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Although treatments for depression exist, sometimes these treatments don’t work for many who use them. Furthermore, women experience higher rates of depression than men, yet the cause for this difference is unknown, making their illnesses, at times, more complicated to treat.
University of California, Davis, researchers teamed up with scientists from Mt. Sinai Hospital, Princeton University, and Laval University, Quebec, to try to understand how a specific part of the brain, the nucleus accumbens, is affected during the depression. The nucleus accumbens is important for motivation, response to rewarding experiences, and social interactions -; all of which are affected by depression.
Previous analyses within the nucleus accumbens showed that different genes were turned on or off in women, but not in men diagnosed with depression. These changes could have caused symptoms of depression, or alternatively, the experience of being depressed could have changed the brain. To differentiate between these possibilities, the researchers studied mice that had experienced negative social interactions, which induce stronger depression-related behavior in females than males.
These high-throughput analyses are very informative for understanding long-lasting effects of stress on the brain. In our rodent model, negative social interactions changed gene expression patterns in female mice that mirrored patterns observed in women with depression. This is exciting because women are understudied in this field, and this finding allowed me to focus my attention on the relevance of these data for women’s health.”
Alexia Williams, Doctoral Researcher and Recent Davis Graduate, University of California – Davis
The study “Comparative transcriptional analyses in the nucleus accumbens identifies RGS2 as a key mediator of depression-related behavior,” was published this month in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
After identifying similar molecular changes in the brains of mice and humans, researchers chose one gene, regulator of g protein signaling-2, or Rgs2, to manipulate. This gene controls the expression of a protein that regulates neurotransmitter receptors that are targeted by antidepressant medications such as Prozac and Zoloft.
“In humans, less stable versions of the Rgs2 protein are associated with increased risk of depression, so we were curious to see whether increasing Rgs2 in the nucleus accumbens could reduce depression-related behaviors,” said Brian Trainor, UC Davis professor of psychology and senior author on the study. He is also an affiliated faculty member with the Center for Neuroscience and directs the Behavioral Neuroendocrinology Lab at UC Davis.
When the researchers experimentally increased Rgs2 protein in the nucleus accumbens of the mice, they effectively reversed the effects of stress on these female mice, noting that social approach and preferences for preferred foods increased to levels observed in females that did not experience any stress.
“These results highlight a molecular mechanism contributing to the lack of motivation often observed in depressed patients. Reduced function of proteins like Rgs2 may contribute to symptoms that are difficult to treat in those struggling with mental illnesses,” Williams said.
Findings from basic science studies such as this one may guide the development of pharmacotherapies to effectively treat individuals suffering from depression, the researchers said.
“Our hope is that by doing studies such as these, which focus on elucidating mechanisms of specific symptoms of complex mental illnesses, we will bring science one step closer to developing new treatments for those in need,” said Williams.
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer accounts for thirty percent of all new female cancers each year.
In turn, just over two hundred and eighty-seven thousand cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed this year in the U.S. alone.
Being that breast cancer is one of the most common cancers, there has been a plethora of research conducted to understand how the cancer forms and what treatment methods are most viable.
However, there is a lack of research regarding when tumors actually shed metastatic cells.
This shedding, known as metastasis, is when cancer cells separate from the original tumor and spread throughout the rest of the body via blood vessels– forming tumors in other organs (metastases).
Up until now, scientists believed that these cells were shed continuously. But, a new study conducted by researchers in Switzerland has found that the shedding of cancer cells mainly occurs during sleep.
Moreover, when cells leave the tumor at night, they divide more rapidly. This means there is a higher chance of forming metastases in the evening as compared to cancer cells that circulate during the day.
So, why does this happen? Hormones and the human body’s circadian rhythm.
“Our research shows that the escape of circulating cancer cells from the original tumor is controlled by hormones such as melatonin, which determine our rhythms of day and night,” explained the study’s lead author Zoi Diamantopoulou.
Not only does this research provide medical professionals with more insight into the spreading of cancer, though.
