The Illusion of Virginity

Here’s a delightful article from today’s New York Times:

The operation in the private clinic off the Champs-Elysees involved one semicircular cut, 10 dissolving stitches and a discounted fee of $2,900.

But for the patient, a 23-year-old French student of Moroccan descent from Montpellier, the 30-minute procedure represented the key to a new life: the illusion of virginity.

Like an increasing number of Muslim women in Europe, she had a hymenoplasty, a restoration of her hymen, the thin vaginal membrane that normally breaks during the first act of intercourse.

“In my culture, not to be a virgin is to be dirt,” said the student, perched on a hospital bed as she awaited surgery on Thursday. “Right now, virginity is more important to me than life.”


The article goes on to relate some of the heart-wrenching stories behind people’s desire to undergo this procedure:

But the stories of the women who have had the surgery convey the complexity and raw emotion behind their decisions.

One 32-year-old Muslim born in Macedonia said that she opted for the operation to avoid being punished by her father when her eight-year relationship with her boyfriend ended.

“I was afraid that my father would take me to a doctor and see whether I was still a virgin,” said the woman, who owns a small business and lives on her own in Frankfurt. “He told me, ‘I will forgive everything but not if you have thrown dirt on my honor.’ I wasn’t afraid he would kill me, but I was sure he would have beaten me.”

In other cases, the woman and her partner decide for her to have the operation. A 26-year-old French woman of Moroccan descent said she lost her virginity four years ago when she fell in love with the man she now plans to marry. But she and her fiancé decided to share the cost of her $3,400 hymen restoration in Paris.

His extended family in Morocco is very conservative, she said, and is requiring that a gynecologist — and family friend — there examine her for proof of virginity before the wedding.

“It doesn’t matter for my fiance that I am not a virgin — but it would pose a huge problem for his family,” she said. “They know that you can pour blood on the sheets on the wedding night, so I have to have better proof.”

Debates about the affect of religion on society tend to focus on big-ticket items. One side points to the Inquisition and the Crusades, while the other side points to Stalin and Mao. These are important discussions to have, but they miss something important.

If you really want to understand the harm that religion does you should think about articles like this one. It’s one small example of the everyday torment faced by people forced to live in cultures where some very bad religious ideas have been allowed to go unchallenged. Think of the day-to-day lives of children and teenagers forced to gorw-up in environments of religious extremism, be it Muslim as in this article, or fundamentalist Christian as faced by so many young people in this country.

Yes, I realize that religion can be a force for good in the lives of teenagers as well. For every child tormented by religious thugs or emotionally (or physically) abused by zealous parents, you can find another who found a valuable social support system in the church, or who were shown a level of compassion and kindness that was never extended to them in school.

The thing is, it’s hard to believe that you really need a lot of supernatural baggage to derive those social benefits. Compassion and kindness do not die when people stop believing in God. On the other hand, there are certain sorts of abuse that are vastly more likely to occur in the presence of religious belief than in its absence. Only someone driven mad by religion would beat his daughter for losing her virginity before her wedding, for example.

Comments

  1. #1 Jim Thomerson
    June 10, 2008

    There is an old joke, not involving muslims, in which the young lady has the operation three times. The doctor charges her $50, $50 and $250. Why is the operation now $250, she asks. The Dr. replies that this time he has installed a zipper.

  2. #2 DanGerousIntersection
    June 10, 2008

    I don’t think that religion is the root cause of the masculine insecurity that leads to demands of bridal virginity for both buyer and seller. It is simply the cultural institution that most readily panders to and propagates it.

    As for me, I’ve always thought that selecting a sex partner for inexperience is as wise as selecting any practitioner based on total lack of qualification. Given that we are talking about a permanently binding contract, it is especially silly.

  3. #3 pough
    June 10, 2008

    It’s one small example of the everyday torment faced by people forced to live in cultures where some very bad religious ideas have been allowed to go unchallenged.

    Are you certain these ideas didn’t predate the religions?

  4. #4 Michael Leza
    June 10, 2008

    [quote]Are you certain these ideas didn’t predate the religions?[/quote]

    Why would this matter? The fact is that organized religion provide cover for ideas that could never stand up to scrutiny from educated critical thinkers, giving them the free pass of “tolerance.” The fact is, there is a direct causal relationship between religion in general and increased human suffering. The above article is only one of many examples of how this horrible meme virus is causing misery and suffering every moment of every day, and will continue to do so unless it is countered by a new, stronger, bolder Enlightenment.

