Young Arab women wait in an upmarket medical clinic for an operation that will not only change their lives, but quite possibly save it. Yet the operation is a matter of choice and not necessity. It costs about 2,000 euros (£1,700) and carries very little risk.

Sonia wants to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal. She is a slender young brunette studying at art college in Paris.

Although born in France, Arab culture and traditions are central to Sonia's life. Life was strict growing up under the watchful eyes of a large traditional Arab family.

Now more and more of them are undergoing surgery to re-connect their hymens and hide any sign of past sexual activity. They want to ensure that blood is spilled on their wedding night sheets.

The social pressure is so great that some women have even taken their own lives.

With Chinese manufacturers leading the way, there are now non-surgical options on the market as well. One website sells artificial hymens for just £20 (23 euros). The Chinese hymen is made of elastic and filled with fake blood. Once inserted in the vagina, the woman can simulate virginity, the company claims.

It may be the 21st Century but the issue of virginity in Arab culture can still be a matter of life and death, especially for women like Sonia and Nada.

And while hymen repair may be a quick fix, it can't reconcile centuries of ingrained tradition with the attitudes of modern society.


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