“Muslims Talking Sex” Series: Much Ado About Nothing- the Hymen

GOATMILK introduces its original and exclusive month long series entitled “Muslims Talking Sex” featuring diverse Muslim  writers from around the world discussing a gamut of topics in their own unique, honest and eclectic voices.

Much Ado About Nothing: the Hymen

Fatemeh Fakhraie


Riddle: If you’ve got this, you can’t share it. If you share it, you haven’t got it.

The actual answer to this riddle is “a secret.” But the case could be made for an alternative answer: the hymen.

Women are taught that our hymens are a secret: a gift representing our virginities that we should never share with anyone but our husbands. Instead of being a gift, however, it really functions more as a curse. Our early lives are often shaped around the hymen and its protection: we may be kept from playing sports, using tampons, having male friends, and riding horses for fear that our hymens may break (or be broken) and our virginities rendered void.

What is all this commotion over a hymen? MedicineNet defines the hymen as a “thin membrane [that] completely or partially occludes the vaginal opening. The hymen is a fold of mucous membrane usually present at birth at the orifice of the vagina.” WebMD’s definition is similar, stating that the hymen consists of a “thin, membranous fold of highly variable appearance that partly occludes the ostium of the vagina before its rupture (which may occur for a variety of reasons). It is frequently absent (even in virgins), although remnants are commonly present as hymenal caruncula tags.”

Notice both definitions admit that not all women are born with hymens. Hymens are as varied as women themselves: some hymens never come to be, some are so delicate that they tear without cause, some are so stubborn they must be surgically removed for a woman to have intercourse or give birth.  Despite the fact that hymens are too varied and unreliable to serve as an indicator of virginity, this is precisely how they are used.

Virginity is also synonymous with the female gender. When you think of a virgin, your thoughts most likely automatically go to a young woman—never a man. This touches on a serious problem within all communities, but especially Muslim communities: sexual double standards. The fact that a young man can get freaky with anyone he deems suitable and still be an acceptable candidate for marriage (maybe not the most desirable, but acceptable) is troublesome when his sister faces rumors, slander, and rejection from suitors, friends, community members, and even her own family if she does the same thing as her brother.

We need to get rid of these double standards about sexuality and sex. They’re not fooling anybody. And often, those of us who catch on, or fall victim to, the community’s double standards about sexuality start to feel resentment for how our hymens are given importance above our achievements, our feelings, and our minds.

I’m sure everyone remembers the French divorce case where a Muslim husband sought to divorce his wife because she “faked” her virginity. This case was problematic from all sides: a wife was untruthful with her husband, and a husband wanted an intact hymen more than he wanted a wife. This case illustrates that many Muslims are unable to talk openly about sexuality with their loved ones and that we’re equating virginity with perfection, going to extremes in search of it.

Even more problematic are the far-reaching effects of hymen-worship. Specifically, virginity-related honor killings and hymen reconstruction surgery.

In March of 2008, a Jordanian man shot his sister and her boyfriend, killing them both, because her family suspected that she was no longer a virgin. Forensic tests conducted after her death revealed that she was a virgin when she was murdered. So her brother killed two people based on…what? A rumor? Gossip?

This isn’t the first time that rumor and gossip have murdered a woman, and it most likely won’t be the last. Lina Nabil, a journalist whose brief prison sentence in a Jordanian jail revealed that the overwhelming majority of her cellmates were being held for their own safety because they were thought to no longer be virgins, realized that false accusations fuel a majority of virginity-related honor killings. And if a woman is no longer a virgin, what is she? She’s still a living, breathing person. Is a hymen worth more than a life?

These murders don’t just happen in Jordan. They happen anywhere that a woman’s virginity is prized and considered to be an important part of her feminine charm. These murders can happen everywhere until we rethink the importance we’ve placed on a hymen.

Hymen reconstruction surgery (commonly known as “hymenoplasty”—it’s the surgical restoration of the hymen) is another worrisome outcome of our obsession with hymens and virginity. Recent news stories from outlets such as Reuters and the New York Times highlight the increasing popularity of hymenoplasty among women in Muslim communities.