It can also impact the diagnoses that oncologists find to begin with.
“Some of my colleagues work early in the morning or late in the evening; sometimes they will also analyze blood at unusual hours,” said Nicola Aceto, the study leader.
Analyzing blood at inconsistent hours of the day can cause scientists to detect drastically different circulating cancer cell levels and may impact patient diagnosis.
In turn, Aceto believes that the study’s findings should inform how, or rather, when, doctors perform their procedures.
“In our view, these findings may indicate the need for healthcare professionals to systematically record the time at which they perform biopsies. It may help to make the data truly comparable,” Aceto concluded.
Doctors in Croatia give details of a pregnant COVID-19 patient’s 22-day-long battle for survival, in a case report being presented at Euroanaesthesia, the annual meeting of the European Society of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care (ESAIC) in Milan, Italy (4-6 June).
The 31-year-old woman, who had not been vaccinated against COVID, underwent an emergency C-section before being put on ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation a machine), a “last resort” treatment that replaces the function of the heart and lungs, allowing them to heal.
The woman developed symptoms of COVID-19 on October 16 2021 and tested positive four days later, on October 20. She was admitted to University Hospital Split, Split, Croatia on October 26 with shortness of breath, a cough, and weakness.
The woman, who was 33 weeks pregnant when admitted, did not have any significant underlying medical conditions.
Her symptoms were mild initially but progressed quickly, which caused concern. A few hours after admission, her breathing was worse, despite her being given supplementary oxygen.
An interdisciplinary team, which was led by Ass. Prof. Sanda Stojanovic Stipic and included ICU and maternal-fetal medicine physicians, decided to intubate the woman and perform a C-section.
“The patient’s condition was deteriorating quickly,” says Dr. Filip Peris, of the Department of Anaesthesiology & Intensive Care, University Hospital Split, an anaesthesiologist and one of those on the team caring for the woman.
“We had a short timeframe before baby’s health would do the same, so we put a team together and discussed the best thing for both mother and child, to try to save their both lives.
“Given that the gestational age of the child was quite advanced, and the mother’s health was deteriorating quickly, we decided to do a C-section.
“Pregnancy is a stressful time for the body and delivering the baby would give the mother’s lungs time to heal on their own.”
The baby, a boy weighing 2,380g (5lb 4oz), was healthy and did not require any special medical care.
After the C-section, the woman was transferred to the hospital’s COVID ICU, where she was placed on a ventilator. Despite this, she had a lung function ratio (P/F) ratio of 85. Ratios of below 100 are classed as severe ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome, a condition in which the lungs are so badly damaged that the alveoli—air sacs—start to fill with fluid.)
Her lung function ratio further deteriorated to 70 and she was put on ECMO.
“The mother’s condition was life-threatening and mechanical ventilation was not enough to heal her lungs,” says Dr. Peris. “ECMO was her last chance. In our hospital, we use ECMO 3-5 times in a year.
“Her lung function gradually improved and she was weaned off ECMO after nine days. On 17 November, and following a 22-long-day battle for survival, mother and child were discharged home.”
The woman had extensive physiotherapy in hospital and after returning home and has made a full recovery. Her son is also healthy.
Dr. Peris says: “Every step of her battle was closely monitored by our wonderful team of anaesthesiologists and our ICU nurses. Their team effort, led by Ass. Prof. Sanda Stojanovic Stipic, and hard work were crucial in winning this battle.”
The woman’s doctors say that pregnancy should not be regarded as a contraindication for ECMO. They say: “Recent studies show us that survival rates after ECMO use in pregnancy are high, for both mother and child. This could be because pregnant patients are generally young and in good health.”
Dr. Peris adds: “The risks and benefits for both the mother and fetus must be weighed against each other. In this situation, the fetus’s advanced gestational age was balanced against the mother’s rapidly deteriorating clinical condition.
“Timing is everything in medicine. The right timing saves lives.”
