A controversial procedure called hymenoplasty involves the hymen being restored after it's been torn or damaged either through sex or other activities.

According to an article written by Zinhlezonke Zikalala for Women's Health, she quotes Dr Natalia Novikova as sharing that some women have this procedure for religious and cultural reasons, saying that for "some cultures, having an intact hymen signifies chastity."

Dr Natalia says the procedure is not too complicated but short-term side effects include bleeding and long-term effects, pain during sex. "The procedure is not that common in South Africa," she mentions, adding that only one or two women in a period of a month may come in to get the procedure done.

She says that the procedure costs R15 000 under local anesthesia inclusive of the hospital fee and post-operative care. 

In most articles that talk about the procedure, it is referred to as 'virginity' restoration. There are two curious things about those two words alone that I believe are worth talking about. One, is the fact that the hymen is synonymous to the concept of virginity; and two, that the idea of virginity is one that women are compelled and motivated to preserve, and even to recreate. 

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Virginity restoration: fact or fiction? 

By definition, virginity is the state of never having had sex with another person. So then, even though you can restore your hymen and recreate the experience of your first time or being a virgin again, you cannot really restore your virginity in the actual sense. Once you've had the experience, it can never be undone. Why, then, would anyone want to go through it if virginity isn't something that can be recreated? 

When I spoke to Dr Natalia about whether there are women who have the procedure done for the purpose of recreating their first time as virgins, she said that although there may be women who would probably want to do this, "usually it's religious belief, family belief, social belief" that propel women to restore their hymens. Belief is the key word there, because behind most beliefs, is a manner of conditioning that inspired it. 

In this article for the Daily Mail, Sophie Borland reports that the women who have had this procedure want to "have that experience with their husbands "by being as pure as possible again", while religious women may feel ‘overwhelmed’ by sexual guilt." 

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While it is possible to recreate a moment in the bedroom, it is not possible for the original first time to be replaced and redone. But putting this fact aside, there is still this belief that virginity means being "pure" and chaste, and this is apparently what some women are pressured to preserve. 

Whose virginity is it anyway?

There are a lot of women who prefer to be virgins because that is genuinely what they prefer, and that is entirely okay. There are still many instances, however, where women are virgins because of the ideas behind this social construct.

In Sky Jordan's article about virginity being a social construct, she writes: "the idea of purity is used as a means to control and manipulate us into following social norms, especially gender norms. It reinforces the idea that women lack sexuality. Virginity is treated as a commodity that can be lost. So according to this concept, when a woman has sex, she loses her value."

Virginity signifies purity, chastity, and her worthiness to be married. When the topic arises, it is mainly women who are categorised by it. Yet, virginity is an idea that is created for the benefit of men more than it is about taking care of your sexual health as a woman. 

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The preoccupation with virginity and the purity attached to it is ironically toxic, as it compels women to take considerable measures to preserve it or then even have it intact after marriage.

Nthabiseng Nooe, also known as NthabiWabi on Twitter, says "the fact that [virginity] has also been described as one of the greatest gifts a woman can give to a man on a wedding night speaks to how it isn't objectively about a person simply never having had sex, it's about having your husband being the very first to touch you. The very idea that women get hymens replaced to make their first nights 'special' speaks to this idea that women can submit their purity to the men who choose them. That's patriarchy in its purest form."

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It is not surprising to see why women generally have a procedure like this done anymore more than it is surprising how they come to make a choice like this. Every woman should be entitled to her own choices regarding what to do and what not to do with her body, but when society and patriarchy are the sole driving forces behind that choice, it becomes problematic.

Hymen restoration is one of those medical innovations that we will probably talk about for years to come, but we also need to have more conversations around why it really is a thing, and why women are still haunted by the the concept of virginity. Especially when we live in a country where virginity testing, virgin bursaries and reed dances are prevalent and purity balls take place in countries like the U.S.

This a product for "virginity restoration":

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