When I was growing up in southern Iran, there were many dark and painful stories about young women and girls whose loss—or whose alleged loss—of virginity effectively became a death sentence.
Clearest in my mind is the case of my lovely, innocent former middle school classmate. I still remember how beautiful she was at her wedding. She had braided her hair with colorful flowers hanging down over her forehead. She was very young, and she was radiant, like a precious jewel. But the day after the nuptials, her husband concluded, rightly or wrongly, that she did not appear to be a virgin, and soon afterward she committed suicide. Such is this pitiful culture that says women who do not bleed should pay with their lives.
I first came across the concept of a “vaginal suppository” on the page of a Facebook friend. She had posted a comment about a page called “Single Girls,” where members discuss a range of issues, from physical ailments to traumatic experiences and unpleasant memories. The page featured discussion about a “pill” women can take, a suppository containing blood-colored gelatin that can be inserted into a woman’s vagina on her wedding night before intercourse.
The woman’s body temperature melts the gelatin, creating the illusion that she has bled as a result of her hymen being broken. Those who buy the suppository, which also goes by the name of “plastic membrane” are primarily immigrant Muslim women in Europe.
Of all the methods for “regaining” one’s virginity that I had heard about, the vaginal suppository sounded the most innovative and intriguing.
So, one day I get the phone number of a seller in Iran from my Facebook friend. I call it, and after exchanging greetings with the salesperson, pose as a potential customer. I want to find out as much as I can.
“How many packs do you want?” he asks.
“I am just one person. Isn’t one pack enough? How much a does single pack cost?”
“It costs 300,000 tomans [$110], but if you want it delivered we add shipping and handling,” the salesman says, then asks, “How many years have you had this problem?”
“I mean, when did you lose your virginity?”
“Oh, I lost it, uh, seven or eight years ago.”
“Each pack contains two suppositories. I am not the manufacturer, I’m the marketer. But I can assure you that it works, 100 percent. Nobody has ever called back with a complaint.”
“How do you use it?” I ask.
“It’s not really a pill, but a suppository. You insert it two or three centimeters into the cervix of the womb, 30 minutes to one hour before intercourse. The membrane around the suppository absorbs moisture, and, after being heated up by the body’s temperature, discharges the plasma.”
“Is it made in Iran?”
“Yes,” the man on the other end of the phone says. “It was first made in Europe, but now domestic pharmaceutical companies make it.”
“Then its production and sale is legal?”
The salesman sounds irritated and accuses me of grilling him. “As a customer, what do you care? You order it and if the suppository does not work, I promise you’ll get your money back.”
“Do you think a pack or one suppository is enough for me?”
“One pack is enough because each contain two suppositories. You try one before the wedding night to find out about how your body works, because how the suppository functions depends on your body temperature. Those with low body temperature need 45 to 50 minutes so that the outer membrane can absorb the moisture, but for those with a higher body temperature, 30 to 35 minutes is enough.
“But what about the smell and the color of the plasma? Could it not give rise to suspicions?”
“No, both the color and the smell resemble blood,” the man says. “The amount of liquid released is also around the same level produced when a hymen is ruptured. It can even stain the male organ.”
“Can it be reused?” I ask. “For example, could I buy it and then pass it to a friend?”
“Why are you asking so many questions, ma’am? You want to buy a 300,000 toman pack but you are wasting three million tomans’ worth of my time.”
I tell him I am just very curious about the suppository and how it works.
“It is one-time use only but, because of its ingredients, it lasts for two years at room temperature. So if you buy it, and the wedding gets canceled for whatever reason, you can use it for up to two years.”
I am curious, though, about the ethics involved. I cannot help but ask this salesman and marketer for his views. “Do you think this is ethical? You are helping somebody to lie to somebody else who is supposed to spend his life with that person. Don’t you think it’s better if the parties are honest with one other when they start their common life together, letting bygones be bygones?”
“Lady, if you are calling from the police or the Ministry of Health let me tell you that we have a permit for what we do. We are accountable for it.”
I decide to come clean. “I am a reporter,” I tell him. I apologize and say I would have told him at the outset, but that I was afraid he would not agree to talk to me.
“No, it is not a problem,” he says. “In any case, you don’t know my name. But it would have been better if you had told me at the beginning.”
I push him on the ethics question. “Do you believe what you are doing is moral? Don’t you feel guilty that you are helping someone lie?”
“Absolutely not,” he says. “Look, there are girls who have lost their virginity out of negligence, without having done anything really immoral. Or they have lost it because they simply made a bad choice. Sometimes people call me and pour out their hearts; many of them lost their virginity because they were looking for self-gratification. They have the right to live, too. A couple of times, people have called because they fell down or were engaged in heavy sports and broke their hymen.”
“So they sell well?” I ask.
“You would not believe it; it’s been phenomenal. Every day I answer more than 100 phone calls and sell about 15 packs. Surgery to restore the hymen comes with many problems and many people can’t afford it. With surgery, there is also the chance that the woman’s whole family could find out about the surgery and hospitalization. And a surgically restored hymen is only restored for a period of between nine and 13 months. The suppository is not expensive and it doesn’t create a scandal. You buy it, put it in half an hour before intercourse and that is that.”
I admit that I think it’s immoral to encourage people to deny their past, or to feel humiliated about it.
“Oh come on,” he says. “How much is morality worth? Where do you live? Perhaps not in Iran? You think it’s wrong to help women when their lives and safety are threatened? I am completely at peace with myself. I help people to be hopeful about their future. I help them so that they are not tortured and judged, so they can overcome depression and isolation and live a normal life.”
“Maybe,” I say, “it would be better to bring up our sons in a way that makes it possible for them to accept that, if they can have sexual experiences before marriage, their future spouses have the same right.”
“Please ma’am, let it go. While you’re changing the culture, a few generations will have been destroyed. Go see the mayhem that surgeons and gynecologists have to deal with to restore hymens. It’s a racket and some have made a fortune, charging helpless families enormous amounts of money who are forced to pay for it under pressure and through borrowing money. Now I must go. I’ve lost a few customers while talking to you.”
I thank him and ask him if I can publish his comments. He agrees, but says, “but please don’t give my number to your friends. I am a businessman, you know? I don’t want to be under surveillance.”