The woman had not been vaccinated against COVID-19. Dr. Peris says: “Vaccination is tremendously important—it saves lives.
“Studies show there are no safety concerns for babies born to women who were vaccinated against COVID-19 during pregnancy.
“I urge you to have your vaccine as soon as possible.”
Because women’s health issues have been under-researched and underreported, it’s important that we become our own health advocates. Here are five conditions to be on the lookout for.
When it comes to your health, it’s your right to fight for it because you are your biggest advocate. In Shondaland’s Women’s Health series this month, we’re offering insight and advice on how women can take their physical and mental well-being into their own hands so they can lead happy, healthy lives
t’s become a well-known fact that women’s health has been under-researched and underreported. Numerous studies have shown gender bias to be prevalent in health care with respect to both treatment and research in everything from mental health treatments to childbirth to breast cancer. Women’s health has suffered overall. “This is where we, as health-care providers, have failed,” says Francine I. Hippolyte, MD, an attending physician and vice-chair of clinical operations in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York. “Women are often marginalized in the health-care system in general. When it comes to research, they’re not just marginalized but are actually excluded.”
This kind of medical sidelining can make women less than eager to seek medical care when suffering from symptoms that are, on the surface, relatively easy to live with. It’s also why — as daunting and as much work as it can be — it’s in a woman’s best interest to be her own health advocate.
“As women, we’re accustomed to just pull up our pants, deal with our issues, and keep on moving,” says Hippolyte. “By the time a female patient comes to you, very often her health issues have been going on for a while. It takes a lot for a woman to seek medical attention. It’s important for women to have a voice and to be proactive when it comes to their health. Women are central to their family, and oftentimes, it is through a woman’s diagnosis of conditions that other family members know how it impacts them and can seek health care.”
Being your own health advocate doesn’t just mean staying on top of yearly screenings when they’re available — it also means getting seen if you suspect something is off despite passing those tests. In order to do that, however, ensuring your best health means having the knowledge about which health issues are most crucial for women to understand today. Here are five health conditions or issues you should become and stay aware of.
Breast, uterine, cervical, and ovarian cancers
According to Memorial Sloan Kettering hospital in New York, uterine (endometrial) cancer is the most common cancer of the female reproductive system, with just shy of 50,000 Americans diagnosed each year. Ovarian cancer, the second most common type, affects one in 70 American women across their lifetime. Cervical cancer, which most women are screened for yearly with a pap smear, is diagnosed approximately 12,000 times per year. And a glance at the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s website reveals that as many as one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, which is why women over the age of 40 are strongly advised to schedule yearly mammograms to screen for breast cancer.
Hippolyte says a woman’s risk for breast, uterine, cervical, and ovarian cancers rises along with her age. Yet women in their 40s and 50s — who are often responsible for bringing up their own children and for the care of their aging parents — are often so busy caring for others that they can easily miss some signs or let regular screenings lapse. “It’s important to pay attention to any subtle changes you may feel,” says Hippolyte. “There are limitations to any screening tests. Sometimes a woman says, ‘I don’t feel right; something is different,’ and we must trust she knows her body better than we do, better than science does.” If your breasts feel different, or you experience breast discharge or skin changes, bring it to your doctor’s attention as soon as possible — even if your mammogram checked out. Also, be sure to discuss any menstrual irregularities with your gynecologist, as those can easily be brushed off as perimenopause but can also indicate uterine, cervical, or ovarian cancers.
According to the Mayo Clinic, fibroids (also known as leiomyomas) are very common noncancerous growths of the uterus that can appear during your childbearing years. You can have more than one, and they can vary in size from tiny growths to large masses that cause you to actually gain weight. Fibroids are usually discovered during routine pelvic exams or ultrasounds and can appear without symptoms. But larger fibroids can cause very heavy bleeding that can be painful and disruptive to your daily life, sometimes requiring removal, and depending on their size and location, could impact fertility. Hippolyte says symptoms of and a history of fibroids can also shroud more urgent medical issues. “A patient might come in and say, ‘I’m bleeding more heavily,’ and because of that fibroid history, the doctor may not investigate further and miss pre-cancer or cancer of the uterus,” she says. Be sure to discuss any abnormal bleeding or abdominal discomfort with your doctor.