If it’s to the point where surgical reconstruction of a hymen seems like a better idea than owning up to the fact that one has had sex, for whatever reason, we’re in a lot of trouble. We have to rethink our priorities. Which is more important: a smart, caring, kind partner/wife, or a woman with an intact hymen?  When we care more about a fuzzy idea of virginity than what kind of person a woman is, we have a seriously skewed idea of women, their value, and their sexuality. A relationship is between two people, not between a person and a hymen. An intact hymen doesn’t guarantee fidelity, fertility, or friendship—and in our era of hymenoplasty, it doesn’t even guarantee virginity.

It’s time to do some serious thinking, folks. We have to start asking ourselves why we let men get away with premarital sex without a scratch, but why we force women who behave in a way we don’t like into shame, isolation, or death because of our gossip, rumors, and judgments. It’s time that all of us measure a woman by who she is, not what is (or isn’t) between her legs.

Fatemeh Fakhraie is an editor, writer, and blogger who writes about issues from her perspective as Iranian-American Muslim woman. She writes about Islamic feminism, Islam, and race for several online and print outlets, including Racialicious, Bitch magazine, and AltMuslimah.

In 2007, Fatemeh founded Muslimah Media Watch, a website dedicated to critically analyzing images of Muslim women in global media and pop culture. She currently serves as editor-in-chief of the website.










38 thoughts on ““Muslims Talking Sex” Series: Much Ado About Nothing- the Hymen

  1. This is a great post, Fatemeh! You said it all! The sexual double standard has disgusted me for a long time now. I know some Muslim men who say they will NEVER marry a woman who (1) isn’t a virgin and (2) doesn’t wear hijaab. Whenever marriage is discussed in my Mosque, the emphasis is always on marrying a “pious and pure” Muslim woman, which … Read Moreis generally interpreted as a virgin woman who wears hijaab.

    As you pointed out, the repercussions of a Muslim man losing his virginity are rarely as harsh, discriminatory, and even deadly as it is with a Muslim woman. I agree with Melinda that there are virgin Muslim men out there who look to lose their virginity WITH someone, but at the same time, I’ve known more Muslim men who sleep around with multiple women before settling with a virgin woman in their later years. The most infuriating part is that I’ve known some Muslim men who lied to their wives about their virginity, and as we know, there’s no way to test that.

    When marriages are based on such superficial things, then what’s the point? Anytime we value something over the heart and personality of an individual, we totally forget and ignore what relationships and marriages are really about: friendship, compassion, and Love.

    I don’t see what’s so Islamic about condemning a beautiful person just because they’re not a virgin.

  2. I tend to think that the focus on the hymen itself is exaggerrated and kind of pointless.
    However, I don’t think the stress on being a virgin before marriage. Premarital sex is forbidden Islam for both sexes.
    So, I think, instead of trying to diminish the importance of virginity in women before marriage, we should perhaps increase the importance of it in men.
    Two wrongs don’t make a right, it just makes for a lot of stupidity.

  3. Correction:
    *However I don’t think the stress on being a virgin before marriage IS exaggerrated or pointless.

  4. I am sorry to say this, but i think we invest way too much time and energy on critically analyzing issues that are not more important than this one. I have been asking myslef for so long why Islam or Muslim fear the debate on sex and sexuality in a time where our communities whether in home or in diaspora is plagued with events of “honor killings” and sometimes youth rebellion. How can we reform the world when we haven’t started to reform ourslves domestically. This issue must be taken seriously by men and women and we Muslim men must purge our hearts and minds of ambiguity, doubt and unfounded patriarchal thoughts about the character and quality of women. What a shame indeed

  5. I have always wondered this: how can the same men who sleep around with dozens or hundreds of women expect women to be chaste – if all women were chaste, then who would they sleep around with? You can’t have your cake and eat it too! If the men are not willing to wait to have sex with a woman, then how are women supposed to stay virgins? And as evidenced by the number of women who are raped each year around the world, even saying no to sex and trying to remain chaste, is out of your control if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time and a man decides to attack you against your will. It takes two people to have sex. Why blame the woman when obviously, a man was involved too!

    • You are an atheist? What is your view on premarital sex. Most people view from how their religion does so I’m wondering what you think.

