Surgeons in the Netherlands will no longer carry out operations to reconstruct the hymen of young women, a procedure described by opponents as “fake medicine”.
The hymen is a piece of tissue which partially covers the opening of the vagina. Traditionally, if the hymen is ruptured, it is considered a sign that the woman has had penetrative sexual intercourse, while an intact hymen is proof of virginity.
However this has long been considered erroneous: the hymen may easily be ruptured by other means, including bicycle riding or using tampons. Some hymens are so partial they may even appear to have been ruptured. Conversely, an intact hymen gives no indication of any other form of sexual activity.
Nonetheless, in many cultures the state of the hymen is taken to be absolute proof of virginity, which becomes supremely important when the woman is to be married. For that reason, many women and their families seek medical help to reconstruct a hymen that has been ruptured in one way or another.
Such reconstructive surgery is carried out in Belgium, but now surgeons in the neighbouring Netherlands have decided to refuse to carry out the procedure. And the Dutch government is considering an official ban on the practice.
“I am a strong supporter of such a ban,” she said. A hymen reconstruction is fake medicine. You hope it’s a way of sustaining the myth that blood must accompany a deflowering, but that’s absolutely not true. Bleeding proves nothing. Is it right to play along with that?”
She now intends to work to bring about such a ban in Belgium.
“I want to make an effort towards that,” she said. But a ban alone is not enough. You also have to have a dialogue with the cultures where that is still practised, and put some weight behind information campaigns. I intend to keep digging to find a way it can be done.”
Not only is the operation practised in Belgium, it is also reimbursed by medical insurance. But figures are hard to come by.
“The procedure comes under the heading of the larger group of plastic surgery on the vagina and vulva,” explained Johan Van Wiemeersch of the Flemish association of gynaecologists. “Separate figures for hymen reconstructions are not available. But in my practice we receive about one request a year for such an operation.”
The association leaves the decision to the individual doctor, he said.
“Here, too, there is a group of doctors who refuse to carry out the procedure, because they consider it a deception. But there are also doctors who look at case by case, and who think the girls need to be helped. They are concerned to stop the girl encountering problems.”