For Many Romani Women, Marriage Requires a Reconstructed Hymen

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Over the past 15 years, Dr. Vilas has performed countless hymen reconstruction surgeries on women who, in her experience, want the procedure done “either for aesthetic purposes or because they belong to a culture that values a female’s virginity.”

In her office in Madrid, Dr. Vilas explains to Amanda what the operation will involve. As she draws complex diagrams of vaginas on her board, Amanda can’t stop giggling. “You don’t need to explain anything to me,” she says. “As long as you know what you’re doing, I’m happy.”

Dr. Vilas carries on regardless. “There are several surgical options to pick from,” she explains. “The simplest one involves joining together the fragments of any remaining hymen. This can be done under local anesthetic, and I’d recommend the patient waits at least three days before having sex to allow the new hymen to set.”

Another method uses an easily tearable material called Alloplant, which is inserted into the vagina and imitates the hymen. Finally, the most invasive procedure involves making incisions on both sides of the membrane that covers the vaginal walls, before joining them together. As a consequence, though, patients must wait a long time before having sex, as it creates an open wound that must heal.

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“Whichever option you pick,” the surgeon stresses, “the work must be carried out by a specialist. I’ve heard of so many cases of people opting for cheap, illegal procedures that lead to horrible infections that sometimes create a layer of fake hymen tissue that is impossible to break by having sex.” A quick internet search of other budget alternatives turns up several different types of gelatinous membranes that women can buy, which promises to release a red liquid when it breaks during sex.

If surgery isn’t an option, there is one last resort. Amanda tells me about a friend whose parents bribed the juntaora to pretend that she had passed the handkerchief test. “On her wedding night, she also tricked her husband by cutting her finger, then reaching inside herself before pulling her finger out to pretend like she was bleeding.”

As we wait for Amanda’s decision, Dr. Villas explains why the handkerchief test is ridiculous. “A girl can be a virgin and not bleed at all,” she says. In fact, research has found that around one in every thousand women are born without a hymen, while nearly half of women don’t bleed when they first have sex.

Amanda eventually picks the first method, which means she will have to come back four days before her wedding. “My mom will have to make an excuse about needing to come to Madrid to sort out my dress,” she tells me.

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