"Women can explore and learn to understand themselves."
Across Desi, Middle Eastern and North American cultures, there has been a rise in products to restore virginity.
The rise in products to restore virginity is due to it still being idealised; it can be a valuable commodity.
Currently, there are two overarching ways of restoring virginity.
Firstly, have hymenoplasty surgery and use non-surgical products such as virginity pills and artificial hymen kits.
There are also creams, gels and soaps that vow to restore virginity by tightening the vagina.
Cosmetic gynaecology is a billion-pound global industry, with revirgination products and procedures being very profitable.
However, even as the global revirgination industry continues to grow, it remains shrouded in the shadows.
Desi women only talk about practices to restore virginity within their trusted circles.
British schoolteacher Ruby Jha* says:
“My cousins in India and one in London have had the repair virginity surgery; they just don’t advertise it.
“Only specific family and friends who won’t blab know; they cover for each other.
“Keeping it quiet means, they can do what they want with no judgement and no community disapproval.”
Today, technological and surgical advancements and access to resources give Desi women more options.
We explore some of the reasons as well as the products available.
Sex and sexuality today are not as demonised as they once were, but female sexuality remains a contentious issue in many cultures and religions.
For example, across Desi communities, female virginity is still expected before marriage.
Although premarital sex occurs more, it is still deemed taboo.
Hence, virginity restoration can help Desi women avoid shame, abuse and even death.
There are many reasons why Desi women use products to restore virginity.
For some women, it presents the idea of sexual freedom.
For others, the misinformation about virginity are helping enable the rise of demand for products to restore virginity.
Zakia Khan*, a housing advisor from Birmingham said:
“So much of what I have been told about the hymen and virginity, I now realise is there, to control me and other women. Now I know that I hate it.
“The danger is a lot of Asian women I know don’t know that what they know is misinformation and not true knowledge. So it gets passed on and passed on.”
Only recently has she begun to question the legitimacy of cultural ideas around female virginity.
Zakia feels frustrated that ‘”true knowledge” is something she has to search for online.
Zakia dislikes the fact that reliable information about virginity is not easily provided. She feels knowledge and facts need to be discussed openly.
For Zakia, the mainstreaming of such information would have more Desi women questioning the legitimacy of virginity. Rather than Desi women looking to restore virginity.
As the World Health Organisation (WHO) stresses, there is no biological basis for the idea of virginity, it is a social construct.
Yet, female virginity remains highly valued and idealised, and the hymen and blood remain positioned as indicators of female purity.
What is the Hymen?
Contrary to its name, the hymen is not a complete membrane or skin covering the whole vaginal opening.
After all, menstrual blood can pass through the vagina before a woman’s first time having penetrative sex.
Typically, hymens have a hole big enough for menstrual blood to come out. The popular idea of the hymen being a barrier needing to be broken is wrong.
Nevertheless, the hymen remains synonymous with the concept of female virginity.
How does the Hymen Look?
Hymens are not uniform in size and shape. Medical analysis shows there are five types of hymens:
- A normal hymen is shaped like a half-moon, thus allowing menstrual blood to flow out.
- The cribriform hymen has several tiny openings through which menstrual blood can flow.
- An imperforate hymen completely covers the opening to a woman’s vagina, making it impossible for menstrual blood to flow out.
- The microperforate hymen has a very tiny opening.
- The septate hymen has a thin band of tissue in the centre.
The different types of hymens mean that surgery is not always a solution to restore virginity.
But the existence of the imperforate hymen will lead to essential surgery happening.
The purpose of having a hymen is still a medical mystery. However, gynaecologists believe the hymen protects the vagina from certain germs and dirt.
The Hymen & Blood as Markers of Virginity
The idea of the hymen as a marker of virginity is wrong.
The hymen does not break. Instead, it tears and stretches. This can happen before penetrative sex through tampons and sports.
Also, not all women bleed during their first time of penetrative sex.
Yet, the emphasis on the hymen breaking and blood signalling virginity is embedded in the popular imagination.
So products that aim to restore virginity focus on recreating the hymen and/or blood being shed.
