Hymenoplasty or restoration of ruptured hymen was one secret most Pakistanis knew was practised clandestinely. They’d whisper the addresses of doctors performing the surgery to harried girls keen to reclaim their virginity weeks before their nuptial night. Call it the irony or hypocrisy of our times, but even as Islamists seek to impose their worldview on a schizophrenic society, hymenoplasty is witnessing a boom. Doctors now advertise in English newspapers, on the internet and walls of shops on busy street corners. All this is good news for girls who have had premarital sex but for some reason didn’t marry their partners, as it is for those who tore their hymen accidentally. Persuaded or compelled into betrothal, they dread the wedding night. In a society where premarital sex is a religious taboo and family honour is perceived to lie in the daughter-in-law’s intact hymen, many a women have been divorced instantly or paid with their lives for not bleeding on the wedding night.

For these girls, hymenoplasty offers a chance to shroud their pastadvertise_hymenoplasty in a recreated hymen. Classified as cosmetic surgery, hymenoplasty was exported here from the UK, where the surgery became popular among Pakistani girls who experimented with sex but found, to their horror, parents marrying them to orthodox boys back home. Re-virgination began in Karachi, came to Islamabad and has become quite a rage in Lahore. Performed at $500, or Pakistani Rs 40,000, hymenoplasty is usually resorted to by sexually-liberated upper class girls for whom the price of surgery is too small for a lifetime of marital tranquility.

Nor is the hymenoplasty procedure cumbersome. Performed under local anaesthesia, the surgery could last anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours—and requires the person undergoing it to abstain from sex for three months. Developed first by Toronto-based plastic surgeon Dr Robert H. Stubbs, the procedure requires suturing of a tear in the hymen, or using tissue from the vaginal wall to restore it. Once the person with a mended hymen has sex, she experiences pain and, more significantly, bleeds, hoodwinking those Pakistani men who see in the stained bedsheet proof of their honour.

But the sharp spurt in hymenoplasty is a story more about Pakistan’s sexual liberation than doctors coming out in the open—and the society accepting it. This is what I realised as I sought to gather details about it. My first port of call was Dr Farooq Nasim, who owns the Nasim Fertility Clinic in the middle-class locality of Johar Town in Lahore. As my photographer-friend turned his camera on Dr Nasim, he became apoplectic, curtly telling us that he hadn’t even heard of hymenoplasty. Next, I talked to him over the phone, posing as a worried partner of a girl wanting to become a virgin again. Dr Nasim intoned: “I haven’t heard of hymenoplasty.”

I consequently requested journalist-friend Nida (name changed) to help me breach Dr Nasim’s wall of caution. She dialled the mobile number advertised in newspapers; it was of Dr Nasim’s assistant, from whom she sought an appointment for hymenoplasty. She was provided a token number that she was to spell out to the guard at the gate. And the gate promptly opened on D-day. Nida was ushered into Dr Nasim’s chamber. The doctor’s reticence evanesced at the sight of a prospective customer. “We charge only Rs 40,000; abroad, the operation costs $2,000 or more,” he told Nida. “Since ours is a conservative society, we don’t ask girls to register their names.” Such benevolence helps pull in customers: Dr Nasim claims to have restored 300 hymens in the last two years alone.

Perhaps surprised to see Nida alone, the doctor said, “In most cases, girls come with a female friend or their partner. Since the procedure doesn’t take more than a couple of hours, it’s easy for customers to conceal the procedure.” He then switched to playing pop sociologist: “Today’s youth have gone beyond their parents’ expectations (read morals).” And so have the doctors, you could say. Next, I turned to the internet. http://www.hopepk.com, for instance, offers hymenoplasty, provides a mobile number (0092-323-4195732) and an electronic appointment form. The address of the hospital where the operation is to be performed is divulged when the customer is given a date. The website belongs to a Lahore-based couple, Dr Sarfaraz Ahmed and Dr Yasmin Sarfaraz. Gynaecologist by training, it’s Yasmin who performs hymenoplasty. During her telephonic conversation with Nida, Yasmin offered to perform both hymenoplasty and labiaplasty, which is a procedure to tighten vaginal muscles by reducing excess vaginal lining. “The result,” the couple’s website says, “is an immediate decrease in the size of vaginal muscles, resulting in more friction during intercourse.” Labiaplasty is catching up among Pakistani upper classes Occasionally, doctors performing hymenoplasty resort to fake identities. For instance, Dr Syed Rizwanul Haq runs http://www.noorclinic.com, which, among other things, offers e-books on sex authored by one Dr Arshad Javed. Ask Dr Haq for Dr Javed’s contacts and you draw a blank. The reason: Dr Haq and Dr Javed are the same person.

Dr Javed asked Nida to meet him at the Bio-Test Clinic, 681-Shadman I, Lahore. After undergoing stringent security and identity checks, she was ushered into his office. He was candid, “We have to be cautious because ours is a conservative society. I don’t think the maulvis have any inkling about this phenomenon, otherwise they would have kicked up a ruckus!” As Nida furrowed her forehead, the doctor gratuitously clarified, “The girls coming to me include those who had injured themselves during sports. I’m helping them. I’m not doing anything illegal.” (He said he had performed hymenoplasty on 100 girls in the last two years; the number relatively less because he advertises only on the website.)

The Pakistan Medical Association was unwilling to speak to Amir Mir on hymenoplasty. But its senior member spoke on condition of anonymity, “Whatever the legal position, I won’t condemn it as it is for someone’s good.” And, obviously, good for the sexually liberated who feel stifled in a restrictive society. Their numbers, as the booming hymenoplasty business shows, is high—and growing.