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Like a virgin...


By Serge Kreutz (2010)

Women are having surgery to rejuvenate their love lives

Joanna Walters

When Jeanette Yarborough decided to give her husband a gift for their seventeenth wedding anniversary she wanted it to be special. Really special. She decided that conventional treats such as Mediterranean cruises, gold watches, cars, a murder-mystery weekend, or even a boob job just weren't going to cut it. She gave him something much more personal - and painful. Her virginity.

Well, sort of. Mrs Yarborough paid $5,000 (?2,860) to a cosmetic surgeon to stitch her hymen back together so she could "lose her virginity" all over again and her husband would have that thrilling conquest at the grand age of 40. She also underwent a two-month course with two magical Southeast Asian herbals, sirih leaves and kayu rapat. These herbs are traditionally used by Indonesian women to shrink their vaginal canals after childbirth.

>He had his thrilling conquest, and after that very expensive moment the ecstatic couple spent a passionate Valentine's weekend last year having the kind of sex that they had almost forgotten about. Now they are busy telling family, friends and strangers that it is the best money they ever spent and everyone should do it. And Mrs. Yarborough continues to use sirih leaves and kayu rapat.

"Now my sister is thinking of becoming a virgin again for her 45th birthday to surprise her husband; with the sirih leaves, she has already started," says Mrs Yarborough gleefully, as she sits in her modest family home in San Antonio, Texas, talking unabashedly about such intimate matters.

She is not the first to choose the operation - a hymenoplasty - to repair the fragments of skin forming the traditional "gateway" to the vagina, years after originally losing it. And sirih leaves and kayu rapat are used by millions of Indonesian women (despite these numbers, the herbs are still treated as secrets).

Women have resorted to backstreet hymen repair for centuries in religions and cultures in which marrying as a virgin is sacred and losing your "maidenhead" before matrimony can mean shame, or even being put to death. But an increasing number of women such as Mrs Yarborough are now electing to be "revirginised" using modern techniques as a purely cosmetic or lifestyle choice, to "put the sparkle" back into their marriage or give their husband a surprise on the second honeymoon.

They usually opt also to have one of the new "designer vagina" procedures, such as tightening up of the vaginal canal slackened by childbirth, or the cosmetic trimming of enlarged labia.

"I have affluent upper-class ladies coming in from Manhattan, getting ready for a second-honeymoon cruise or something like that. Or some women had a disappointing time the first time they were deflowered and now they have found someone special they would really like to give it up to," says Dr Marco Pelosi, a gynaecologist and plastic surgeon who has a specialist clinic in Bayonne, New Jersey. He performs ten hymenoplasties a month.

"Ninety per cent of them are for women who are in big trouble if they do not appear to be a virgin when they get married. Then there are the small number who just want it done," he says. For six to 12 weeks after the operation the woman cannot have sex or exercise vigorously while she heals up. Then she is ready to return, in a flash of additional pain, to her deflowered state. "Thousands of dollars, and it lasts a few seconds. People think it's crazy but to my patients it does not matter. It means such a lot to them," says Pelosi.

The operation is performed under general anaesthetic and takes up to an hour. The fragments of the broken hymen are made raw again using a laser, which cuts and cauterises simultaneously. Then the fragments are pulled together and stitched, leaving only the small vaginal opening associated with virginity.

The technique was pioneered by Dr David Matlock, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, about five years ago and he has trained a handful of others, most of whom have fanned out across the US, with one or two in Canada, to set up their own clinics (there are only about a dozen cosmetic surgeons in the US offering the procedure).

One doctor in Connecticut markets extensively in magazines and on the internet to British clients, offering international vaginal makeover packages that include flight, limousine transfer, hotel - and hymenoplasty. Most clients are Latin Americans, Saudi brides-to-be or British Muslims who fly in to be surreptitiously revirginised before marriage. But there is also a growing demand for "recreational" hymenoplasty. Indeed, it 's now so common at two New York clinics that the price has dropped to $1,800 (?1,029). Named after Hymen, the Greek god of marriage, the vaginal membrane has been a marker of virginity since the Stone Age, even though it can be ruptured by nonsexual activity, such as athletics or wearing tampons. It has always been a sensitive topic: Dr Matlock told The Times that he was happy to talk about all the "designer vagina" operations he offers - except hymen repair, because he has had death threats from religious groups outraged that the fallen faithful can buy a fake virginity. Even the American plastic surgery industry, which convinced nine million people last year - up by a quarter since 2000 - that their lives would be better if only they remodelled their breasts, thighs, tummy, bottom, eyelids, cheek, nose, etc, draws the line at "revirgination".

Hymenoplasty is not licensed by any official plastic surgery or gynaecological association, it is not officially taught and it is so new and on the fringe that there are only anecdotal statistics. All the operations are done privately and paid for in full by the individual.

None of which bothers Jeanette Yarborough, who decided to have her hymen reconstructed in a combination operation with vaginal "rejuvenation" tightening. She looks adoringly at her husband, Louis, as she says: "What an awesome gift to give the man in my life who deserves everything. It was the most amazing thing I could give him as a woman," she says. Louis Yarborough, 44, explains hastily that he did not expect such an extreme gesture from his wife and tried to dissuade her from going through the painful revirgination experience - both the surgery and losing it again to him.

