Usha
There was a time when the word Virgin was only used in the feminine. It referred to ‘a woman who has had no carnal knowledge of a man' as answers.com nicely puts it. But in fact it refers to ‘a person who has never had sexual intercourse’ as Merriam –Webster clearly enunciates. In many cultures especially in Africa, Asia and middle-east, a woman’s virginity is a matter of societal concern whereas it is a matter of individual choice in the case of a man. Most societies do not worry about the virgin status of a man before his marriage whereas for a woman it is a matter of honour – not only hers, but her family’s and the whole community’s; hence the practice of ‘honor killings’ among certain sects even today when a woman has sexual relations before being married.

While virginity has lost most of its sheen in the western world, even today there are communities where they look for blood on the nuptial bedsheet as a proof of the bride’s virginity. Many African communities go one step backward and insist on a certificate of virginity from their family doctor before the wedding. Since the revelation of not being certified a virgin could lead to dishonour, shame and in extreme cases ‘honor killing’ many young muslim women resort to surgical restoration of their hymens to pass the virginity test.
This article in NYtimes quotes a doctor saying that he performs this procedure 2 to 4 times a week. Such is the kind of demand.

‘So is virginity about abstinence or is it about having the hymen intact?” I asked a young man. He was outraged and said that one meant the other in his culture and so this was a silly question. I gently reminded him of the story of Madhavi, daughter of yayati from Hindu mythology.
Munikumar Galav, a student of Rishi Viswamitra was arrogant enough to ask his guru to name the gurudakshina he wanted. So the rishi named the impossible and asked for 800 white aswamedha worthy horses with black ears. There were 600 horses but in the possession of 3 different kings. Galav sought the help of king Yayati who was spending his life in an asram. Yayati’s daughter Madhavi was extremely beautiful and had been blessed with the ability to renew her virginity and youth when she wanted. She had also been blessed that every son she bears would be a powerful one, a Chakravarthy. Yayati gave her to Galav who then sent her in turn to all the 3 kings to get the horses in return for spending a year with each of them and bearing them a son. The last 200 horses were with Viswamitra himself and she had to spend a year with him. After helping him fulfil his promise, Madhavi goes back to Galav who rejects her as she has lived with his guru and hence cannot become his wife. *

I suppose the renewal of virginity referred to in the story is nothing but the restoration of hymen. What else could it mean? (Incidentally Guinea pigs are supposed to have this characteristic too – their hymen dissolves during their mating season and grows back when not in heat). So then virginity was not about abstinence but just about a mucous membrane forming the external lining of the vagina.
The young friend was agitated. “no, this was different. She did it for a noble purpose. She did not do it for her enjoyment.”
Now this was even more confusing. Was he saying that it was ok to have intercourse as long as the woman did not enjoy it? Did that somehow make her a “good” woman as compared to someone who indulged in sex for pleasure? So how were these vestal virgins who abhorred sex become active sexual partners the minute they were married? Would that explain questions in "ask your doc" columns: "dear doc, my wife is not very co-operative in bed. She performs mechanically. She refuses to try new stuff. My sex life is nearly non-existent" etc...

I remember a conversation many years ago with some male classmates on why they would like to marry a virgin. These were some of their reasons::
-I want someone who keeps her virginity intact for me as a special gift.
- A woman who has let her desires get the better of her cannot be a ‘good’ woman, a ‘chaste’ woman who can be depended upon to be a ‘good’ wife and bear ‘good’ children.
- A woman who has sexually experimented may be promiscuous even after marriage which isn’t good for the family.
- I cannot handle an “out of control” woman.

Well, it is a matter of personal preference and I know a lot of women who agree on the virtue of being a virgin (almost 99% of all women I know in fact). Sex is a very personal matter and how and when they want to have it and whether they want to have it at all should be nobody else’s concern. The only thing I find difficult to comprehend in all these arguments is that somehow it is supposed to make a person morally better than a person who is not a virgin. Why is a person’s goodness judged by their sexual life?
In my family, I have heard about some virgin widows spewing venom on the other women of the family. I wrote about one such in this post. Even psychologists agree that repression can be a source of frustration and anger and such people may be expected to be more hurtful towards others.

