I want to write about a visit that is not too uncommon in my practice. It is important and relevant in the world and yet we are not talking about it. It has to do with the incredible power the hymen has over some cultures.
I saw a patient, lets say Julie. She was raised in Sudan by two working parents and for as long as she can remember, she was told to ‘protect’ her hymen by her mother. This was important for her future marriage and ability to have the family choose her a suitable husband. She never used tampons, she thought about it growing up with fear, thinking ‘what if it breaks?’, it was a mystery yet undeniably important. She loved and was loved by her parents very much. Fast forward to college where her parents want her to have the best education possible. She comes to an American University. Succeeds in her chosen major of engineering. She is different from the American women but is able to find her way. She has what she calls ‘an accident’ with her hymen. She had intercourse. It was a moment when she let down her guard and gave into normal human desire. Her life is now in turmoil because her plans are to return to her country for an arranged marriage which is the custom in her country. She cannot tell her family or her friends. She is isolated and afraid. She lives in the fear that if in the course of her marriage plans, if she does not bleed on her wedding night, she might be discarded or killed. It would shame her family.
There is no room for this kind of ‘mistake’ in her family. If her future husband had such a mistake before marriage, no one would ever know expect him and maybe another lover. He will not be help accountable for such perfection. She describes these fears in my office with a desperate plea to make her anatomy whole again so that she may be able to find forgiveness with herself and her God. We talk about hymenoplasty. She listens to the Koran in the preop and postop. She has tears of joy at being able to consider going back to her life in Sudan and marrying the husband of her families’ choosing. She has less terror and shame.
Many women do not bleed the night they consummate their marriage, even if they are virginal. Such fear in young women is inhumane and so sad. While I support cultural norms I do not support not having a way of forgiveness for women that does not involve shame, terror or even death. Growing up involves making mistakes of many kinds. We are only human.
Here at Dr N Gyn we are trying to help women find their way in this complicated world.