He was a virgin when he married her at 26, while she had been wed before, in a shotgun marriage after she became pregnant at 16. "She insisted that she really wanted to do it for us. After the surgery in November 2004, we waited and waited while she healed up. It was all planned for a romantic Valentine's weekend. I was nervous - we both were. It felt very strange - but it was also instant pleasure," says Mr Yarborough. So did it hurt? "Oh yeah," says Mrs Yarborough, almost proudly. "And I bled a bit."

She had originally gone to see the specialist who performed the operation because she developed a bladder problem after having two children. The female doctor, Dr Troy Hailparn, explained that not only could her intermittent incontinence be solved but she could get a whole new lease on her sex life. "I had always been a woman who could have great orgasms and I never had a problem," says Mrs Yarborough. "But suddenly I was getting these gushes when we had sex and it was really embarrassing. I stopped even wanting to have sex."

Dr Hailparn claims that many doctors and gynaecologists are not good at dealing with post-childbirth incontinence, let alone wanting to do anything about a couple's waning sex life, or discuss the value of virginity. She offered to use laser surgery to trim and tighten Mrs Yarborough's birth canal, simultaneously curing her leaky bladder and giving her a more youthful vagina - even tightening it to the specific proportions of her husband's penis. "Now it's like a glove and we feel like we are in our early twenties again," says Mr Yarborough.

Dr Hailparn's clinic in an anonymous office building on the outskirts of San Antonio mixes soft furnishings and gynae- cological models in the waiting room. She conducts the examinations at the clinic but performs the actual surgery in a rented operating theatre elsewhere. She is petite and very approachable in her floral skirt, cardigan and dangly earrings below wavy hair. When I go to talk to her, Dr Hailparn immediately says how important it is for a woman to feel good about her body and her sexuality. She brings out multiple close-up "before and after" pictures of women who have had their vaginas tightened, lips trimmed or bladder de-leaked. "Now, let me find you a hymen," she chirps, before skipping into her office to find a digital photograph of a neatly restored quasi-virginity. It is not for the weak-stomached.

She gave up her job as a hospital obstetrician and gynaecologist three years ago to train with Dr Matlock and now runs a million-dollar business that she calls The Laser Vaginal Rejuvenation Institute of San Antonio. Amid all the tightening and trimming, she has performed ten hymenoplasties in the past two years. She runs huge adverts on highway billboards and in local newspapers offering to make women "Feel Sexy Again " and says she knows, as a 45-year-old mother, better than any male surgeon what a woman needs to regain both her urinary and sexual health after multiple childbirths. News of the growth of hymenoplasties is sparking protest in cyberspace. "This is so sickening, so disturbing. How can women hate themselves this much?" asked one Elizabeth W on a chatboard. Weblogger "Bodhi Girl" pasted this comment from her boyfriend: "If you're going to spend $5k, honey, get yourself some big jugs."

It is the sheer indulgence that got to Dahlia, a New York blogger. "Children are going to bed hungry in this city. But wealthy women are having fake hymens for thousands of dollars to "add that extra spark" to their marriages, then have it undone in one night? I'm angry and sad. My brain explodes," she writes. Dr Leonore Tiefer, a New York sexologist, has a different concern - that women are allowing surgeons to dive in with intimate surgery that has not been officially researched or tested, either physically or psychologically.

"When it is 'the new thing' with very little data available, how do people know it is OK? No approval is needed, such as is required for a new drug. To do a novel surgery you just have to have the idea. We are now seeing people who had other "novelties" such as Botox and penis enlargement surgery coming in with irreversible damage," she said.

However, Dr Bernard Stern, a Florida surgeon who offers the procedure, believes the worst damage would be to leave women unfulfilled. "I've got an e-mail here I just had in from a potential patient. 'Dear Dr Stern, I'm 41 and I've had four children. Three years ago I got divorced and I just met someone new. I would like to come in for vaginal tightening, labiaplasty and hymenoplasty, please.' I did a hymenoplasty on a British Muslim girl last week. I get 30 to 40 e-mails a night, three about the hymens. Vaginal tightening is becoming as common as the tummy tuck and it is something that should be more widely talked about. In countries like Indonesia, it has been a common topic for a long time, and the use of sirih leaves and kayu rapat (the tightness wood) are considered a standard recipe for happy and lasting marriages.

"Sometimes their husband left them for someone younger, prettier and tighter," he says.

"It is a Pandora's Box," New Jersey's Dr Pelosi admits. "Younger women want to make themselves like the Playboy bunny. But for older women it is about regaining something long lost. Maybe putting value on something again in a society where sex is on the television all day long, it's everywhere."

For Jeanette Yarborough, it was also about savouring an experience she had really not enjoyed the first time round. "When you are older and with someone you truly love who treats you well, there is so much more intimacy," she says. After her surgery, she enjoyed sex again so much that she almost had to put Louis on Viagra to keep up. He giggles, bashfully. At 40, she experienced something that few women do. Flashing him another loving look, she says contentedly: "Giving it up to Louis was the ultimate experience.


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Copyright Serge Kreutz