To me it seems that virginity is just a physical state which has no correlation with the person being good or bad, moral or amoral especially in today’s context where men and women marry late. It is perfectly alright if someone prefers a virgin as a partner but there is absolutely no reason to stigmatise people who are not virgins as bad, immoral, sinful, dishonourable, shameful or out of control. And the converse is true too - being a virgin doesn't automatically qualify one to be classified as a better human. It is just a matter of individual preference and should be their own business and nobody else’s.



* Read a wonderful review of the play "Madhavi " here. Story of every woman indeed!
34 Responses
  1. Laksh Says:

    Interesting topic. My own views mirror yours. I think the whole thing about sex/virginity etc are overrated.

    One thing I do wonder about is what happens when one of the partners fall in love and the other doesn't. Wonder if this whole premarital sex is taboo to prevent heartaches ;p


  2. ~nm Says:

    As always a wonderful post from you on a very interesting topic!

    Virginity is expected from women and not from men. This hypocrisy has existed since ages and still exists. And I wonder when will it get over, if it ever will.

    I won't say about which is better to be a virgin or not as its your own personal decision. But then one has no right to call the other person wrong when you yourself are doing the same stuff. I know its but logical to expect this but it doesn't work that way in the current world.

    One of my friends was looked down upon by the doctors when she went for a full checkup when she told them that she is not married but sexually active.

    So as you said, its nobody else's business but then people/society does not look at it that way!


  3. S.Praveen Says:

    Absolutely agree, but what I don't really understand is why are so many young women after this "hymen restoration", is it bcoz they want to be "accepted".

    Why can't they just choose a guy who doesn't judge them?


  4. Usha Says:

    Laksh: When I was in college I heard this from a friend. She was madly in love with a guy and the guy insisted on sleeping together. Once it was over he told her: "you are not a nice girl. How could you sleep with me even if I asked. I don't like you anymore." Girl got almost suicidal. Luckily she didn't get pregnant or anything. Don't know if she ever married.

    nm: Doctors judging a girl for being sexually active? mmm.interesting.
    Ya what is good or bad about being a virgin or otherwise? Why can't people see it straight?

    S.praveen: These girls are of African origin and in places like Morocco virginity certificate from the family doctor ( of the groom's side) is an accepted practice. So even if she has slept with her fiance, the girls are worried about not passing the test as that would be a cause for dishonour and shame and even honour killing.
    The certificate is for the whole family, extended family, community. I wonder if they publish it in papers. (just joking)


  5. Pooh! Says:

    Completely agree with you. It is more of a stigma than anything else. Personally, I feel virginity is like belief's on religion. Different ppl have different takes. But there are people who follow something for something totally absurd..

    On this topic, I remember reading in the Palace of Illusions, on Draupadi's views on being granted the ability to renew her virginity every year when she spends it with a different husband. The author has beautifully put Draupadi's views on such a boon. Draupadi feels it is better to have a boon which helps her forget her other husbands and her sexual experience with them than restore her virginity which is of course more geared towards the man.


  6. Usha,
    You know what I think.
    To be a Virgin until marriage or not is a choice... but I think until a certain age like 22-23, most women or men for that matter may not be mature enough to handle the implications of sexual relationship not just in terms of pregnancy or STDs but also the emotional impact, are you sure you want to spend your life with this person(you really dont know) but having had a relationship like this you may obliged which you may regret later.
    Also until you are 22-23 you shoudl concentrate on your studies, your overall mental and physical development for a better and fullfilled life.


  7. Did you ask the 99% of the women you knew, why they thought being a virgin was virtuous? If women thought of virginity as a virtue, why blame the men for looking down on the "non-virgins"? I look forward to the day when women would start displaying bumper stickers that read, "I am not a virgin and proud of it" :)

    On the question of why "it was ok to have intercourse as long as the woman did not enjoy it", have you seen the movie "Anaahat" by Amol Palekar?