Osteoporosis occurs when your bone tissue doesn’t regenerate fast enough, thus causing bones to become so brittle and weak, that they can break under the stress of something as small as a cough. Osteoporosis commonly occurs in the hip, wrist, or spine, according to the Mayo Clinic. Hippolyte says risk factors for osteoporosis are age, race, body mass index, family history, and smoking. The problem is, it’s a silent condition. “The No. 1 symptom of osteoporosis is no symptom. Zero,” she says, adding that it can easily sneak up on women with chronic conditions requiring steroid use or medications that increase their risk of osteoporosis. “Unfortunately, what often happens is a woman has a fracture, and in hindsight, her doctor realizes her risk of fracture was increased because she has osteoporosis. Prevention is very important.” Osteoporosis has a precondition called osteopenia, for which there are oftentimes no symptoms outside of localized bone pain and weakness in the area of a broken bone. However, a bone-density test, which women should get starting at age 65, can determine signs of loss of bone density, which can be counteracted by surveillance and preventative measures like exercise, Hippolyte says.
Hippolyte says heart disease is a strong example of how, historically, the medical establishment has overlooked women. And it’s not just older women: Approximately one in 16 women over the age of 20 (6.2 percent) has coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease, which affects Black and white women almost equally. Though it’s the leading cause of death for women in the United States — killing approximately one in every five women — medical research and training have largely ignored the fact that women present very differently than men while having a heart attack. “Heart disease can impact a woman just as much as a man, but symptoms and how it’s recognized are a lot different, therefore putting a woman in danger of her condition going unnoticed,” explains Hippolyte. “We mostly look at data from male patients and studies done on men, from presenting symptoms to medications that could be used. But a woman’s heart attack is not that crushing chest sternal pain that we see in the movies. It’s definitely a lot different. Nausea and upset stomach might be the indication and are oftentimes overlooked.” Heart disease can be insidious because many women don’t have symptoms. Others feel dull or heavy chest pain (also known as angina); pain in the neck, jaw, and throat, and/or pain in the upper abdomen or back; fatigue, nausea, or vomiting.
Your primary-care physician preliminarily screens for basic heart-disease indicators at your yearly well visit by taking your blood pressure, discussing your diet, monitoring your weight, and ordering blood tests to check your cholesterol and glucose levels. Hippolyte says when you’re evaluated for heart disease, your doctor or cardiologist should also consider your obstetrical history. “You might have a woman who gave birth 20 or 30 years ago and perhaps had preeclampsia, or a growth-restricted baby or an elevation in blood pressure that everybody said was nothing. These risk factors alone contribute to an increased link with cardiovascular disease later in life. A woman who didn’t really seem to have high blood pressure or smoke might suddenly be at risk for congestive heart failure. You have to really know a woman’s personal medical history and see how it could impact her health many decades later,” says Hippolyte. Among other factors that can contribute to heart disease risk are diabetes, alcohol use, a lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet, and obesity.
Complications in pregnancy
Prenatal care is extremely important for your health and your baby’s health. In 2020, the average U.S. maternal mortality rate was 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births compared with a rate of 20.1 in 2019. Horrific but true: The maternal mortality rate for non-Hispanic Black women was 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births — 2.9 times the rate for non-Hispanic white women, according to the CDC. These are the highest maternal mortality rates of any high-resource country.
