Dear Dr G,
I am really desperate and hope you can provide me with some advice.
My name is Natalie, and I am 26 years old.
I recently met a guy who is really nice and we have been going out for the last two years.
He is a very strict Christian who does not believe in sex before marriage.
My boyfriend recently proposed to me and I have agreed to marry him.
The problem is, when we met, I told him I was a virgin.
The reality is that I was previously in a relationship that did not work out well.
And of course, we had a sexual relationship.
I am really desperate to find out whether there is anyway of telling whether someone is a virgin or not?
What exactly is the hymen and is there anyway of determining whether it is intact?
I hear there are operations that can be done to reconstruct the hymen and restore virginity, is that true?
If so, who will be the best person to help?
I am so sorry to put Dr G on the spot, but I really love this man and I don't want to disappoint him.
A virgin refers to a person who has not experienced sexual intercourse.
In a physical sense, this is determined by the presence of the hymen, which is a membrane that partially closes the opening of the vagina and its presence is traditionally taken to be a mark of virginity.
The hymen surrounds or partially covers the external vaginal opening. It forms part of the vulva and contiguous in structure with the external opening of the vagina.
There is a variation of the hymen, ranging from thin and stretchy, to thick and somewhat rigid in structure. In some girls, the hymen may also be completely absent!
Although the hymen is associated with tearing during the very first penetrative intercourse resulting in temporary pain and bleeding, oftentimes, this structure can be torn naturally during medical examination, vigorous physical exercise or even the insertion of tampon.
Therefore, the integrity of the hymen is not really a conclusive indicator of the state of virginity in a woman.
Also read: Should doctors agree to do virginity tests?
As the hymen does not regenerate after it is torn, in a culture where there is attributed cultural importance of proving its association with a woman's virginity, the operation to restore the hymen is often considered.
The operation to reconstruct the hymen, with no medical benefit what so ever, is called hymenorrhaphy.
The term is derived from the Greek words - "hymen" means "membrane" and raphe meaning "suture".
It is also known as hymenoplasty or hymenotomy. In the medical sense, such procedure is not considered as mainstream gynecology.
It is generally performed by plastic surgeons particularly in South Korea, Europe and the US.
In some countries, such intervention has no real medical purposes. It is considered unethical and banned.
In other countries, such as France, some of the cost of operation can even be reimbursed by the state in cases of trauma or rape.
A flap is used from the vaginal lining complete with blood supply to create a new hymen.
Patients are usually advised to refrain from penetrative sex, three months after the operation.
Also read: Woman's hymen breaks at premarital check-up
In a purely cosmetic procedure, a membrane without blood supply is created, sometimes including a gelatin capsule or an artificial blood-like substance to provide the potential of bleeding during the penetrative intercourse.
Hence the intervention is performed a few days prior to an intended marriage.
Thomas Jefferson once said: "Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom".
Although Dr G really doesn't have a book of wisdom, when he is put on the spot, he still thinks honesty is the best policy for Natalie to embark on her journey of love.
Her fiance should love her for who she is, instead of the "integrity" of her hymen. On that note, good luck with the disclosure!