  8. Usha Says:

    pooh: Many people I know do not favour pre marital sex even if they have an occasion. They choose to be virgins. Perhaps it is their upbringing, their religion, their own convictions whatever. But if they choose not to be, whose honour is gone and who decides it?

    The goodlife: I think today's young people are quite mature at 22-23. But I see your point about the emotional impact etc if their relationship does not succeed. But why does sexual relationship with a person oblige you to a permanent relationship?

    The RF: That is precisely the question I am asking in this post.
    And I know they have not given it a thought - they have been brought up to believe that virginity is a virtue. They have been told that "good girls do not think about sex before marriage" They have been told "you have to keep yourself pure for the man who is to marry you". And they feel virtuous doing it.
    Been there. Done that. Didn't think of questioning it then. So I know. Don't have to ask them. :)


  9. Usha Says:

    The RF: No I do not blame the men. I quite understand where they get this mindset from.
    I have not seen the film Anaahat. Will check it out.


  10. S.Praveen Says:

    Oh sorry, I was'nt talking about Morocco and Africa but the scene here in India. It seems that hymen restoration surgery is gaining popularity in india as well, and a few months ago TOI had an article about this, gals rushing up to the surgeon to get it "fixed" after engagement, days before marriage, all hush hush. Does this mean they regret what they did??? Why should they?
    There was also this story about this lady who had done this surgery to give her husband a "new experience".

    As you said, sexual relationship with a person need'nt oblige you to a permanent relationship, but I guess The Good Life was talking about irresponsible casual sex that youngsters indulge in, which I think is a disrespect to sex itself.

    And Anahat, this is the film that RF was talking about.


  11. Shiv Says:

    Usha.Your posts are just awesome. Each post carries a meaning and they are really gud...Kudos


  12. Shiv Says:

    FYI. I have made my blog private. Will send u an invitation. And will be in India soon...yippeeee


  13. Hip Grandma Says:

    What was not okay till testerday seems okay today.Till recently girls were expected to remain chaste in mind and body.Then the mind went for a walk and fantasizing was no longer a sin.The man ofcourse could get physical and admit it too.His own parents defending him I can understand but the fathers of eligible girls also defend him and say that he'd be okay after marriage.While I agree that the definition of chastity can vary according to one's culture and at times a certain amount of prudence in both men and women is always welcome.The decision however has to come from within a person and with a mind that can distinguish right from wrong it is the individual who can decide what is right and what is not.


  14. A-kay Says:

    Very well written - as is the case always. I really like the topics that you pick and analyze them well, without being biased one way or the other. Kudos!

    I think the whole concept of virginity being a taboo is pretty dumb. But I think back in the days (before DNA tests etc), virginity was one easy way to ascertain the father of the kid - after all it is the mother who knows and tells the kid (and the world) who the father is, right? :-P


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  16. Preethi Says:

    Very interesting take on what virginity is? You know the hymen tears when you actively take part in sports, like horse riding ... so then what are you considered?
    As for the rest, all we are in the 21st century after all and consider ourselves wiser than our ancestors! So we should know, that you can't judge a person by his sexual appetite!!


  17. Anonymous Says:

    virginity is a personal issue; but when you interact with others, they have a right to judge you on whatever parameters they choose. It may be ok in some societies to have pre-marital relations while it may not be ok in other, just like it is normal to call your spouse parents by their names in western society, while in India you dont call even your elder brother and sister by their names. so dont blame the doctor for judging you, but do blame him if it affects your professional attitutde towards you.


  18. maami Says:

    Social consensus can be arrived only if both men and women see it as a non issue.In the west it's a non issue because both men and women don't judge a woman's conduct by her hymen.