When you’re pregnant, your body goes through so many changes, that it can be hard to tell which discomforts are normal and which are signs of something serious. According to the CDC, approximately 50,000 or more American women will experience severe maternal morbidity (SMM), or pregnancy conditions that can adversely affect a woman’s health or even life. Though it’s difficult in a mere paragraph to provide a full guide to which complications warrant exploration, Hippolyte says the following signs and symptoms warrant an immediate call to your doctor:
- A headache that will not go away with acetaminophen, the main ingredient found in Tylenol
- Visual changes at rest (e.g., floaters, or bright spots in your field of vision)
- Vaginal bleeding in any trimester
- Epigastric (or gastrointestinal) pain not relieved with antacid
- Right upper abdominal pain at rest
- Decreased or absent fetal movement in the mid-second trimester and later
In the meantime, be sure to keep up with your prenatal visits, testing, and screenings to carefully monitor your pregnancy throughout.
Sex and sexuality today are not as demonized as they once were, but female sexuality remains a contentious issue in many cultures and religions.
For example, across Desi communities, female virginity is still expected before marriage.
Although premarital sex occurs more, it is still deemed taboo.
Hence, virginity restoration can help Desi women avoid shame, abuse, and even death.
There are many reasons why Desi women use products to restore virginity.
For some women, it presents the idea of sexual freedom.
For others, the misinformation about virginity is helping enable the rise of demand for products to restore virginity.
Zakia Khan*, a housing advisor from Birmingham said:
“So much of what I have been told about the hymen and virginity, I now realize is there, to control me and other women. Now I know that I hate it.
“The danger is a lot of Asian women I know don’t know that what they know is misinformation and not true knowledge. So it gets passed on and passed on.”
Only recently has she begun to question the legitimacy of cultural ideas around female virginity.
Zakia feels frustrated that ‘” true knowledge” is something she has to search for online.
Zakia dislikes the fact that reliable information about virginity is not easily provided. She feels knowledge and facts need to be discussed openly.
For Zakia, the mainstreaming of such information would have more Desi women questioning the legitimacy of virginity. Rather than Desi women looking to restore virginity.
As the World Health Organisation (WHO) stresses, there is no biological basis for the idea of virginity, it is a social construct.
Yet, female virginity remains highly valued and idealized, and the hymen and blood remain positioned as indicators of female purity.
What is the Hymen?
Contrary to its name, the hymen is not a complete membrane or skin covering the whole vaginal opening.
After all, menstrual blood can pass through the vagina before a woman’s first time having penetrative sex.
Typically, hymens have a hole big enough for menstrual blood to come out. The popular idea of the hymen being a barrier needing to be broken is wrong.
Nevertheless, the hymen remains synonymous with the concept of female virginity.
How does the Hymen Look?
Hymens are not uniform in size and shape. Medical analysis shows there are five types of hymens:
- A normal hymen is shaped like a half-moon, thus allowing menstrual blood to flow out.
- The cribriform hymen has several tiny openings through which menstrual blood can flow.
- An imperforate hymen completely covers the opening to a woman’s vagina, making it impossible for menstrual blood to flow out.
- The microperforated hymen has a very tiny opening.
- The septate hymen has a thin band of tissue in the center.
The different types of hymen mean that surgery is not always a solution to restore virginity.
But the existence of the imperforate hymen will lead to essential surgery happening.
The purpose of having a hymen is still a medical mystery. However, gynecologists believe the hymen protects the vagina from certain germs and dirt.
The Hymen & Blood as Markers of Virginity
The idea of the hymen as a marker of virginity is wrong.
The hymen does not break. Instead, it tears and stretches. This can happen before penetrative sex through tampons and sports.
Also, not all women bleed during their first time of penetrative sex.
Yet, the emphasis on the hymen breaking and blood signaling virginity is embedded in the popular imagination.
So products that aim to restore virginity focus on recreating the hymen and/or blood being shed.
Products and procedures promising to restore virginity use words such as repair and restore; the symbolism of these words matters.
Repair suggests that something went wrong and needs to be corrected and restore indicates that “something was lost and needs to be recovered”.
Hymenoplasty is a cosmetic procedure that is also known as hymen-repair surgery, with different techniques that can be used.
Firstly, there is a procedure in which a membrane without blood supply is created.
This creates a barrier to “penile penetration but may not result in bleeding after intercourse”.