Products and procedures promising to restore virginity use words such as repair and restore; the symbolism of these words matters.
Repair suggests that something went wrong and needs to be corrected and restore indicates that “something was lost and needs to be recovered”.
Hymenoplasty is a cosmetic procedure that is also known as hymen-repair surgery, with different techniques that can be used.
Firstly, there is a procedure in which a membrane without blood supply is created.
This creates a barrier to “penile penetration but may not result in bleeding after intercourse”.
In the second type of surgery, a flap of the vaginal lining and its blood supply is taken to create a new hymen.
There is also the “alloplant technique”, which involves the insertion of a tearable biomaterial in place of the hymen.
The alloplant technique is used if there are no remains left of the ruptured hymen.
The cost of hymenoplasty, which takes approximately 30 minutes to an hour (max three hours), can be up to £4,000 in the UK.
In Pakistani cities such as Karachi, Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Lahore, hymenoplasty is readily available.
The cost of hymenoplasty in Pakistan starts from Rs. 40,000 (£180).
Moreover, in India, prices range from approximately Rs. 25,000 (£240) to Rs. 60,000 (£580).
The overall cost of hymenoplasty is determined by the surgeon’s skill, the clinic, the technique used, and any additional hospital charges.
Clinics offering Hymenoplasty
A growing number of clinics across the world offer surgery to restore virginity.
Worldwide, hymenoplasty is mostly done in private clinics that aren’t required by law to record numbers.
Approximately 9,000 people searched Google for hymenoplasty and related terms in the UK in 2019.
In 2020, a Sunday Times investigation found at least 22 private clinics across the UK offering hymenoplasty.
Women across the world are secretly flocking to London clinics to restore their virginity.
Between 2007 and 2017, at least 109 women underwent hymenoplasty in NHS hospitals.
The real number is predicted to be higher, exact NHS figures remain hidden.
Only nine local NHS trusts and about 150 NHS Foundation Trusts provided data. Data was provided under a Freedom of Information request, the rest declined to reveal their data.
In India, clinics offering hymenoplasty are easy to find. A Google search led to 145 clinics being identified.
The growing number of clinics in India is reflective of the fact that in recent years the demand for hymenoplasty has risen to 30%.
Despite the ongoing demand for hymenoplasty, secrecy around hymenoplasty being undertaken remains strong.
For example, Yashlock Medical Centre in India, says on their website:
“We make sure that your privacy is strictly maintained and even the staff in the hospital does not know the name of the surgery for which you are admitted.
“It is strictly confidential between you and your doctor.”
What do Desi Women & Men think about Hymenoplasty?
Perceptions about female premarital sex and virginity vary across Desi communities. Hence, hymenoplasty is seen by some Desi men and women as a valuable tool and by others as problematic.
Desi Women’s Perspectives
Ruby Jha sees hymenoplasty as valuable for women:
“Women can explore and learn to understand themselves.
“Some of my cousins [in London and India], thanks to the surgery, were able to give the community what they expect.
“The spaces in which my cousins are based in, mean it matters, the illusion of virginity is needed.”
“Yes almost everyone is having sex, exploring, but the illusion of it not happening is still important, still necessary.”
On the other hand, Hasina Begum* argues:
“No way would I waste money on the surgery.
“Before marriage, I didn’t go past second base, and if I had… well depending on who I had married fake blood would have been less hassle.”
For Hasina, hymenoplasty is too invasive as a procedure, she feels more comfortable with the thought of using non-surgical products like fake blood.
Desi Men’s Perspectives
Birmingham-based service worker Ismael Khan* married his girlfriend in 2018. He says:
“I don’t get it, I’m not a hypocrite and I would not want my wife having unnecessary surgery.”
Ismael goes onto say:
“It’s a waste of money and the expectation of a virgin bride is just BS.
“I can totally live without the experience of breaking the barrier and blood.”
For Ismael the gender discrimination prevalent in attitudes towards female sexuality and premarital sex is outdated.
He also believes the existence of hymenoplasty is problematic, allowing the continued idea that female virginity is a must. He added:
“The surgery allows the double standard to stay in place, it validates the value placed on virginity and the pressure on women.”