  19. dipali Says:

    I guess this restoration of hymen n comes from a woman's fears of a man's insecurities- i.e comparisons of sexual 'performance' if he knows she's had intercourse with an other(s). Do our men still have double standards? Many of them do, apparently.
    In a relationship, though, it can be disastrous if a girl has sex to 'prove' her love, and then is judged by the same person. Emotional issues related to this can be traumatic- i.e. youngsters marrying just because they have had a sexual relationship, and then divorcing a few years later. I've seen this happen.
    However, virginity is ultimately a totally personal issue. Nobody else's business- though the 'restoration' game sounds like good business for those who practice it!


  20. Pradeep Says:

    Two days back BBC Radio featured the topic in its World Have Your say. It's on air from 10.30 pm to 11.30 pm on weekdays. It's all here:
    http://worldhaveyoursay.wordpress.com/2008/06/12/does-virginity-matter/


  21. Unmana Says:

    Do people who think it's okay if "she did not do it for her enjoyment”,consider prostitutes virtuous?


  22. rambodoc Says:

    A long comment on this topic, and your blog ate it up... gone!
    :-(


  23. Anonymous Says:

    Virginity and marriage should be decoupled in my opinion. Being judged based on whether your hymen is still intact seems a bit absurd as its just a piece of tissue. What if you are emotionally in love with someone else? I would think that was worse, for the other person that is or both.
    But having grown up in India where sex education is still not taught in schools, and where AIDS is very high, abstinence is probably a good idea in some cases.


  24. Nita Says:

    The only immoral thing is to hurt another knowingly. Sex has nothing to do with it. But try telling the moral police!! Most of these moral police are not virgins themselves, but expect it of others. In fact I find that people who make the most noise about being virtuous are usually the least virtuous.


  25. Mahadevan Says:

    Restopration of ruptured hymen surgery, which Times of India also reported recently, satisfies those who believe that hymen in its place is a sign of virginity.

    While referring to rape, Supreme Court in a Judgement used the expression 'forceful imparting of carnal knowledge'.

    Ironically, some of the rapists and those who maintained large harem looked for virgins only. Virginity is accepted as a sign of faithfulness. From this one cannot and should not infer that those who are not virgins are not faithful or are sinful.

    It is a question of attitude and society in general looks for virginity in women though it is blatantly discriminatory and has no sound basis.

    If sex before or outside marriage is a sin, restored hymen cannot wash away the sin though some of the marriages can be saved.


  26. i happened to stumble upon a discussion on the radio on viginity sometime back and most of the men who called in wanted thr women to be vigins irrespective of thr own sexual status.

    even at this day and age i have come across a lot of men who find the whole concept of sex being a pleasure for women somewhat alien. according to them women cant get aroused...

    when a man sleeps when a lot of women, he is reffered to as a 'stud' but if a woman sleeps with more than 2 men..she is referred to as a 'slut' and suprisingly thr is no term equivalent to 'slut' for a man...


  27. Anonymous Says:

    Gyani had written in one of the tamil magazines, that the CM of TN brings his wife and his thunaivi to a public function and no one bats an eyelid. When will it be alright for a woman to bring her husband and her thunaivar to a public function.

    Virginity or polygamy, there is always a double standard. Sick ....

    Chitra


  28. uma kumar Says:

    though it sounds like utopian ..
    .definitely it will liberate women if this could be practised.
    ..as men do not have such a test to verify their chastity ,this is only a discrminatory agaisnt rights of fairer sex


  29. Mama - Mia Says:

    usha!! how i love going to my favuorites and seeing your blog first thing after mine!! :)

    well the whole virginity thing is indeed overrated! while i fooled around like hell with my then BF and now hubby i just cudnt take the final step till we got marrried! i mean all it is, is indeed an act of penetration! yet the beliefs with which we grow up so strong!

    yet when my pal called me one day saying she desperately needed to know about a morning after pill, i was anything but judgemental! as long as the sex was protected, its alright!