In the second type of surgery, a flap of the vaginal lining and its blood supply is taken to create a new hymen.
There is also the “all plant technique”, which involves the insertion of a tearable biomaterial in place of the hymen.
The all-plant technique is used if there are no remains left of the ruptured hymen.
The cost of hymenoplasty, which takes approximately 30 minutes to an hour (max three hours), can be up to £4,000 in the UK.
In Pakistani cities such as Karachi, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, and Lahore, hymenoplasty is readily available.
The cost of hymenoplasty in Pakistan starts from Rs. 40,000 (£180).
Moreover, in India, prices range from approximately Rs. 25,000 (£240) to Rs. 60,000 (£580).
The overall cost of hymenoplasty is determined by the surgeon’s skill, the clinic, the technique used, and any additional hospital charges.
Clinics offering Hymenoplasty
A growing number of clinics across the world offer surgery to restore virginity.
Worldwide, hymenoplasty is mostly done in private clinics that aren’t required by law to record numbers.
Approximately 9,000 people searched Google for hymenoplasty and related terms in the UK in 2019.
In 2020, a Sunday Times investigation found at least 22 private clinics across the UK offering hymenoplasty.
Women across the world are secretly flocking to London clinics to restore their virginity.
Between 2007 and 2017, at least 109 women underwent hymenoplasty in NHS hospitals.
The real number is predicted to be higher, exact NHS figures remain hidden.
Only nine local NHS trusts and about 150 NHS Foundation Trusts provided data. Data was provided under a Freedom of Information request, the rest declined to reveal their data.
In India, clinics offering hymenoplasty are easy to find. A Google search led to 145 clinics being identified.
The growing number of clinics in India is reflective of the fact that in recent years the demand for hymenoplasty has risen to 30%.
Despite the ongoing demand for hymenoplasty, secrecy around hymenoplasty being undertaken remains strong.
“We make sure that your privacy is strictly maintained and even the staff in the hospital does not know the name of the surgery for which you are admitted.
“It is strictly confidential between you and your doctor.”
What do Desi Women & Men think about Hymenoplasty?
Perceptions about female premarital sex and virginity vary across Desi communities. Hence, hymenoplasty is seen by some Desi men and women as a valuable tool and by others as problematic.
Desi Women’s Perspectives
Ruby Jha sees hymenoplasty as valuable for women:
“Women can explore and learn to understand themselves.
“Some of my cousins [in London and India], thanks to the surgery, we’re able to give the community what they expect.
“The spaces in which my cousins are based in, mean it matters, the illusion of virginity is needed.”
“Yes almost everyone is having sex, exploring, but the illusion of it not happening is still important, still necessary.”
On the other hand, Hasina Begum* argues:
“No way would I waste money on the surgery.
“Before marriage, I didn’t go past second base, and if I had… well depending on who I had married fake blood would have been less hassle.”
For Hasina, hymenoplasty is too invasive as a procedure, she feels more comfortable with the thought of using non-surgical products like fake blood.
Desi Men’s Perspectives
Birmingham-based service worker Ismael Khan* married his girlfriend in 2018. He says:
“I don’t get it, I’m not a hypocrite and I would not want my wife having unnecessary surgery.”
Ismael goes on to say:
“It’s a waste of money and the expectation of a virgin bride is just BS.
“I can totally live without the experience of breaking the barrier and blood.”
For Ismael the gender discrimination prevalent in attitudes towards female sexuality and premarital sex is outdated.
He also believes the existence of hymenoplasty is problematic, allowing the continued idea that female virginity is a must. He added:
“The surgery allows the double standard to stay in place, it validates the value placed on virginity and the pressure on women.”
In contrast, Imran Khan* said:
“No in Islam and our culture girls are meant to wait until marriage.
“Doing the surgery and the reason for doing it is both morally wrong.”
Imran’s views on sex outside marriage for women and hymenoplasty are not uncommon.
Rather Imran’s views are reflective of many religions and conservative cultures, where premarital sex, especially for women is positioned as sinful.
