What’s The Big Deal with Virginity?
Written by – Eshna Sharma
Losing the V-card, popping the cherry- the concept of virginity is one that has always had overemphasised depictions in popular media, yet remains shrouded in myth and secrecy. Virginity by textbook definition, essentially means the state of not having engaged in sexual intercourse. There are cultural and religious traditions that place special value and significance on this state, predominantly towards unmarried females, associated with notions of personal purity, honor and worth.
A LOOK AT HISTORY
Virginity has always had long standing importance across cultures and time. According to Sex, Society, and Medieval Women by scholar N.M. Heckel:
“In an era long before paternity tests, husbands needed some sort of assurance that the children borne by their wives were indeed of their blood, and taking a virgin wife was one way that a husband could increase those odds in his favor . . . Virginity’s monetary importance created a desire for ways to assure that a woman was indeed a virgin. Virgin brides generally came with higher dowries, making them more attractive to prospective grooms, and these prospective grooms, in return, were more likely to feel generous when it came to giving a return gift to the bride’s family. In order to help grooms ensure that the bride’s family was truthful about her ‘condition,’ many medical texts included descriptions of methods and processes that could be used to prove or disprove a woman’s chastity.”
These “physical exams” are something many would consider sexual assault today.
VIRGINITY AND INDIAN CULTURE
The Indian society, too, places great emphasis on the idea of ‘a virgin bride’. Virginity is placed on a pedestal, and those who engage in pre-marital sex are considered ‘impure’ or ‘without any character/moral’. The hypocrisy of this notion lies in the fact that the society does not hold men to the standards. It is completely alright for men to engage in premarital sex.
Among the Saansi community in Rajasthan, the practice of conducting virginity tests is common in certain districts, with a white thread placed upon the bride and groom’s bed on the first night. The groom’s family inspect the thread the next day for blood stains to confirm that the bride is a virgin. If she ‘fails’ the test, she may be obliged to pay compensation to the groom’s family, or even undergo a series of tests, ranging from walking on burning embers or staying underwater without surfacing. The practice of a ‘character test’ also prevails in the Kanjarbhaat community of Maharashtra.
An in depth report by popular news website, The Week, talks about it at length. “The practice, said to be 400 years old, determines whether the bride is a virgin or not by looking for bloodstains on a white bedsheet that the newly-wed couple is instructed to use for intercourse on their wedding night. If the bride is determined not to be a virgin as a result of this “test”, her family faces being heavily fined or even ostracized from the community.” Women are also forced to undergo ‘beatings’.
A group of Kanjarbhati youths who have been actively trying to stop what they consider to be a heinous ritual have petitioned the government to make it illegal. However, orthodox community leaders are also pushing to keep alive what they see as a “tradition”. They have even threatened the youth group and their families with a social boycott that would see them excluded from normal social and commercial relations in the community.
This heinous, regressive and extremely sexist practice also consequently leads to toxic outcomes. A quick search online reveals several Amazon links that sell ‘fake virginity pills’ or ‘capsules’ that can be inserted into the vagina prior to intercourse so that the bride ‘bleeds’ and is thus, revealed to be a virgin.
In addition, hymenoplasty or hymen reconstruction surgery is also an upcoming form of cosmetic surgery being provided these for women.
Fake hymens involve the placing it into the vagina before intercourse that results in fake blood. The business for fake hymens has been boosted up as without medical intervention it provides the solution for the concerns of many women. Companies selling fake hymens promise anonymity.
The overemphasis placed on safeguarding a woman’s purity, tying her sexuality to morality, have all roots in the sexist, patriarchal mindset of society. The hypocrisy of holding women to different standards of morality than men just reveals the extent to which society commodifies and polices the female body, harsh to judge and silence, and quick to yoke women into the binaries of ‘pure’ and ‘impure’.
Coming to the concept of virginity, one very important aspect is that extremely fluid and changeable. Since it means the state of not having engaged in intercourse, it can mean different things for different people. While some may consider penetrative sex as intercourse, others may view even engaging in oral sex a loss of virginity. In addition, it is a complete misconception that bleeding occurs in the case of women when they engage in sex for the first time. Medical health providers also cannot tell if a person is or is not a virgin.
In conclusion, virginity is not the big deal it is made out to be. It is not some overarching ideal to be achieved, and neither does losing one’s virginity make an individual superior. It is a completely personal choice, and should be treated and respected as such.