    i had a friend who was verry convnetional about this whole virginity business! i told him hymen can break without sex as well! if you are an athelete, a dancer or been stretching and gyming regulary chances are the hymen would have broken! so how the hell will you know WHY DIDNT your wife bleed??

    isnt trust supposed the basis of this precious relationship?? i even told him i didnt bleed a bloody drop and i was a virgin! if M chose to doubt me, things would have turned out very different! nahi?!

    but if there are moronic men who want it, am glad owmen have something to fool them with!! geez!

    sorry for a super long comment as always!!

    cheers!

    abha


  30. Usha Says:

    Praveen: Ah here too. I did not know that. But I thought people did not have sex in India, no! :P
    Will check out the link. Thanks

    Shiv:Thanks. Yes pls send tghe invite.

    Hipgran: Exactly my point.

    a-kay: I guess monogamy was imposed to ascertain paternity of the child but what is the deal about safe sex before? where do children come into the picture? And if a woman wanted to she could still make a child with someone else right?

    Starry-eyed: hehe ya, that is a good one.

    preethi: I think it is a mental block about purity, chastity etc.

    anon: Thanks for sharing your POV.

    maami: when have men of this country had agreed on anything that has to do with freedom for a woman?

    Dipali:Men and their insecurities and their effect on women..sigh...

    pradeep: Thanks, will check.

    Unmana: Good question.

    anon:The thing is that it is for the individual to make a decision and one cannot impose it.

    Nita: yes, that is so true.

    Mahadevan:May be if people get to understand that a ruptured hymen can be repaired they might stop foolish practices such a virginity test?

    Mercedes girl: i think we should make slut a unisex term. let us call those men too sluts!

    Chitra: hehe.

    Uma: Why Utopian - in the west it is already accepted and people are fine with a woman not being a virgin.

    Abha: interesting, and don't worry about the length of the comment. :)


  31. diya Says:

    Usha, my husband and I were both virgins when we got married and let me tell you it was not a good thing for neither knew how to do it and we went for a 20 day honeymoon and could not do anything!! It would be hilarious if it was not so sad! Only when we returned home and were at peace did we get it!I had many crushes mentally before marriage and my husband had some relationships that did not develop into physical intimacy, but I do wish we had had some experience of the stuff so that an otherwise beautiful honeymoon did not go waste.
    I think most women would have sex if they are emotionally attached, whereas having sex is a spontanous thing for a man, so men think that women also react that way. A guy must realise that if a girl agrees to that level of intimacy she is serious about him, so if he is not then he must specify that before such intimacy, if he is a man of honour, that is.
    As for 'virginity' I agree with you that it is inconsequential, what is important is love and respect for the partner, nothing else counts.
    By the way, you are brave to risk the appearance of the moral police at your blog, remember poor Khoshboo, who was saying something similar!
    If you make your blog the 'by invitation' kind please do not forget to invite me! I am miserable because The Mad Momma has not invited me and I cannot read her or see the pics of her brat and bean, I miss them I used to read her posts everyday as I do yours.


  32. @lankr1ta Says:

    I was looking for this tale. And now I found it and your log almost simultaneously...
    Love your blog.

    Virginity- what an issue about a tissue. A young man I once dated thought that hymen restoration was a wonderful "gift" I am so glad I dumped him.


  33. JP Says:

    Interesting analysis. You gave me a really nice thing to ponder about. Yes ofcourse people should not be judged based on their sex life. Agreed.

    Now, i read people discussing who decides what is right and what is wrong. Everyone has his or her own set of principles and views.

    One group would feel that virginity isn't all that important. Another group would be the exact opposite. Now the problem is when people from these two groups end up in marriage.

    A relationship is based on trust and faith, but how many of us are ready to be 100% truthful about our past and present?

    I know of a handful of people who have had premarital sex and still got married to total strangers. A couple of them were my close friends who admitted that they weren't going to share their secret past to their partners. How does one justify faith and trust in that relationship?

    Terrific post!


  34. Love this post. FGM (Female Genitalia Mutilation) is also an extension of the same thinking.