school and the girls, a lot of the girls in my class were quite okay to go out and have anal sex because they were still a virgin at the end of the day so their hymen was still intact. So it's this interesting kind of concept as to what actually is a virgin and who is a virgin and how does one categorise that?

JENNY BROCKIE: Inez, will you expect the sheet ceremony from your daughter if you have one?

INEZ MANU-SIONE: No, definitely not. We've adopted a baby girl and, yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: Congratulations?

INEZ MANU-SIONE: But I would definitely train her and teach her not only my cultural and Christian values but I think the sex education as well so that she can learn from me. But at the end of the day it's her choice and we will always be with her whatever choice she makes and definitely no sheet ceremony or speeches, so yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, thanks so much for joining us, thank you everybody for joining us tonight. We've heard such interesting stories it's been really terrific, and we did have to wrap it up here now but you can keep talking on-line. Is virginity important to you and your family?