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Recreating virginity

*Hymenoplasty, the operation through which a woman's virginity is restored, is a surprisingly hot topic on Iranian weblogs. Vaginal reconstruction is a popular operation throughout the Middle East and among expatriate Middle Easterners of all religious backgrounds. The operation itself has been performed for centuries in a culture where girls are expected to be virgins on the wedding night. Traditionally, a groom's avowal that the young bride was not a virgin could cause scandal.

*Hymen repair is now sought by sexually active women in many major cities, women who feel they have a right to sex but are too afraid to openly defy the norms. Many are from the more conservative religious classes. Young women from the religious city of Qom agonise on the internet over what to do. Some hope to marry their current boyfriend or an enlightened suitor who would overlook their non-virginity. But a majority of young men maintain a double standard: They want to date and have intercourse with a woman from their own social class but they also want to marry a virgin. Others say they are more worried about what family might say. Because of this double standard women wonder if they should tell their fiance and risk having the engagement broken off, or get the operation. Many opt for the latter.

*Iranian feminists are divided on the merits of hymen repair. Some believe it reinforces existing power relations and affirms the patriarchal order. Others, such as Fataneh Farahani, suggest that widespread recourse to hymenoplasty is gradually making it impossible to tell the difference between ‘real virgins’ and ‘fake virgins’, in the end making virginity meaningless. Men are indeed aware of these tricks, often joking that there are no real virgins left.

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