      • I am an Atheist ,living in Belgium.
        About premarital sex:learn to think for yourself!Do what you think you have to do and get rid of fatwa’s, Imams and Biblic writings.Be yourself!
        In my particular case: I had sex before marriage but no intercourse.It was a slow build up of sexual experiences between me and my girlfriend until marriage.
        Why? Because We decided to do so and not because other people told us to do so.

  6. The idea of a sexual “double standard” is of recent, Western, and unbeliever origin. It does not come from Islamic thought or jurisprudence and has no place in it.

    Muslim men have always been allowed to have sex at any time with slave-concubines, with uncovered whores in the dar al-Harb, or through temporary traveler marriages. The Prophet himself many times intimately enjoyed slaves captured during raids, and at least once negotiated a trade of enslaved women so he could obtain the most beautiful prisoner for his night’s pleasure (Saffiyah).

    Further, according to the traditions, the Prophet treated his child wife Aisha the best of all his wives because she was a virgin playing with dolls when he began enjoying her. He encouraged at least one man to to choose a virgin wife over a widow. Virgin wives have no basis for disappointment or doubt and thus supply the most happy, obedient and unquestioning enjoyment for their husbands.

    And as the Qu’ran says, one must not question what has been shown to be best by the Prophet’s perfect example, lest Allah choose to lead one astray from the path.

    • If that is the Islam i have chosen and the prophet i love, then i will become an atheist from now on. But shame on you for your ignorant and disgusting mindset. You are indeed one of those ignorant Muslims who discourage others to come to Islam and personify a very brutal and wicked version of Islam. Go and grow up.

  7. that is quite possibly one of the most uninformed statements about muslim men and the prophet that i have ever heard. virginity is required of both men and women–men don’t get to have sex whenever they want any more than women can.

    the prophet never once had sex out of marriage. the age of his young wife, aisha, is a subject of great debate. the most likely age she was at the time he consummated the marriage was twelve to seventeen, not younger.

    furthermore, widows were not considered lesser to virgins. it was considered honorable by the prophet to marry a widow as long as she was pious.

    please state the sources of your “facts,” because never before have a heard such patriarchy stated as though it was law.

  8. Dubious, you sound like a non Muslim doing a poor job masquerading as a Muslim. If you are a Muslim- man, that really sucks.
    If you know *anything* at all about the Seerah, you will know that the Prophet (pbuh) made a point to marry several older women: divorced and widowed.
    That directly contradicts your point. He married these women to show his Ummah that there is nothing wrong with marrying older women, who have been married before and have had children from previous marriages. The Prophet (pbuh) never did anything unless it was a guidance or an example to the people he was sent down as a mercy for.

  9. Additionally, people who hold the opinion that the Prophet’s (pbuh) preference for Aisha was because of merely her youth and beauty do nothing but exhibit their own opinions and attitudes of women. Aisha (ra) was noted for her outstanding intelligence, wisdom, and strength of character, qualities which in themselves are enough to inspire the love and devotion shown to her by the Prophet (pbuh). Only a man who really appreciates the true essence of women as people and individual creations of God, like the Prophet (pbuh) did, can love them for who they really are, and not only because of physical or material associations made by much lesser human beings.

  10. Sources for the Prophet’s enjoyment of women outside nikah:

    The Prophet enjoyed prisoner-slave Juwairiyah (Sahih Bukhari, vol. 3, Book 46, #77). The Prophet enjoyed prisoner-slave Rayhana until his death. (Sirat e Rasullulah, Ibn Ishaq, p. 464-66). The Prophet enjoyed slave Maria the Copt and married her only after she bore a child. (Tabari’s History, vol. 39, p. 194: “He used to visit her there and ordered her to veil herself, [but] he had intercourse with her by virtue of her being his property.”).

    Safiyah was also enjoyed by the Prophet, immediately after the killing of her husband Kinana, prior to the Prophet’s marrying her. (Ibn Hisham, p. 766, also traditions in Sahih Bukhari and Muslim, Ishaq #511, #515, #517). Umm Ayman was also an obedient slave-concubine servicing the Prophet’s needs. (Tabari, vol. 39, 199).

