Conservatives in Egypt are in a lather over a new device that promises to simulate the bleeding a virgin bride experiences on her wedding night. Politicians are calling the device an assault on Islamic and Arab values. But some young women say it's the inevitable result of Egypt's double standard when it comes to premarital sex.
The online ad from Gigimo promises women "no more worry," because they can restore their virginity for just $29.95. The ad says the "artificial virginity hymen" fits in the vagina and, upon penetration, oozes a bloodlike liquid.
"Add a few moans and groans and you will pass through undetectable," the Asian Web site promises in its somewhat mysterious English.
The owners of the Web site did not respond to questions, so it's not clear if anyone in Egypt has actually ordered the virginity-restoring kit.
But virginity is a very real issue for Egyptian women, as illustrated in the popular film The Wedding, released earlier this year. It tells the story of Abdullah and Gamila, a young couple who signed their marriage contract years ago but couldn't afford the marriage ceremony that would, by tradition, allow the union to be consummated.
But the couple has been having sex all along, and, after gossipy neighbors call Gamila a tramp, her father warns Abdullah that the following day, he must prove to the whole neighborhood that Gamila is still a virgin. Complications ensue.
In Egypt, those women who can afford it may resort to surgery to restore their hymens before their wedding night. But news of this new, inexpensive device sparked an intense backlash. A lawmaker from the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood said it would be a "mark of shame" on the government if it didn't keep the devices out of the country.
A Double Standard
A sampling of opinion on the streets of Cairo found widespread acceptance of a double standard that is hardly restricted to the Arab world: Purity applies to women, but not men.
Ahmed Rifaat, 19, says no matter how much he loved a girl, he would drop her instantly if he found out that she wasn't a virgin.
When asked if it should be the same for the male, he says, "No, it's not a big deal if the guy's not a virgin. I'm not speaking about Islam — I'm just saying it's normal. But she has to be a virgin, because she's a girl. She's a girl! That's just the way it is."
Sitting next to Ahmed is his cousin Aya, who laughs at Ahmed's logic but seems resigned to the prevailing view that forgiveness for premarital sex is a one-way street.
"For me, men and women are the same," she says. "The only reason he said it's normal is because he's a guy. But I would never marry a guy who wasn't a virgin. Well, maybe if we were really in love and it was just once and he was honest about it, maybe I could forgive it."
At the offices of Enigma magazine, Egypt's upscale fashion and society monthly, managing editor Amy Mowafi has heard all this before. She's the author of a popular column and now best-selling book, Fe-mail: The Trials and Tribulations of Being a Good Egyptian Girl.
Mowafi says Egyptian men still have a "huge complex" about virginity, from the poorest rural villages to the wealthiest Cairo suburbs.
"No matter how 'Western' he may appear, it's very exceptional to find a man who is willing to accept a woman who has had, quote unquote, 'a life' before marriage," she says. "And the objective, unfortunately, for an Arab woman remains marriage. I mean, there's a quote I often use, that as an Arab — an independent Arab woman — you can break as many glass ceilings as you like. But you can never break your hymen."
Mowafi has her own issues with these artificial virginity devices, because she doesn't believe technology should be a substitute for confronting hypocrisy.
"The problem with a device like this," she says, "is it makes it too easy for the woman to play by the rules of society instead of standing up and saying, 'No, you need to understand that I am a good person. And it should not all come down to this issue of a hymen.' "