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LETTER FROM CHINA

Knowing cultural view of virginity, Chinese women try surgical restoration

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Globe locator map of Beijing , China
By Keith B. Richburg in beijing
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

China has long been known as the land of fakes -- Rolexes, DVDs, handbags and designer clothes.

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Add a new one to the list: fake virgins.

A growing number of Chinese women -- mostly in their 20s and about to get married -- are opting for a surgical procedure called "hymen restoration," which returns the hymen to its condition before it was ruptured, which typically occurs during first sexual contact but can also happen while playing sports or doing other strenuous activities.

Even as China has flung open its doors to the West and modernized, a deeply conservative and chauvinistic attitude persists. Many men, including white-collar professionals, say they want to marry a virgin. And increasingly liberated Chinese women have found a way to oblige them.

"We can fix it so everything is perfect, so the men can believe they are marrying virgins," said Zhou Hong, a physician and director of gynecology at the Beijing Wuzhou Women's Hospital. "We don't advertise it; we don't publicize it."

Zhou, 44, said most of her patients are sexually active young women who are about to marry and have told their future husbands they are virgins. She said a smaller number want to forget a bad relationship and "start over," and a few have been victims of rape.

Zhou is one of many Chinese doctors performing the procedure, which is also done in other countries. She said she restores as many as 20 hymens a month, and the number is increasing. For as little as 5,000 renminbi, or about $737, for a 20-to-30-minute procedure, Zhou is giving women a second chance at having a first time.

Does she worry that she is encouraging people to start their marriages with a lie? "It's just a white lie," Zhou said. And she blames men for having unrealistic expectations.

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"I don't agree with this value" placed on virginity, Zhou said. "It's unfair to the women. The men are not virgins. But we can't change this male-privileged society."

The surgery, known as hymenoplasty, has been around for years, although it is considered rare and is illegal in some countries. It is performed primarily in Muslim countries, where the traditionalists place a high value on a woman's virginity. It also has become common in France among French Muslims, usually for young women about to enter a traditional marriage. There are no statistics available in China on how often the surgery is performed. But sociologists and other experts, as well as anecdotal evidence, suggest it has gained in popularity.

For women who do not want to have surgery, a cheaper, faster path to "revirgination" is available in most sex novelty shops: a Chinese-made artificial hymen that purports to create a physical sensation for the man and emit fake blood when ruptured.


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