In contrast, Imran Khan* said:
“No in Islam and our culture girls are meant to wait until marriage.
“Doing the surgery and the reason for doing it are both morally wrong.”
Imran’s views on sex outside marriage for women and hymenoplasty are not uncommon.
Rather Imran’s views are reflective of many religions and conservative cultures, where premarital sex, especially for women is positioned as sinful.
Non-Surgical Products to Restore Virginity
An alternative to going under the knife is using non-surgical products.
Products that promise to restore virginity or give the illusion of virginity include artificial hymen kits, fake blood, creams, gels and soaps.
Chinese manufacturers are leading the way in producing non-surgical options on the market.
For some, the non-surgical products vowing to give the illusion of virginity are more easily accessible and affordable.
Amina Sayed*, of Mirpur, Pakistan asserts:
“There is no chance of getting away to do the surgery in the village for most, I know a kuri [girl] who bought the kit and luckily never got caught.”
Artificial Hymen Kits to Restore Virginity
On the internet, hundreds of artificial hymen kits containing fake blood and vaginal tightening pills can be found. Products under the brands Zarimon and Vagitone, in particular, are easy to locate online.
The UK-based company Zarimon, which has since deleted its website, charged £299 for a kit to restore virginity, positioning itself as a ‘safe’ alternative to hymenoplasty.
The website said:
“If you have lost your virginity for any reason, such as exercising or due to sexual activities, there is a chance to renew (it)”.
An online review site that looked at Zarimon and Vagitone hymen repair kits made the following warning:
“[We] have not been able to know the ingredients used to manufacture the Zarimon artificial hymen pill. They say it is a secret.
“We highly recommend not to insert any product into your vagina if you do not know the ingredients they are made of, it could be potentially very harmful to your vaginal health.”
Similar kits to Zarimon were sold on Amazon UK but are presently unavailable for sale due to backlash.
Yet artificial hymen kits are available for purchase through Amazon US and other online platforms.
The Artificial Hymen
There are many different types of artificial hymen kits that can be purchased online. One product is the Artificial Hymen Joan of Arc.
The Joan of Arc artificial hymen is made in Japan with medical grade Red Dye Liquid on the translucent membrane.
It is said the product “gives a very similar effect as real human blood”.
The artificial hymen is said to be made of “natural ingredients such as cellulose and albumin”.
According to the manufacturers, it is 100% safe. Once inserted in the vagina, the woman can “simulate virginity”. The company claims:
“The Artificial Hymen uses the latest medical technology to restore your virginity.
“It has been designed to simulate the loss of blood when losing your virginity and is know to be safe.”
One website sells artificial hymens for just £20 but prices can reach hundreds of pounds.
Sonia Rahmen*, a 34-year-old bank worker, used blood capsules with the knowledge of her husband on their wedding night:
“I know online you can get virginity capsules that are basically filled with fake blood.
“I went to the joke shop to get fake blood it did the same thing as the capsules and was far kinder on my purse.”
For Sonia, the need to give the illusion of virginity was to wave off any family disapproval and gossip.
Her husband and she both felt the need to hide the fact premarital sex had occurred between them.
The worry was that Sonia’s reputation would be tarnished with labels of being easy and immoral.
Creams, Soaps, Gels & Medicine
Across the internet, one can find products like soaps, creams, gels and herbal medicine proposing to tighten the vagina and make a woman like a virgin again.
In 2018, a Pakistani advert for herbal medicine claimed to restore virginity. Such products and their popularity exist due to a dire warning some grow up with.
Safeena grew up hearing the following sentiment from the elderly women of her household.
“If you don’t bleed on your wedding day, you will be sent back home the next day — or worse, your husband and in-laws will cut you into pieces.”
The advert positioned virginity as a vital commodity for women.
The advert reinforces that in Pakistani society, female virginity is something that is important.
Do Products Promise to Restore a Feeling rather than Literal Virginity?
A cream called ’18 Again’ promising to make women feel “18 again” and “like a virgin” caused uproar in India.
According to Ultratech, the manufacturers of ’18 Again’, it is a product that empowers women.
