In Europe, hymen ‘repair’ is controversial because it is often seen as a concession to immigrant groups that do not respect women’s sexual autonomy. But how is hymen ‘repair’ viewed in societies in which the norm is that women should not have premarital sex? And why do women want hymen ‘repair’? Hymen ‘repair’ is also controversial in Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries because it is seen as undermining social mores about women and premarital sex. However, some Islamic leaders have defended the procedure. Women request hymen ‘repairs’ for a variety of reasons. Some have been sexually abused and may desire the surgery to overcome trauma. Some have had consensual sex and may fear sanctions, while others may see the surgery as a covert act of rebellion against the virginity rule. Still others may choose it to please their future husband. Hymen ‘repair’ is extensively discussed in MENA countries and in Europe. Feminists in MENA countries are divided over whether the surgery promotes sexual autonomy while, in the European debate, an important issue is whether the choice itself is an autonomous one that doctors should respect. Inspired by a relational approach to autonomy, I see the women involved as individuals with culturally informed identities and interests who may feel pressure to get the surgery yet are still capable of autonomy. I argue for a policy to stimulate debate in communities about the virginity norm and to make hymen ‘repair’ available to women. However, it should be combined with an attitude of sympathetic distrust, recognising that hymen ‘repair’ harms women’s dignity and authenticity.
- Hymen ‘repair’, hymen reconstruction, hymenoplasty, sexuality, virginity, middle East, North Africa, Europe, feminism, women’s views and experiences