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Artificial Hymens Have Come a Long Way Since Blood-Filled Fish Bladders

There are various tests of a woman's virginity, many centered around the blood involved in breaking her hymen. To pass this test, some women turned to fakery

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People have been obsessed with virginity for a long time. In the past, women who were being married off were expected to bring along their virginity as part of the deal. There were various tests of a woman’s virginity, many centered around the blood involved in breaking her hymen. To pass this test, some women turned to fakery.

At the blog Wonders and Marvels, Elizabeth Goldsmith describes early virgin fakes:

A little more research led me to Ambroise Paré, whose 1573 treatise on “monsters and marvels” includes the description of popular techniques, known since the time of Galen, for creating false evidence of virginity by inserting a fish bladder filled with blood into the vagina , so that the sheets on the wedding bed would be stained with the necessary proof.

Psychology Today‘s Michael Castleman explains some other ways couples may have achieved the bloody sheets:

Rushed, nonsensual, poorly lubricated, piston-like intercourse might abrade sensitive vaginal tissue enough to cause bleeding. But throughout history, in cultures that have insisted on female virginity at marriage, the stakes have been very high. No blood on the sheets deeply dishonored the bride’s family and might even bring charges of marital fraud. Many brides have taken no chances. Often under their mothers’ direction, they have filed a fingernail to a sharp point and on their wedding night, cut themselves on the thigh, producing enough blood to stain the sheets and satisfy tradition–and the mythology surrounding the hymen.

Today, artificial hymens are far more sophisticated. Online vendor HymenShop.com sells kits for $30. “Marry in confidence – your secret is kept,” they say. In 2009, these kits became a point of contention between Egypt and China. The Egyptian government thought about banning imports of the product from China. “Having something like the virginity kit can cause complete mayhem within the Egyptian social life,” Farid Ismael, a member of parliament’s health committee, told the Los Angeles Times. “It can lead to the spreading of vice and the loss of all the good morals and values we had and that totally contradicts with our Islamic beliefs.” The kit is an alternative to costly surgery.

While artificial virginity kits and surgeries might seem funny to some, they’re indicative of a general scientific misunderstanding of both the importance and the available proof for someone’s virginity. Many women, despite never having sex, do not bleed during their first intercourse. And not all women are even born with a hymen in the first place. 

More from Smithsonian.com:

9 Percent of People Would Have Sex With a Robot (And 42 Percent of Them Would Consider It Cheating)
The Most Famous Fake Women in History

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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