Non-Surgical Products to Restore Virginity
An alternative to going under the knife is using non-surgical products.
Products that promise to restore virginity or give the illusion of virginity include artificial hymen kits, fake blood, creams, gels, and soaps.
Chinese manufacturers are leading the way in producing non-surgical options on the market.
For some, the non-surgical products vowing to give the illusion of virginity are more easily accessible and affordable.
Amina Sayed*, of Mirpur, Pakistan asserts:
“There is no chance of getting away to do the surgery in the village for most, I know a kuri [girl] who bought the kit and luckily never got caught.”
Artificial Hymen Kits to Restore Virginity
On the internet, hundreds of artificial hymen kits containing fake blood and vaginal tightening pills can be found. Products under the brands Zarimon and Vagitone, in particular, are easy to locate online.
The UK-based company Zarimon, which has since deleted its website, charged £299 for a kit to restore virginity, positioning itself as a ‘safe’ alternative to hymenoplasty.
The website said:
“If you have lost your virginity for any reason, such as exercising or due to sexual activities, there is a chance to renew (it)”.
An online review site that looked at Zarimon and Vagitone hymen repair kits made the following warning:
“[We] have not been able to know the ingredients used to manufacture the Zarimon artificial hymen pill. They say it is a secret.
“We highly recommend not to insert any product into your vagina if you do not know the ingredients they are made of, it could be potentially very harmful to your vaginal health.”
Similar kits to Zarimon were sold on Amazon UK but are presently unavailable for sale due to backlash.
Yet artificial hymen kits are available for purchase through Amazon US and other online platforms.
The Artificial Hymen
There are many different types of artificial hymen kits that can be purchased online. One product is the Artificial Hymen Joan of Arc.
The Joan of Arc artificial hymen is made in Japan with medical grade Red Dye Liquid on the translucent membrane.
It is said the product “gives a very similar effect as real human blood”.
The artificial hymen is said to be made of “natural ingredients such as cellulose and albumin”.
According to the manufacturers, it is 100% safe. Once inserted in the vagina, the woman can “simulate virginity”. The company claims:
“The Artificial Hymen uses the latest medical technology to restore your virginity.
“It has been designed to simulate the loss of blood when losing your virginity and is known to be safe.”
One website sells artificial hymen for just £20 but prices can reach hundreds of pounds.
Sonia Rahmen*, a 34-year-old bank worker, used blood capsules with the knowledge of her husband on their wedding night:
“I know online you can get virginity capsules that are basically filled with fake blood.
“I went to the joke shop to get fake blood it did the same thing as the capsules and was far kinder on my purse.”
For Sonia, the need to give the illusion of virginity was to wave off any family disapproval and gossip.
Her husband and she both felt the need to hide the fact premarital sex had occurred between them.
The worry was that Sonia’s reputation would be tarnished with labels of being easy and immoral.
Creams, Soaps, Gels & Medicine
Across the internet, one can find products like soaps, creams, gels, and herbal medicine proposing to tighten the vagina and make a woman like a virgin again.
In 2018, a Pakistani advert for herbal medicine claimed to restore virginity. Such products and their popularity exist due to a dire warning some grow up with.
Safeena grew up hearing the following sentiment from the elderly women in her household.
“If you don’t bleed on your wedding day, you will be sent back home the next day — or worse, your husband and in-laws will cut you into pieces.”
The advert positioned virginity as a vital commodity for women.
The advert reinforces that in Pakistani society, female virginity is something that is important.
Do Products Promise to Restore a Feeling rather than Literal Virginity?
A cream called ’18 Again’ promising to make women feel “18 again” and “like a virgin” caused uproar in Pakistan
According to Ultratech, the manufacturer of ’18 Again’, it is a product that empowers women.
Rishi Bhatia, the owner of Ultratech, said the product contains gold dust, aloe vera, almond, and pomegranate. He told the BBC:
“It’s a unique and revolutionary product which also works towards building inner confidence in a woman and boosting her self-esteem.”
