It is probably heretical to admit this, but when I went to Dubai last year I didn’t buy anything. Between the malls, and the souks and the shopping festivals, Dubai is a city given over to shopping. But I have a very strict rule of acquisition when I’m traveling: I have to be nauseous with desire for an object in order to purchase it. If I don’t feel like I will literally vomit when I walk away from what I covet, I walk away without it.
Most of the time, this queasy desire strikes me at the moment of purchase, but in Dubai it happened at dinner. My dining companion was a local woman, and she mentioned to me that several Dubai stores sold a product deeply tied to both desire and nausea: virginity soap.
At first, I thought this was symbolic — wash away your sins and so forth, in the same way that I occasionally draw a bath with healing salts that I purchase at a little witchy store in the East Village and imagine all my problems draining away.
But no, there is a more a serious intent with virginity soap, in an Islamic world where virginity at marriage is not just a theoretical requirement. A few years ago, The New York Times reported an increase in hymenoplasty, “as many young Muslim women are caught between the freedoms that European society affords and the deep-rooted traditions of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.”
This seems an easier solution to a serious problem: simply purchase a bar of soap, which, upon direct application to the body part in question, promises “feminine tightening.”
While I had no urgent need to restore my virginity — at that time, I’d been married for 16 years — this would have passed my “nauseous with desire” test. I wanted this soap. I wanted to display it in my bathroom.
Alas, I was never able to find any virginity soap in Dubai, or in Oman, which I visited next on that trip. (Nor could I find the soap that will enhance the size of one’s breasts, also discussed at that dinner.) But of course you can find anything online, and so I very quickly tracked down the Queen Love brand of virginity soap.
The marketing strategy is a little bewildering: the lady on the box is wearing a very sheer black halter camisole vest, slightly agape, like her lips. Let’s just say she does not look virginal, so perhaps this is before picture? (This particular soap offers another benefit not often discussed here in the United States, skin whitening. I’m not really sure how it manages to do both.) The woman on this box of virginity soap does look more virginal, in a 1950s kind of way, but the box says “Touch me! Please.” Which again seems like a conflict of intent.
On the other hand, it comes with free shampoo.
Alison J. Stein
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