Rishi Bhatia, the owner of Ultratech, said the product contains gold dust, aloe vera, almond and pomegranate. He told the BBC:
“It’s a unique and revolutionary product which also works towards building inner confidence in a woman and boosting her self-esteem.”
He went on to say that the product does not claim to restore virginity but restores the “emotions of being a virgin”:
“We are only saying, ‘feel like a virgin’ – it’s a metaphor. It tries to bring back that feeling when a person is 18.”
Annie Raja, of the National Federation of Indian Women, argues:
“This kind of cream is utter nonsense, and could give some women an inferiority complex.”
The legitimacy of non-surgical products that vow to restore virginity has been significantly questioned by activists and doctors.
Also, consumers may not make the distinction between products that restore the feeling of being a virgin and products that restore virginity.
Warehouse worker Ankia Shabir* pointed out:
“My cousin got one of those virginity lotions, had no clue how it would restore her virginity.
“She wasn’t sure it would work, but she wanted to try it, to see if it would make it seem like she was a virgin.
“It didn’t, so she got one of those online kits but only after going on Twitter and Facebook to check what people had said.”
Products to restore virginity significantly bring into question ideas of consent, gender inequality, patriarchy and choice.
The Issue of Consent & Banning Products
In 2020 there were calls for hymen-repair surgery to be banned. The UK’s General Medical Council (GMC) guidelines state that informed consent must be obtained from a patient.
Under GMC guidelines, if it is suspected that consent has been “given under pressure”, procedures should not happen.
Analysing the GMC guidelines brings into question how a medical professional can correctly judge if consent is freely given.
Colin Melville, medical director and director of education and standards at the GMC, states:
“If a patient is under undue pressure from others to take a particular course, their consent may not be voluntary.
“If a doctor judges that a child or young person does not want a cosmetic intervention, it should not be performed.”
Implementing the guidelines must be difficult, as coercion can be indirect, subtle and naturalised.
Yet some professionals like Dr Khalid Khan maintain that a ban “isn’t an appropriate response”.
For Dr Khan, the focus should be on providing “good quality information” to patients.
It is not easy to police products. For example, Zarimon closed its website. However, products are still readily available via social media platforms.
Also, the safety of online products are questionable. Ankia Shabir’s* cousin purchased a lotion online and said:
“It was the cheaper option, she found one online and used it.
“She had a weird burning sensation for like a week when peeing, and was freaked out. But she wouldn’t go to doctors, luckily it went away.”
But does this mean products should simply be banned? Do governments have the resources to police online sites?
One problem with banning products is that it would encourage a black market to flourish. This happened with skin lightening products.
How much of a Choice is it?
Some position products and procedures that vow to restore virginity as methods of empowerment.
For some, products allow women to navigate and negotiate who they meet cultural as well as family expectations.
Yet the fact is the products exist within a world of gender inequality, where women have to play by different rules to men.
Dr Mahinda Watsa, a gynaecologist, writes a popular sexual advice column in the Mumbai Mirror and Bangalore Mirror. Dr Watsa states:
“Being a virgin is still prized and I don’t think attitudes will change in this century.”
Accordingly, in South Asia, Desi communities grow and evolve as the value placed on women’s virginity pre-marriage remains.
This value and its consequences act as a mechanism of social control and regulation.
In part, the continued rise of products to restore virginity is a sign of “virginity fetishism”.
Virginity fetishism is the result of sexism, patriarchy, double standards and unrealistic ideals.
Consumer choice is shaped, to a degree, by social and cultural norms, no matter how much it is wished otherwise.
So, the purchasing of products to restore virginity is influenced by forces outside the individual.
Ruby Jha argues: “None of our choices exist in a vacuum.
“Our choices are shaped by our family, community, friends and what we see and hear, and the past.
“Women wouldn’t need to buy products to fake virginity if the toxic value placed on it didn’t exist.”
The narrative placing virginity as a biological fact needs to be altered.
Conversations in schools and popular culture need to highlight the problems that exist with the very idea of virginity.
The rise in products to regain virginity will continue until female virginity is no longer a valuable and essential commodity.
Yet, for this to occur, fundamental structural change will need to take place.