He went on to say that the product does not claim to restore virginity but restores the “emotions of being a virgin”:
“We are only saying, ‘feel like a virgin’ – it’s a metaphor. It tries to bring back that feeling when a person is 18.”
Annie Raja, of the National Federation of Indian Women, argues:
“This kind of cream is utter nonsense, and could give some women an inferiority complex.”
The legitimacy of non-surgical products that vow to restore virginity has been significantly questioned by activists and doctors.
Also, consumers may not make the distinction between products that restore the feeling of being a virgin and products that restore virginity.
Warehouse worker Ankia Shabir* pointed out:
“My cousin got one of those virginity lotions, had no clue how it would restore her virginity.
“She wasn’t sure it would work, but she wanted to try it, to see if it would make it seem like she was a virgin.
“It didn’t, so she got one of those online kits but only after going on Twitter and Facebook to check what people had said.”
Products to restore virginity significantly bring into question ideas of consent, gender inequality, patriarchy, and choice.
The Issue of Consent & Banning Products
In 2020 there were calls for hymen-repair surgery to be banned. The UK’s General Medical Council (GMC) guidelines state that informed consent must be obtained from a patient.
Under GMC guidelines, if it is suspected that consent has been “given under pressure”, procedures should not happen.
Analyzing the GMC guidelines brings into question how a medical professional can correctly judge if consent is freely given.
Colin Melville, medical director and director of education and standards at the GMC, states:
“If a patient is under undue pressure from others to take a particular course, their consent may not be voluntary.
“If a doctor judges that a child or young person does not want a cosmetic intervention, it should not be performed.”
Implementing the guidelines must be difficult, as coercion can be indirect, subtle, and naturalized.
Yet some professionals like Dr. Khalid Khan maintain that a ban “isn’t an appropriate response”.
For Dr. Khan, the focus should be on providing “good quality information” to patients.
It is not easy to police products. For example, Zarimon closed its website. However, products are still readily available via social media platforms.
Also, the safety of online products is questionable. Ankia Shabir’s* cousin purchased a lotion online and said:
“It was the cheaper option, she found one online and used it.
“She had a weird burning sensation for like a week when peeing, and was freaked out. But she wouldn’t go to doctors, luckily it went away.”
But does this mean products should simply be banned? Do governments have the resources to police online sites?
One problem with banning products is that it would encourage a black market to flourish. This happened with skin-lightening products.
How much of a Choice is it?
Some position products and procedures that vow to restore virginity as methods of empowerment.
For some, products allow women to navigate and negotiate who they meet cultural as well as family expectations.
Yet the fact is the products exist within a world of gender inequality, where women have to play by different rules than men.
Dr. Mahinda Watsa, a gynecologist, writes a popular sexual advice column in the Mumbai Mirror and Bangalore Mirror. Dr. Watsa states:
“Being a virgin is still prized and I don’t think attitudes will change in this century.”
Accordingly, in South Asia, Desi communities grow and evolve as the value placed on women’s virginity pre-marriage remains.
This value and its consequences act as a mechanism of social control and regulation.
In part, the continued rise of products to restore virginity is a sign of “virginity fetishism”.
Virginity fetishism is the result of sexism, patriarchy, double standards, and unrealistic ideals.
Consumer choice is shaped, to a degree, by social and cultural norms, no matter how much it is wished otherwise.
So, the purchasing of products to restore virginity is influenced by forces outside the individual.
Ruby Jha argues: “None of our choices exist in a vacuum.
“Our choices are shaped by our family, community, friends and what we see and hear, and the past.
“Women wouldn’t need to buy products to fake virginity if the toxic value placed on it didn’t exist.”
The narrative placing virginity as a biological fact needs to be altered.
Conversations in schools and popular culture need to highlight the problems that exist with the very idea of virginity.
The rise in products to regain virginity will continue until female virginity is no longer a valuable and essential commodity.
Yet, for this to occur, fundamental structural change will need to take place.