Monday, January 02, 2006

"Cruel Times for Vaginas"

"Our Vaginas, Ourselves" is an essay in New York Times Magazine (1/1/06) on designer vaginas (found via Feministing). Author Daphne Merkin comments on vaginal plastic surgery, hymen reattachment, and the slow creep of beauty standards to cover the usually hidden parts of women's bodies. An excerpt:
Which leaves the one part of the female body formerly not available to harsh scrutiny now glaringly on display, held up to culturally defined aesthetic standards undreamed of by the smut-obsessed author of "My Secret Life," borrowed as they are from centerfolds and online pornography. Sagging groin skin and limp labia are going the way of crooked noses and post-nursing breasts, courtesy of new cosmetic surgeries focused on this once-neglected hinterland of female beauty. As recently noted in an article in The Wall Street Journal, vaginal plastic surgery is one of the field's fastest growing sectors, and its high priest, one Dr. David Matlock of - where else? - Los Angeles, claims that he has a five-month waiting list for women eager to get that Playboy look.
This is a rather fluffy essay, concluding as it does that, "From where I sit, life looks to be one long Madonna-esque self-invention tour, and there's nothing to be done but to grin, tighten your Kegel muscles and bear it." Despite the thread of objection that seems to run through the piece, this nonchalant conclusion suggests that women just go along, accepting that now their genitalia need to be "improved" because plastic surgeons offer procedures that purport to make the labia and vagina "better." In additional to labiaplasty, it discusses hymen reattachement, a procedure designed to make a woman "appear" to be a virgin, despite the fact that hymens often stretch or tear prior to first sexual intercourse. A recent article from the Wall Street Journal also discusses this trend, and is reprinted here. It begins:
For her 17th wedding anniversary, Jeanette Yarborough wanted to do something special for her husband. In addition to planning a hotel getaway for the weekend, Ms. Yarborough paid a surgeon $5,000 to reattach her hymen, making her appear to be a virgin again.

"It's the ultimate gift for the man who has everything," says Ms. Yarborough, 40 years old, a medical assistant from San Antonio.
You really have to read the article for the full effect. The procedure apparently stems in part from cultures that highly value virginity in a woman at the time of marriage, and in some cases require inspection of the hymen. The surgery is not without risks and recovery time, which the article says can take about six weeks. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists "which hasn't taken a formal position on the matter, said it worried that doctors may not be able to fully inform their patients about the procedure because it doesn't appear in the medical literature." Says one patient:
A 26-year-old Latin American woman who lives in New York's Queens had a hymen repair in 2001 and says it took almost two months for her to feel comfortable again. It took even longer for her to enjoy sex.

The married mother of two says she's glad she had the surgery nonetheless. She says her husband wanted to experience intercourse with a virgin. "If a woman isn't a virgin when she gets married, a man can always put her down for that," says the woman...
This is a difficult topic, because it involves a whole range of cultural factors that make women believe this is a necessary or worthwhile procedure. I really cannot comprehend the aspect of "doing something special for [the] husband," however, opposed as I am to mutilating the body for the sake of another (crazy, I know). If I was married to a man who wanted me to spend $5,000 to have my body cut up so he could "have sex with a virgin," I think I'd spend the $ on a divorce attorney instead. I'm betting Aunt B will have something to say on this as well...

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MeSH Tags: Hymen/surgery; Vulva/surgery; labioplasty


Blogger Firehand said...

This has got to be one of the weirdest things I've heard of. I can see a woman in a culture that will basically spit on her for not being a virgin doing something like this to hide her past; but for someone else to do this...

11:10 PM  
Blogger Dr. Todd Malan said...

I have had several patients that have undergone hymenoplasty from fear of reprisal from family members. One such women had been raped while in college in the US. Very sad.

Dr Todd Malan

3:11 AM  

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