National hymen
Image from documentary National Hymen Youtube

Tunisian women who have had sex before marriage are increasingly undergoing surgical operations to have their hymen reconstructed, so that they can measure up to the male population's "primordial condition for marriage".

Tunisia is a Muslim country which is considered progressive and a role model for others. Tunisian men still consider marrying a virgin to be a priority, however.

Sociologist Tarek Belhadj Mohamed believes that such male attitude reflects the "hypocrisy" of Tunisian society, which refuses to recognise the change in behaviour of a large section of the population.

"The Tunisian way of life seems modern and open, but the reality is different: our society and even our ruling elite is in theory tolerant on the question of virginity, but when it affects them personally, virginity is a primordial condition for marriage," Mohamed said.

Hymenoplasty takes around 30 minutes and costs from £330 to £576, according to Tunisian gynaecologist Faouzi Hajri. He performs the operation on around 100 women a year, with some travelling from neighbouring Libya and Algeria.

"It's a taboo subject, which explains why there's a lack of official statistics," Hajri said.

According to a research by psychoanalyst Nedra Ben Smail, just 5% of Tunisian young women are not worried about having lost their virginity before marriage. Some 75% of women want to appear to be virgo intacta on their wedding night and choose to undergo the operation.

"Virginity certifies a woman's validity in our society where her purpose is essentially sexual and reproductive, while men have to 'train' so that they are sexually mature when they get married," Smail argued.

He called the operation a form of "discrimination towards women".

A Tunisian documentary aimed at highlighting the treatment received by Tunisian women who lose their virginity before marriage was released in 2011.

"National Hymen" directed by Jamel Mokn, sparked criticism after being shown. It provided a range of viewpoints from intellectuals, religious leaders and ordinary citizens on the sensitive topic.