CAIRO — Conservative Egyptian lawmakers have called for a ban on imports of a Chinese-made kit meant to help women fake their virginity and one scholar has even called for the "exile" of anyone who imports or uses it.
The Artificial Virginity Hymen kit, distributed by the Chinese company Gigimo, costs about $30. It is intended to help newly married women fool their husbands into believing they are virgins – culturally important in a conservative Middle East where sex before marriage is considered by many to be illicit. The product leaks a blood-like substance when inserted and broken.
Gigimo advertises shipping to every Arab country. But the company did not answer e-mails and phone calls seeking comment on whether it had orders from Egypt or other parts of the Middle East.
The fracas started when a reporter from Radio Netherlands broadcast an Arabic translation of the Chinese advertisement of the product. That set off fears of conservative parliament members that Egyptian women might start ordering the kits.
Sheik Sayed Askar, a member of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood who is on the parliamentary committee on religious affairs, said the kit will make it easier for Egyptian women to give in to temptation. He demanded the government take responsibility for fighting the product to uphold Egyptian and Arab values.
"It will be a mark of shame on the ruling party if it allowed this product to enter the market," he said in a notice posted on the Brotherhood's parliament Web site on Sept. 15.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest political opposition group, holds 88 of Egypt's 454 parliament seats.
Prominent Egyptian religious scholar Abdel Moati Bayoumi said anyone who imports the artificial hymen should be punished.
"This product encourages illicit sexual relations. Islamic culture forbids these relations except within the confines of marriage," Bayoumi said. "I think this should absolutely not be allowed to be exported because it brings more harm than benefits. Whoever does it (imports it) should be punished."
In a country and a region where pre-marital sex is so taboo it can even lead to a woman's murder, the debate over the virginity-faking kit has revived Egypt's constant struggle to reconcile modern mores with more traditional beliefs – namely, that a woman is not a virgin unless she bleeds after the first time.
"Bleeding is not the only signal that yes, she's a virgin," said Heba Kotb, an observant Muslim woman who hosts a sex talk show on TV in which she fields calls from all over the Middle East.
Kotb noted that a medical procedure that reattaches a broken hymen by stitching is illegal in Egypt and can cost hundreds of dollars – prohibitively expensive for the poor. But many women still secretly seek it out in fear of punishment for pre-marital sex.
Such punishment could include slayings at the hands of relatives, a practice more commonly referred to as honor killings and common in the more conservative tribal areas of the Middle East.
The product is also causing a buzz on Egyptian blogs and news sites.
"If this thing enters Egypt, the country is going to go to waste. God protect us," commented a reader on the Web site of Egyptian newspaper Al-Youm Al-Sabie.
Marwa Rakha, an author and blogger who writes about dating issues, sees the product as a tool of empowerment for women in a macho Arab culture that restricts women's sexual urges but turns a blind eye to men galavanting.
"It sticks it in the face of every male hypocrite," she said.