  5. #5 qetzal
    June 10, 2008

    I’m with pough. I’m not sure you can fairly blame religion here. Note that the woman said virginity was important to her culture, not specifically her faith.

    Religions may certainly be used to reinforce and promote such beliefs, but that doesn’t mean religion is necessarily to blame. If we somehow eliminated religion without changing anything else, would this sort of cultural belief disappear, or even significantly decrease? I doubt it.

  6. #6 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 10, 2008

    “In my culture, not to be a virgin is to be dirt,� said the student, perched on a hospital bed as she awaited surgery on Thursday. �Right now, virginity is more important to me than life.�

    I’d say “dirt” is a mild word for the Muslim men whose medieval attitudes these operations are designed to appease. They beat and even murder their own wives and daughters in the most brutal manner and then talk of “honour”. They are utterly beneath contempt.

  7. #7 137
    June 10, 2008

    I am 137, and you are reading the light of the God of Truth. Verily I present to you, the translated Synopsis of the chapters of the Quran by 137. You are a human being, mostly percieving your reality through the eyes of contextual thought. To think independent of your guiding contexts, you must be aware of how your mind runs. Your mind is susceptible to words, especially those that resonate contexts that are equivalent to a specific way of being. We are here and you are reading this cosmic wisdom, therefore we have the means to have survived. These by the way for those who are not aware, are the real names of the chapters of the Quran, no kidding.
    1. The Opening = The context of judgement is resonated, a context that is innate to the human BEING as a result of the desire to survive. The words take advantage well.
    2. The Cow = The context of fear is resonated given the context of judgement in the background (yet another that is innate from the survival mechanism). The core being is now susceptible to fears and judgements as consequences of not believing.
    3. The Family of Imran = The context of submission is resonated, given the background of 1 and 2 above, which now occurs to the human as the solution, the right path. The consequential being is clearly present in the basic physical form of prayer in the human BEING (henceforth referred to as a mussal-man, mussal is greenlandish for fooled or victimized) that falls for it. Prayer is a natural genetic trait for a human BEING, an expression of his or her intent for how the universe, his or her reality, should unfold in form.
    4. The Women = The context of righteousness is introduced as obvious from 3, which the mussal-man is now clearly expecting. It is presented by bringing up a set of rules with respect to women in society. Sex is one of the biggest inauthenticties in way of being for a human BEING. (Human BEING like to pretend like its not part of regular conversational reality in conservative societes.) Bringing in a set of rules with respect to women up reinforces the way of thinking, being and speaking “I have to bring in a set of rules to make my current reality alright, if I want to be accepted as good and recieve my reward at the end, in the afterlife”. Powerful words to allow Mussal-Men to implicitly dominate, which by the way is also an innate context for men due to the survival mechanism. The Mussal-Men now understand this “Gift” was meant to be. (Probably when first introduced to the Quran, through arabic song, it would be very difficult to resist for a human man being with all the innate contexts of judgement, fear, submission and righteousness that are now running. A gift of dominating sex would be welcome at this point, especially to a being with a survival mechanism hardwired into his genes. The Quran is usually introduced to most Mussal-Men at a very young age. A Hu-Man BEING does not have a fully mature male brain till 23. At 5, forget about it, its mostly the innate contexts that dominate thought in the background. A child’s mind is precious, and susceptible. )
    5. The Dinner Table = More rules and fear and judgements to now form a collective. As a society, it works since the number of Mussal-Men is about fixed at a expandable ratio of 1:4. Traditional Human BEING is 1 man to 1 woman. This not only automatically ensures that the human BEING is now hooked to this way of thinking, feeling and percieving reality but also that eventually, Mussal-Men will dominate the human WORLD, because in the world of exponential math, a binary tree aint no match for a 1:4 tree.
    6. …. Non believers eventually don’t matter anyway …. and hey girl, if you don’t have your hymen, you don’t either.

    Read it for yourself. You have a choice… in all matters.

  8. #8 bobyu
    June 10, 2008

    Perhaps the worst thing that religion does is adapt itself to the prevailing culture for the express purpose of setting its rules, rituals and traditions in stone. So that what may have worked well in primitive times, becomes extremely destructive 2000 or more years later.

