Bo Gu / NBC News
A snapshot of the website that sells fake hymens.
BEIJING – Despite the gradual liberalization of attitudes towards pre-marital sex in China, as well as rampant prostitution and Internet pornography – a woman’s virginity is still highly valued by many men here, especially in rural areas.
So what’s a girl trying to disguise her past sexual experience to do?
Pretend to be a virgin.
Search the words “artificial hymen” on Google in Chinese, and you’ll get seven million results. Search “Joan of Arc Red,” and you’ll get over a million results – it’s the biggest selling brand in China’s growing fake hymen market.
Try to appear ‘shy’ for 'a better effect'
A young woman looking for a solution to her awkward problem can simply log onto the website www.xuexing.org and pay $18.40 for two fake hymens nicely packed in a wooden box. For $14.40, the same products come simply wrapped in a paper box.
The website says the goods were first invented in Japan in 1993 and then became popular in Thailand, followed by the rest of Southeast Asia before eventually making their way to the Middle East.
According to the instructions, the little piece of semitransparent tissue has no side effects and is made of a natural fibrin glue, a medical elastic substance, a soluble base and carboxymethocel.
“After you put this into the vagina, it’ll dissolve and expand. Have sex in about 20 to 30 minutes, and you’ll ‘bleed’,” explains the instructions. “A better effect will be reached if you appear to be shy and in pain.”
I first learned about this product through an anonymous text message that read, “Joan of Arc Red, no surgery, no injections, no pain, and it will re-virginize you in just a few minutes.” I logged onto the website, and an online service agent began chatting with me immediately.
Refusing to tell me how many packs they sell on a daily basis because, the agent said, it’s a business secret, he was frank about the vast market for their product. “A lot of new graduates buy them before they get married,” he wrote. “So do some prostitutes who want to get a better price from their customers.”
A few decades ago, it was commonplace for husbands to expect to see tell-tale red marks on their wedding night. But despite the fact that China is much less conservative today than it used to be, many brides are still judged the same way.
Bo Gu / NBC News
A photo of "Joan of Arc Red" on the product's website.
Lian Yue, a well-known columnist with “Shanghai Weekly,” has been giving love advice for ten years. He says a large number of his befuddled male readers tell him about their disappointment when they find out their girlfriends have had sexual experiences before them. He also hears quite often from women concerned about losing their virginity to Mr. Wrong.
“The Chinese women’s social status is still low, and some of the husbands value wives for having their hymens intact,” said Lian. “This doesn’t necessarily just exist in rural areas. Some urban people have the same idea.”
Reconstructive surgery is an option
If the woman is well-off and prefers a more secure camouflage, surgery is an option to make her feel like a true virgin again.
Li Weifan, deputy president of the Beijing Wuzhou Women’s Hospital, spoke to NBC News quite openly about the “hymen reconstruction” they offer as one of their plastic surgery services.
“Around 10 to 20 percent of our patients come here for plastic surgeries like liposuction or breast implant,” she said. “Some girls – a lot them are newly graduated college students – regret their previous sex life and come here to regain their virginity before they get married.”
Li said the hospital schedules a few surgeries every month, and the patients’ recovery time is about one month. The surgeries cost from $450 to 1,000. Due to privacy issues and the fact that many of the surgeries are done in private clinics, there are no official statistics on how many re-virginization surgeries are performed in China annually. However women’s hospitals like Wuzhou have become popular in China with young, affluent women because they can enjoy better service and greater privacy than in public hospitals.
Although the fake hymen product instructions claim there are no side effects, gynecologists do warn that it could cause infections. Doctors also warn that surgery induced fake hymens could rupture if the girls engage in physical exercise like riding a bike.
Despite the risks, becoming a virgin in a few minutes is not just a dream in China. The easy-to-operate fake hymens are also used by women in the Middle East, where pre-marital sex still has a strong social stigma.
In Syria, an artificial hymen can be bought for $15 on the black market by girls who can’t afford to have hymen reconstruction surgery performed in underground clinics. In 2009, a prominent religious leader in Cairo called for severe punishment of any person who facilitates the sale of artificial hymens, deeming it an immoral and corrupt act.
“It’s really not necessary at all to fake being a virgin, unless you have been raped and this really provides some comfort,” said Wang Xiaoyuan, a young editor in the Beijing office of Bazaar magazine. “Women have no duty to keep their virginity before getting married. If my boyfriend had a virgin complex, I’d absolutely find another guy. I think in the name of no discrimination in China, the difference between male and female does not get the respect it deserves.”