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By Erin Atack

Amber Roach is a 22-year-old virgin.

A born-again virgin, that is.

Eighty per cent of people between the ages of 20 to 24 have had sex at least once in their lives, according to a recent study by the Canadian Community Health Survey with Statistics Canada.

But even though people may be giving it up more, they’re also taking it back. Virginity seems to be a thing of the past, but in this day and age, losing it doesn’t mean losing it forever.

Some people — such as Roach — are now reclaiming the virginity they once lost. Roach decided when she was 11 to wait to have sex until she was married.

The Colorado girl grew up in a Christian home and felt that waiting was the right thing to do. But then, she says, “that went out the window.” At 21 she made the “stupid” decision to lose her virginity. “You start wondering about yourself. Am I even desirable?” she says. “I just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to turn into some 30-year-old cat lady…who was never going to experience passion.”

But eight “long” months ago, Roach decided to undo what she’d been doing. “It took a couple of flings and a broken heart to realize, ‘you know, this really just isn’t worth it.’” Roach isn’t the only one that feels that way.

All over North America, women are doing the same. Some are even going as far as getting their hymens — the thin membrane at the entrance to vagina — sewn up to restore it to a virginal state.

Women are getting their vaginas sewn up as a means to bring back what they lost.

“In their minds, they are more valuable to a man if they are undamaged goods,” says Dr. Noam Chernick, a retired obstetrician/gynecologist who now specializes in sexual medicine at a private clinic in London, Ont. “Once she is not a virgin, she is never going to be a virgin again,” Chernick says. “But if she wants to look different, that’s different. If she wants to look like a virgin, she can.”

Hymenoplasty is a procedure whereby the hymen is restored to cover the opening that has been torn due to sexual intercourse or rough play. The procedure is available in different clinics across the country, but is not covered by medical insurance except for in extreme cases (such as in the case of a child having been raped).

It costs anywhere from $2,500 to $6,000, and can take as little as 15 minutes to complete, says Dr. Bruce Allan, an obstetrician/gynecologist who performs hymenoplasties in a private clinic in Calgary. Though some doctors may be seeing a slight surge in the number of women desiring this procedure for aesthetic reasons, Allan says the main reason women opt for the surgery is “almost purely cultural.”

“A lot of cultures put (an) emphasis on bleeding at the first time of intercourse,” he says, adding that the majority of these patients are Muslim women. “It’s important to them to bleed when they have intercourse for the first time after marriage so they’ll look virginal.” While bleeding shouldn’t be expected for all women — not all hymens bleed when broken — in the very least, a hymenoplasty ensures the appearance of an untouched vagina.

Chernick recalled a Muslim woman who came to him requesting a signed note for her father stating that her hymen was intact. Looking at it, he could clearly see that it wasn’t, but he saw that the patient’s life was in danger.

“So what was I supposed to do? Look at it and say that it was intact? That would be sacrificing my morals. So, I fixed it so that it looked like it was intact and I was able to certify that (it was). “It’s sort of saving a life,” he says. “Say you were a total disbeliever and (thought) it was wicked for a doctor to do that…is it more wicked to have this woman killed? If I can prevent someone from losing their life unnecessarily, that’s part of my job.”

Although it’s certainly not often, Chernick has had women come in for hymenoplasties for other reasons apart from cultural. Some, he says, are legitimate.

“If you have a woman that’s delivered eight kids and her vagina looks like a well-used highway and it’s big, there’s this thing called the organ-in-the-cathedral syndrome…the penis is so small compared to the vagina that it doesn’t get a lot of friction,” he says. In these situations, Chernick considers the hymen repair to be for medical purposes.

Other times though, the reasons aren’t so clear or understood, but Chernick considers each woman’s case individually. “You have to frame it in the person’s way of thinking about it, otherwise you’re in danger of judging according to your standards.”

Some physicians don’t see the point in aesthetic hymenoplasties either. Although Dr. Bernard H. Stern is a female genital cosmetic surgeon, he says if he gets a request from a young girl who is worried that her husband will discover that she has had multiple sex partners by the size of her vagina, he won’t operate on her. He says the new trend in hymen repair for aesthetic reasons is “stupid.” “This is gaining in popularity as a gift for women who want to do this for their husbands,” the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. surgeon says. In those cases, Stern turns them down. “Ninety-nine per cent of the time, this is a surgery that we do for ethnic, cultural or religious reasons.”

The other one per cent, he says, is in special circumstances as in rape or incest. There are cases though, where the simple reason for a hymenoplasty is to become virginal again. And there are some doctors who will do it.

Chernick says that although sex doesn’t always result in the tearing of the hymen, even the smallest repair can make her feel better. “A woman usually knows when there’s been a penis in there, and if she wishes to return to the days when there wasn’t a penis in there… and she wants to do itmedically, then that’s up to her.”

So if reclaiming virginity is a possibility, why are we all walking around with our pants around our ankles? Society’s values are partly to blame for the high number of sexually active young adults, Roach says. And Ryerson students agree.

“I think society pressures you to lose you virginity,” says Sarah Flink, a third-year arts and contemporary studies student. “I think that everyone looks to their friends to see what the norm is but the media adds to that pressure,” says the 20-year-old, citing TV shows geared to her age group and music videos as typical sources that “sell sex constantly.”

But while some feel the pressure from society to have sex, others are keeping their pants on right from the start. “Personally, I think sex should be after marriage,” says third-year business management student Boris*, 21.

“It’s against my religion… and culturally, it’s looked down upon.” Though he doesn’t see an issue in becoming a born-again virgin. “Sometimes people do things and then they mature and they (regret it) after. So getting this surgery can give them that second chance.”

Flink, on the other hand, doesn’t see virginity as something that can be regained. “I know physically it is possible to close that up, but you can’t give someone back their virginity. That event will always have happened.” “You can’t undo what you did, but you can control what you’ll do in the future,” says Roach “It’s kind of pointless to open yourself up emotionally and make yourself vulnerable to somebody if they’re just going to throw it back in your face and make you feel like a whore.”

Roach has sworn off sex and admits that broaching the subject with her dates can be difficult. But she uses their reaction to her news to judge if they are good enough for her.

“Some of them respect it and are completely cool with it. Others aren’t, but they’re the ones that can sit on the curb and wait for the next one to come along,” she muses.

While she admits that it’s sometimes hard to hear her friends talk about sex and not be able to join in, Roach is proud of her decision – even if it took her a while to get there.

“I lost my way there for a while but I learned my lesson along the way,” she says. “I want to find somebody who’s worth it — worth that extra effort.”

* Boris is not the subject’s real name.

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