Surgeons say there is a steady demand for hymen restoration in Australia. But how ethical is the procedure? Tonight's Insight on SBS ONE at 8.30PM.
Because they have had pre-marital sex and risk being ostracised by their family; because they are victims of rape; or because they “want to achieve a sense of a clean slate”.
These are just some of the reasons why some women are asking cosmetic surgeons like Dr Les Blackstock to restore their hymens.
“I've done women from most cultures and most religions; I've done women who have been victims of rape, I've done women who have no sexual interest, they've been returning to be a nun,” he tells SBS's Insight.
“They want to very much achieve a sense of a clean slate.”
Hymen restoration is the surgical repair of the hymen. There are no hard data on hymenoplasty rates in Australia, but surgeons say there is a steady demand for the procedure in Australia.
In some cultures, having gynaecologists 'inspect' hymens is not uncommon. Sydney-based gynaecologist Dr Wafa Samen often issues doctor's certificates in English and in Arabic certifying that a hymen is intact.
“Culturally and religiously, it is important to preserve the virginity and that applies to woman and men,” says Dr Samen.
In cultures that place a high value on virginity there may be serious consequences for the woman and her family if her hymen is not intact, including being outcast from the community, beatings, mutilations and honour killings.
“One of my standard questions when I interview the woman is: will they be at physical risk?” says Dr Blackstock. “Because in some the cultures the women have told me that they may be physically harmed and there have been deaths reported for lack of virginity.”
He adds: “I know that my hymens have passed inspection in Australia and overseas and not been detected.”
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Surgeons are faced with a moral dilemma: on one hand, they can help women avoid social and mental consquences through hymen reconstruction. On the other hand, performing such an unnecessary surgical procedure might contribute to persisting gender inequality.
One paper published in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics writes:
"Gynecologists may oppose hymen reconstruction on grounds that it is deceptive, not medically required, or that the requirement of evidence of virginity discriminates against women and the procedure supports holding them to higher standards of virtue than are required of men.”
However, the paper also writes that gynaecologists “may justify the procedure” if the hymen reconstruction preserves "mental and social wellbeing", especially if the woman faces violence or death.
So what happens when a gynaecologist, who certifies intact hymens, like Dr Samen, detects a restored hymen?
“As a doctor I should keep the confidentiality of the patient,” she tells Insight.
What do you think about hymen reconstructions? How do you define virginity? Watch the Insight discussion on virginity tonight at 8.30PM on SBS ONE. The program will also be streamed live here.
Join the discussion by using the #insightsbs hashtag on Twitter or by commenting on Insight's Facebook page.
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