    Religion has thus become ignorance personified, so that the ignorant have more than just a void waiting to be filled, they have one that was filled long ago with what has now become a putrified fossil – not only extremely difficult to remove, but one in which its loss may simply result in the demise of the patient.

  9. #9 pough
    June 10, 2008

    Why would this matter?

    Are you serious? If it already existed, then it didn’t need religion, did it? Particularly in the case of men treating women badly, religion doesn’t need to be around in any form. Also, while I’m no fan of religion and I think that religions get a free pass in many areas where they deserve none, I think it might be wiser to co-opt religion to improve situations (where possible) in the same way that religion has co-opted the terrible treatment of women from culture. Mohammed and Jesus were both pretty progressive in their treatment of women (as written, anyways) and it took their followers to beat them back down.

    If you’re going to attack religion, do it from a position of accuracy at the very least. And if you can’t do that, maybe try to hold your nose and work through religion to effect the cultural changes you desire. Religion was used to justify slavery. Religion was also used to great positive effect for civil rights. I don’t think that it’s really the root of very much, positive or negative, but it can be used as a tool… mostly because so many people disagree with me!

  10. #10 Jrme ^
    June 11, 2008

    That’s very interesting because it fits closely to French actuality. A tribunal in Lille just cancelled a marriage because the bride was not a virgin: http://www.liberation.fr/actualite/societe/329149.FR.php (in French). Just about everybody here, including the right, is totally scandalized by this, and fears that this will lead to a huge increase in hymen reconstruction surgery.

  11. #11 Jud
    June 11, 2008

    I do think religion, particularly more “fundamentalist” forms (quotes because I think often we are talking about conservatism, literalism, or both, not adherence to the fundamental guiding spirit of a religion such as the Golden Rule), can tend to attract and put in positions of authority those who dislike social change. This can too easily result in individual misery of the type described in the Times article.

  12. #12 mk
    June 11, 2008

    Are you certain these ideas didn’t predate the religions?

    Our species no doubt was capable of and probably had these cultural/religious attitudes long before Islam (or any other modern day religion) existed. But refering to them as “religious ideas” today is hardly inaccurate.

  13. #13 valhar2000
    June 11, 2008

    But refering to them as “religious ideas” today is hardly inaccurate.

    Particularly given that the main modern relgiions did not come out of nowhere: there were other religions, or superstitious systems of belief, if you will, before them, and those no doubt incorporated garbage of the sort described in The Times.

  14. #14 Wes
    June 11, 2008

    The males of many species have evolved ways to prevent other males from mating with females, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that human males have also evolved these defense mechanisms. By shaming women for having sex, they prevent them from mating with other males. Religion often serves to justify and reinforce unquestioned cultural traditions and practices by declaring them to be so important that the Ruler of the Whole Universe insists you abide by them, so again I guess it’s not too surprising that religion is all mixed up in this “You better have a hymen or else” nonsense. In the absence of a religious justification it would be difficult to find a rational justification for such practices in today’s world.

  15. #15 Blake Stacey
    June 11, 2008

    Mohammed and Jesus were both pretty progressive in their treatment of women (as written, anyways) and it took their followers to beat them back down.

    Uthman, the third Caliph, burned all copies of the Koran which did not agree with his personal views. The only statements we have about Jesus’s views come from his followers; indeed, the only statements testifying to his bare existence come from documents dated centuries later, which were copied by devout Christians. How, exactly, do we know what either man could have thought about women?

  16. #16 pough
    June 11, 2008

    How, exactly, do we know what either man could have thought about women?

    You’ve managed to express the exact reason I included “as written, anyways”. Whether or not they had actual progressive ideas toward women is pretty much immaterial at this point. What people go by is what’s written.

  17. #17 J. J. Ramsey
    June 11, 2008

    Blake Stacey: “The only statements we have about Jesus’s views come from his followers; indeed, the only statements testifying to his bare existence come from documents dated centuries later, which were copied by devout Christians.”

    This is off-topic, but the documents are dated decades later, not centuries.

  18. #18 Reginald Selkirk
    June 12, 2008

    “Right now, virginity is more important to me than life.”

    Right now perhaps, but it seems this wasn’t true at some time in her past.

  19. #19 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    June 12, 2008


    Blake Stacey: “The only statements we have about Jesus’s views come from his followers; indeed, the only statements testifying to his bare existence come from documents dated centuries later, which were copied by devout Christians.”