    Enjoyment of enslaved women is specifically authorized for all men. (Qu’ran 23:56, 70:22-30, and Sahih Muslim vol. 2, #367). It may be ideal for a male to remain virgin before nikah, but it is not forbidden for him to enjoy women’s bodies under the proper circumstances.

    For example, temporary marriages are allowed, even if the mahr is trivial, and the length of the marriage is only a matter of minutes or hours. (See Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 6, book 60, #139)

    Aisha’s age when Mohammed began enjoying her — nine — is well settled. (Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, and Sunnan Abu Dawud). In each of these traditions, Aisha relates that she was nine when the Prophet took her to his bed. Her childish nature is also shown by the traditions, where she relates playing with dolls and on a swing while also submitting as a wife to the elderly Prophet. The Prophet also physically disciplined Aisha when she was disobedient, as is specifically permitted in the Qu’ran, by punching her in the chest and causing her pain. (Sahih Muslim, vol. 2, book 4, ch. 352, #2127).

    The Prophet’s preference for young virgins — whether or not he said marrying a widow was “honorable” (actually, it’s that “there’s no blame on” a man who marries a widow, hardly the same thing) — is shown by the traditions. “Narrated Jabir bin ‘Abdullah: When I got married, Allah’s Apostle said to me, ‘What type of lady have you married?’ I replied, “I have married a matron.’ He said, ‘Why, don’t you have a liking for the virgins and for fondling them?’ Jabir also said: Allah’s Apostle said, ‘Why didn’t you marry a young girl so that you might play with her and she with you?’ [Sahih Bukhari. Book 62, #17).

    There is also an instruction setting forth the time that men must spend with virgin versus nonvirgin wives, seemingly recognizing that men take more pleasure from virgin wives (Sahih Bukhari, Book 62, #141).

    The Qu’ran also sets forth rules for the divorce of child-wives who have not begun menstruating, requiring a wait to determine if the child was impregnated by her husband. (Qu’ran 65:4).

    In the same vein, the Prophet disliked and wished to divorce his wife Sauda, who had become old and unattractive to him. She remained his wife only after pleading with the Prophet to retain her, giving her day to the fresh young favorite Aisha. (Sunan Abu Dawud, Chapter 705:2130, also Sahih Bukhari, Book 48, #853).

    As the wise Aisha herself said, Allah hurried to satisfy the Prophet’s intimate needs. (Sahih Muslim, vol. 2, p. 748-749: “It seems to me that your Lord hastens to satisfy your desire!”) The traditions are clear. Isn’t it wrong to deny or mischaracterize the Prophet’s actions toward women, as he is the excellent example of conduct for all men?

    • so Mohammed – the pophet worshipped by your religion was a rapist (sex with enslaved women) and paedophile? And you choose to be part of it?

    • What a load of ignorant, absurd and obviously ill intentioned nonsense. You ought to be seriously ashamed of yourself. People like you posting those kind of idiotic comments are the reason why the rest of the world has this twisted idea of what Islam is all about. Do yourself and everyone else a favor and don’t call yourself a Muslim, You’re a disgrace to Islam and I found what you wrote utterly offensive.

  11. I am a Buddhist with a great respect for Islam and the other great religious traditions of the world.

    My understanding is that the true religion is the inner religion, the path of faith and of experience.

    Religions work to amplify this inner state. A kind, holy and pious mind will find in the scriptures support to become a great friend to the world – men and women and creatures alike.

    However, there are always situations in history where holy beings assumed various modes of conduct to best help others in particular times and circumstances. The confused, hateful, and lustful latch onto these and find justification to become even worse.

    In this time where unrestrained materialism is destroying our planet at an accelerating rate, women and men of all faiths need to abandon these twisted ideologies and work together in faith and out of love for the sake of everyone.

  12. ‘Dubious’ u are absolutely DISGUSTING! u have specifically pulled out segments of entire chapters to create this filthy stream of comments to suit your nonsense argument and in doing so are making our beloved prophet(SAW)out to be some kind of filthy minded sexually driven pervert and a peadophile. Shame on you, for blaspheming in such a manner.

  13. Surely an interesting discussion. Like your post and wondered what you deem the chances of a sexual revolution in the Islamic world. I gave the hymen attention in a recent post. What do you see as concrete ways of fighting the mentioned double standards?

