For One Drop of Blood: Virginity, sexual norms and medical processes in hymenoplasty consultations in the Netherlands

Sherria Ayuandini

My dissertation research focuses on a medical procedure called hymenoplasty. Hymenoplasty is a hymen repair surgery where the membrane in the vaginal canal is reshaped through an operation. In the Netherlands, this operation is often requested women of migrant background while the physicians treating them are mostly of Dutch “native background”.
To collect my data, I sit in during hymenoplasty consultations in one public hospital in Amsterdam and one private clinic in Arnhem. Afterwards, I would interview the patient separately. I also talk to a number of doctors about their perception of the procedure. To understand the context of the surgery, I also talk to the community of the patients’ background. To date, I have engagements with more than 50 younger and older women of Moroccan, Turkish, Afghani, and Iraqi background. I also talk to some young men of the same background to get the point of view of the men about the issue.
My research touches upon a lot of relevant topics in academia and also in the public debate in the Netherlands. Migrant and migration issues are at the forefront of my study where the consultation becomes a window to look at interface between “native” Dutch and Dutch people of migrant background. As the patients are all women, my subject also raises question relevant to the idea of women emancipation and women empowerment. Migrant women are still one of the most vulnerable groups in the Netherlands. With the recent change of focus in the Netherlands’ migration policy that sees migrant women to be the group to be rescued and helped to be “more Dutch”, my research contribute to this public discussion.
The majority of my study participants are Muslims. This highlights how religion and the interpretation of its doctrine play a role in the everyday life of its follower. It also highlights how religion is often considered to be the causal factor to a behavior when it is the common denomination among the people who practice a certain routine. Last but not least, it communicates with the scholarship on Muslims in Europe, a topic that is of major interest in academia and mass media alike as of late.
My focus of study is medical anthropology. The clinical setting of my research also contributes of the ever growing corpus of anthropological works done in a medical setting. As the topic revolves around a controversial debatable surgery, my research also touches upon the notion of the body and provides a contrast to other bodily modification procedure done mostly on women such as plastic surgery, labiaplasty, even female genital cutting. Also importantly, this study provides a window to look at how physicians play a significant role in amplifying or limiting the agency of a patient in making a medical decision.
In sum, my study focuses upon the following issue: migration and integration in the Netherlands, Muslims in Europe, body modification of women, women empowerment and emancipation, anthropology in medical and clinical setting, sexuality and virginity.