    J.J. Ramsey: This is off-topic, but the documents are dated decades later, not centuries.

    That is off-topic, and questionable. The original manuscripts are believed to have been written 40+ years after the alleged life of Jesus H. Christ, but we don’t have any of the original manuscripts. The earliest known copies of any New Testament books date to the second century. For other books, it is as late as the fourth century.

  20. #20 J. J. Ramsey
    June 12, 2008

    Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD: “The earliest known copies of any New Testament books date to the second century. For other books, it is as late as the fourth century.”

    I’d say that discussion is more fit for IIDB (and even that board has its share of cranks), but I’ll leave off this tangent by noting that in Paul’s epistles, we have him expecting that either he or his followers expected to see the end of the age, and that in the Synoptics, we have a somewhat attenuated expectation where Jesus says that a few of his hearers will see the end come. Such predictions stood a chance of being true in the first century, but become increasingly obviously wrong the later one gets. Positing a second-century date for a Synoptic gospel means positing that its author probably knowingly put a false prediction in Jesus’ mouth (as opposed to doing so accidentally). That makes really late dates dicey for certain parts of the New Testament.

  21. #21 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    June 13, 2008

    I will bow out with pointing out that your argument is not based on manuscripts, or linguistic analysis, or anything else that typically qualifies as evidence; it amounts to “they couldn’t have been THAT stupid!”

  22. #22 J. J. Ramsey
    June 14, 2008

    Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD: “I will bow out with pointing out that your argument is not based on manuscripts, or linguistic analysis, or anything else that typically qualifies as evidence”

    And you’d know what “typically qualifies as evidence” for dating historical documents … how? Considering that you’ve been casting doubt on the consensus dating of the Gospels by pointing to the dating of the manuscripts, you don’t know that much. If historical documents were dated by how old the earliest manuscripts were, then the works of Josephus would be dated to the 9th century or so.

    Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD: “it amounts to ‘they couldn’t have been THAT stupid!’”

    And considering the backpedaling in 2 Peter 3:3-13 about how “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” in response to “scoffers” grumbling about Jesus not coming soon enough, we have evidence that they weren’t all THAT stupid.

  23. #23 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    June 14, 2008

    And you’d know what “typically qualifies as evidence” for dating historical documents … how?

    Apparently you don’t understand that “I will bow out now” means you’re not going to get a response. I will adjust my opinion of your intellect accordingly.

  24. #24 Caledonian
    June 17, 2008

    What, all of his previous comments haven’t been enough?

    And your comeback would be more cutting if making didn’t mean that you had in fact come back, which is incompatible with bowing out.

    If I may be so bold as to make a suggestion, it’s far better simply to ignore provocateurs such as Ramsey and confine your responses to people making interesting arguments.

  25. #25 windy
    June 17, 2008

    This is off-topic, but the documents are dated decades later, not centuries.

    Apparently you didn’t bother to read Blake’s link at all. You might not agree with the interpretation but at least you could acknowledge it.

  26. #26 J. J. Ramsey
    June 17, 2008

    windy: “Apparently you didn’t bother to read Blake’s link at all.”

    windy, Blake Stacey was citing an amateur as a reference to a claim that would be considered obviously wrong by actual scholars in the field, including the liberal ones. Since the matter was off-topic, I was trying keep my response brief. Obviously, this didn’t work out.

  27. #27 windy
    June 18, 2008

    Ramsey, you could have just written what you just wrote now. There was no way to know that you were actually challenging the interpretation, not just repeating the commonly accepted wisdom.

    citing an amateur as a reference to a claim that would be considered obviously wrong by actual scholars in the field, including the liberal ones.

    It’s true that Ebonmuse’s page leaves something to desire as a reference, but Hector Avalos has also challenged Josephus et al, so it’s not true that no scholars do so.

  28. #28 bmkmd
    June 18, 2008

    Its amazing that on an Evolution Blog, that religion is seen as the casue and chasticy seen as the result.
    The religious ideas and rules about chastity are “raltionalizations” of the biologic urge/need/desire to protect one’s own genes, as that fellow from Cambridge says.
    Women who are already sexually active may well be more likely to cheat on their husband, and get pregnant by other “sperm doners”.
    They may also know a good lover better after having sex with someone other than their husbands, and again be more likely to get sperm elsewhere.
    Its biology that’s driving this obsession, with religion as a willing “bed fellow” (only after getting married, of course.)

