Sitting in a cafe near the Champs Elysees, the 26-year-old French-born woman of Algerian descent looks like any other Parisian. But two months ago, she did something none of her friends have done.
She had her hymen re-sewn, technically making her a virgin again.
“I’m glad I had it done,” said the woman, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity. “I wanted to reconstruct part of my life, to reconstruct myself so that I could feel better about myself.”
This 30-minute outpatient procedure, called “hymenoplasty” and costing between 1,500 and 3,000 euros ($2,000-$4,000), is increasingly popular among young women of North African descent in France.
Doctor Marc Abecassis, whose office is near the chic Champs Elysees, sees the rise in religion among France’s five million Muslims fuelling this trend. His patients are between 18 and 45 years old, Muslim, born both in France and in North Africa.
In fact, neither woman is a practicing Muslim. They dress, speak and act like other young Parisians, but are also part of a growing silent group of women who juggle traditional Muslim and modern French values.
All the women who spoke to Reuters did so condition that their identities not be revealed.
DON’T DISAPPOINT THE FIANCE
Karima also lost her virginity to an ex-boyfriend. She plans to marry soon and her fiance expects her to be a virgin. So last month, she commuted in from an eastern suburb of Paris, where she lives with her parents, and had the surgery.
The next day she was back at work. “I don’t want to disappoint my fiance,” she said, adjusting her glasses and brushing her highlighted brown hair from her face. “I wouldn’t have had the surgery if I hadn’t met him.”
For many doctors, resewing the hymen goes against their ideals of sexual freedom and personal liberty.
“The surgery is an attack on women’s dignity,” said Professor Jacques Lansac, president of The National College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians of France. “We will not take part in a market that places value on the quality of a womanif she’s good or not. It is an attack on women’s liberty.”
Since then, Abecassis said, some Muslims in France have been putting much more emphasis on certain customs as a way of expressing their identity. “Today it’s the two ‘V’s’veil and virginity,” he said. “It’s a social phenomenon.”
Surprisingly, French social security reimburses some of the cost of the operation in cases of rape or trauma. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, the claim is a fraud,” he added.
ANOTHER PATIENT AWAITS
Sitting in the same cafe, a 19-year-old Moroccan studying in Paris who asked to be called Amel spoke just before her first consultation with Abecassis.
Her parents introduced her to a young man earlier this year, and they plan to wed when she returns to Morocco in June. But he would not accept a non-virgin, so she needs the operation soon.