  14. Well, I read everything from the beginning to the end. It is interesting. The arguments will always be there, as human being that is what we do. Anyways, I am a muslim but I only believe in God! There is no “perfect” religion! Besides that, the timing is so different. When I was young I attented masque and I was taught that Muhammed had 7-9 wifes. To create a family thats what people did around the world – some countries had less man, more women, and some had more man and less women. Either way, in our modern world now having more than one wife – it is illegal.
    It doesn’t matter if the prophet had “good intention”, or bad ones, what it matter is that in every goddamn religion women are/were disrespectful, discriminated, abused, neglected and treating as an object and not a human being which is sick. That is the reason why I believe in GOD, not in prophets! God didn’t have/make a preference between the two human beings. They were created equally. And for God’s Sake, religions have created more wars than anything else. Religions suppose to be about peace and hope, teach us to stay healthy, communicate with others and relate, not fight each other.

    • i so agree wid u.religion has done nuthn good bt divided mankind!god never intended dis, besides prophets came n ,made der own rules n left us to suffer…who gave dem da right to call demselves sons of god?..or wateva…no1 can be god or take his place as one!,…plz stop d hatred towards ppl of diffrnt religions…one has to stop…plz spread love n peace…da worlds becoming so devoid of all this!

  15. Ana,

    How can you believe in God and worship him when you are taking his name in vain? There is a commandment not use the word, “g++++++m”. Perhaps, you are believing in a different “God” than the God???

  16. Eman, YOU should be ashamed of yourself. I guess you call yourself a believing man. To which god do you subscribe? god of demo(no)cracy and liberal values? The illuminati god of chaos? Or the simpler gods like “decent income”, “easy living”,”hanging out with friends”?

    • Dear peaceofheart,
      Democracy,Liberal values,a decent income, “hanging around with good friends”are all valuable human assets and make live on earth a lot easier and bring more happiness.
      For those values scores of Arab people try to immigrate to the West.
      Good luck in your fantasy “afterlife!”
      JJ Rousseau Belgium

  17. @ Layla, is Dubious right about these sources or he made them up?

    if these hadiths exists and the sources he ,entions are correct, then why dont you challenge him. I am Muslim but i really hesitate to love Mohammad, he was a humanbeing and i am just not sure about him. I think he was a horny guy after all lol.

  18. I agree that the “hymen” or virginity should be re-evaluated. It’s not just in Muslim cultures, either. Even Western cultures put too great an emphasis on a girl’s virginity.

    • Dear “Iranian” woman,

      “Virginity” has no value in European cultures.
      It is a synonyme for backwardness and narrow mindness.
      I think 99% of Belgian girls ( my country) are not virgins at their marriage.
      On her wedding day my daughter was accompagnied by her little boy of 2 years old en she was pregnant of a second child.
      Reaction of my mother ( then 92) ” in my time this could’t be possible!!”)
      Indeed times are changing and I think sexual freedom is a very good thing.
      It is quite normal that young people have sexual experience before their marriage.
      I cannot imagine a girl who is complete “innocent” and unexperienced and who may see for the first time in het life a male erection during het wedding night.
      And the groom where did he found his “experience”?
      With a prostitute? or with an European women? ( all european women are whores in the eyes of Moslims…)
      What is the result with these obsession for virginity in the Muslim world?
      Boys are not allowed to mingle with girls and cannot find an outlet for their most normal human sexual needs.
      As a results girls and women are not safe in the streets of Egypt and have to hide under black tents…
      Stop this backwardness dear Iranian women as we did in Europe.
      Enjoy your life now!There is no God and there is no afterlife…

  19. @ JJ Rousseau

    I agree with most of your comment, i can only imagine that innocent girl having a heart attack, because the erection and sex for her for the first time is just too much. I think Islam encourages men and women to learn about their sexuality but not promiscuity. Some Muslim men and women just don’t know how to personify Islam, they take it to extreme, we MUST realize that we are in a highly over-sexualized world. For a girl to masturbate and explore her God given body is not irreparable sin, we do worse sins in our everyday lives. yes Muslim women get gang raped sadly in the streets of Saudi Arabia, because men are too horny and women become lesbian because they can only find sex with other women. That is true trust me.

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