  29. #29 J. J. Ramsey
    June 18, 2008

    windy: “Hector Avalos has also challenged Josephus et al, so it’s not true that no scholars do so.”

    Pardon my ignorance, but the only scrap that I can readily find where Avalos says something with regards to Josephus is this from the Debunking Christianity blog:

    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2008/01/dr-hector-avalos-comments-on-his-debate.html

    From the look of it, he seems to take as given that Josephus’ reference to James is genuine, only arguing that William Lane Craig read a Christian martyrdom into it that was not attested by the text. From what I’ve seen, it’s largely the “Jebus didn’t exist” crowd that contests that particular reference. Now he may contest the Testimonium Flavianum for all I know, since it is obviously at least a partial interpolation if not wholly forged, but there is no scholarly consensus on the Testimonium, so that wouldn’t be too remarkable.

  30. #30 Mary
    June 18, 2008

    The need for such an operation to appease a cultural or religious belief, that women must be virgins is extraordinary – but there you go.

    Interesting viewpoints on the biological need to preserve the genetic line!

  31. #31 137
    June 18, 2008

    Mary, you have a veiwpoint on sharing the biological need to preserve the genetic line! You’re innate predesposition to have a finger itch everytime to see a religious comment got the better of you ….. rofl

  32. #32 137
    June 21, 2008

    Polar Mesospheric Clouds represent the Angels’ Magnetic Grid going live in 2012 that Kryon spoke about at the United Nations.

  33. #33 DDeden
    June 22, 2008

    Not a word said about hidden estrus in human females, possible selective advantage of hymen in H sapiens, speculative cause for it’s existence, etc. but tons of effusive crud about patriarchal males and morals ala creationism.

    Everybody wants to be an anti-creationist preacher, but where’s the teacher of natural selection? Bible bashers are as lame as bible thumpers, they just don’t sing as well.

  34. #34 Leni
    June 22, 2008

    Wes wrote:

    Religion often serves to justify and reinforce unquestioned cultural traditions and practices by declaring them to be so important that the Ruler of the Whole Universe insists you abide by them, so again I guess it’s not too surprising that religion is all mixed up in this “You better have a hymen or else” nonsense. In the absence of a religious justification it would be difficult to find a rational justification for such practices in today’s world.

    I think this pretty much sums it up. (Really well, too, Wes. I usually really enjoy your comments, by the way.)

    If religion is propping this practice up- then at this point, it is to blame. It reminds me of the saying “An appearance of a problem is a problem”.

    As far as this surgery goes though, I’m going to lay some of blame on the women who have it. They shouldn’t do it. If they don’t change things, no one will. I don’t want them to suffer and I don’t expect it should be a simple choice, but on the other hand- if they don’t do it, who will? It has to be them. There is no one else.

    At some point they have to stop agreeing to it or it will never change.

  35. #35 windy
    June 22, 2008

    Not a word said about hidden estrus in human females, possible selective advantage of hymen in H sapiens, speculative cause for it’s existence, etc. but tons of effusive crud about patriarchal males and morals ala creationism.

    -Adaptive explanations for the hymen and religious explanations for the cultural importance attached to the hymen are not mutually exclusive

    -However, there are reasons to suspect the adaptive explanations, at least the ones where the hymen is supposed to delay having sex. What is the supposed mechanism here? Imagine that you are a pubescent girl in some early human population. By the time you notice that attempting to have sex hurts, you already have a caveman on top of you, so relying on the hymen to prevent penetration seems a bit chancy! Or, if a hymen is a “honest signal” so that early men would have specifically sought sex with virgins, again, it would seem that a hymen would not help in delaying sexual activity. (Pre-humans would not have had the cultural benefits for virginity, like bride prices, so you need to show how a hymen would increase the woman’s fitness)

  36. #36 J. J. Ramsey
    June 22, 2008

    Leni: “As far as this surgery goes though, I’m going to lay some of blame on the women who have it. They shouldn’t do it…. At some point they have to stop agreeing to it or it will never change.”

    You know what will happen if they don’t do it? They’ll probably be dead, and they won’t be in a position to advocate anything.

    You are getting dangerously close to blaming the victim here.

  37. #37 137
    June 24, 2008

    Hymen, derives from the words Hi and Men. Pronounced: Hi-Men

  38. #38 temizlik
    July 2, 2008

    thank you wery much