French Muslim women opt for hymen surgical cons

French Muslim women are getting their hymens re-sewn to pass off as virgins to their prospective spouses. This 30-minute outpatient procedure, called "hymenoplasty" and costing between 1500 and 3000 euros ($2000-$4000), is increasingly popular among young women of North African descent in France.

No exact figures exist to say how many such operations are done, but the women's surgeon says he gets three to five queries and performs one to three hymenoplasties each week. Demand has been rising for the past three or four years.

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.

"Many of my patients are caught between two worlds," said Abecassis.

Despite the Islamic prohibition of relationships between the sexes and on fornication, some Muslim women have had boyfriends and sex prior to marriage.

After the break up of the relationship, they find themselves non-virgins, and this poses a huge problem when it comes to marriage and exposure and shame.

A 26-year-old French born Algerian woman had her hymen re-sewn, technically making her a virgin again.

"I'm glad I had it done," said the woman, "I wanted to reconstruct part of my life, to reconstruct myself so that I could feel better about myself."

For this woman, the decision to have the surgery came after she broke up with a boyfriend who had pressured her into having sex.

She felt a hymenoplasty would help put her life back together again.

Another of Abecassis' patients, a 22-year-old Algerian immigrant said most young women had the operation to respect their culture or family tradition, not for religious reasons.

In fact, neither woman is a practising Muslim.

They dress, speak and act like other young Parisians, but are also part of a growing group of women who foolishly try to juggle Islamic and modern French values.

She had also lost her virginity to an ex-boyfriend. She plans to marry soon and her fiancÚ rightly expects her, as a Muslim, 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.

Another woman, a 19-year-old Moroccan studying in Paris said: "I dated a boy when I was 15 and I didn't even realise what had happened," she said, referring to her first and only sexual experience. "I didn't understand what I did."

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.

She is scraping together the monthly allowance sent by her parents and emptying her savings account to pay for it.

Two friends back home will lend her the remaining 1000 euros.

"If my mother ever found out about this, she would have a mental breakdown," she said. "I don't want to have this surgery, but I don't have any choice."

A leading Muslim spokesman said Islam says bride and groom should be virgins before marriage, but did not take a clear stand for or against hymenoplasties.

"If someone committed a sin, the essential thing is to repent," said Lhaj Thami Breze, head of the Union of French Islamic Organisations.

For many doctors, re-sewing 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 woman - if she's good or not. It is an attack on women's liberty."

He also argued that any doctor who performed these operations at state hospitals violated France's legal separation of church and state.

The church-state issue flared up in 2004 when France passed a law banning religious garb, notably headscarves, from state primary and secondary schools.

Since then, Abecassis said, some Muslims in France have been putting much more emphasis on certain values as a way of expressing their identity. "Today it's the two 'V's' - veil and virginity," he said. "It's a social phenomenon."

Abecassis defended the operations and said he helped patients who could not pay his 2500 euro fee. "This surgery gives them another chance," he said. "It's a rehabilitation."


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