By JENNY BROCKIE, HOST OF SBS INSIGHT
“Have the hymens arrived yet?”
You hear some strange questions in the Insight office but a daily check on hymen arrival was a whole new level of weird.
We’d ordered 13 boxes of artificial hymens from China for this week’s show on virginity. None of us had a clue what a fake hymen looked like, or how one worked, and we suspected our audience didn’t know either.
Establishing a woman’s virginity before marriage is a serious business in some cultures and religions. During our research it quickly became clear that all roads led to the hymen – a small piece of skin inside the vagina that’s broken during sexual penetration.
An intact hymen can be a crucial measure of virginity, despite the fact that the hymen can be broken without having sex. The stakes are often high – family honour, dowries, social acceptance – so some women will go to extraordinary lengths to ensure there’s blood on the sheets on their wedding night, as proof of virginity.
Dr Les Blackstock is a cosmetic surgeon in Sydney who reconstructs hymens for some of these women. He also operates on rape victims. Dr Blackstock says he’s done 15 hymen reconstructions so far this year, and his patients come from all backgrounds and religions. Some want to disguise that they’ve had sex, others say they just want a ‘clean slate’ with a new partner.
Dr Blackstock is proud of his work. “I know that my hymens have passed inspection in Australia and overseas and not been detected” he tells me, in what sounds like an unusual form of border control.
And there are inspections. Dr Wafa Samen is a gynecologist from western Sydney who gives out letters to women, in English and Arabic, certifying their hymens are intact.
She says she doesn’t get many requests, but the certificates can help quell rumours a woman has had sex before marriage.
And what if Dr Wafa discovers one of Dr Blackstock’s reconstructed hymens? “I give a certificate that the hymen is there.”
When it comes to rules around virginity, there are different standards for men.