Yemisi*, 26, is sorry she is no longer a virgin. She says she wishes she had no given in to the desire to have sex with her boyfriend. Not only did she end up not marrying him, but the man she did marry was a virgin. “I felt so low and ashamed; after all it’s harder for guys to hold out. Even though I know there is nothing I can do about it, I still wish I had waited.”
Yemisi’s husband says it wasn’t an easy task to remain celibate, but it was something he’d made up his mind to do. “It’s just my personal decision, though I had to ask God for help and grace. Any man will tell you it’s not easy to resist. Even though being a virgin doesn’t necessarily guarantee a wife of good character, I strongly feel that everyone should keep themselves until marriage.”
Tina*, 25 also lost her virginity to her first serious boyfriend. “I gave in to pressure from him and also thought that it would make our relationship stronger.” Though they have long broken up, she still regrets her action. “Even though I’m not a virgin anymore, I don’t think virginity is old school. It should still be a standard to maintain, and men should remain virgins too.”
Toyin*, who is 26, got married as a virgin; she saw chastity as a matter of personal choice. “I do not see any sense in sleeping with a man before marrying him. What if the relationship doesn’t work out? I believe it’s worth the wait.” But not everyone believes in waiting. Dare is a single 29-year-old male who has had lots of sex. “I believe that previous sexual experimentation by a man improves the couple’s sex life, making it more interesting, as the man passes on to his bride what he’s learned,” he says. But when it comes to his future wife, he wants a virgin. “Because of their emotional nature, I believe women have more to lose when they give up their virginity before getting married. Virginity builds trust in a relationship. If a man has to choose between a girl who is a virgin and one who isn’t, he would go for one who is.”
Double standards? Oh yes, but then, women have had to contend with double standards since time immemorial. In ancient cultures, if a goddess or queen wanted respect, she had to be a virgin - something that simply didn’t apply to gods and kings. But heaven help you if you were a virgin, because it made you a prime candidate for some nasty ritual practices and sacrifices! (See even the devil likes them pure).
A Greek god called hymen
So what’s all the fuss about? After all, the hymen, that age-old symbol of virginity and chastity, is just a thin membrane, easily torn by a spot of strenuous sport or a carelessly inserted tampon. It is quite possible that a woman who has never had sex may not technically be a virgin.
The value of virginity has been punted for centuries. In ancient Greece, for example, a virgin was just a young unmarried woman living in daddy’s house who was not to have sex with any guy because her virginity was a guarantee that her husband wouldn’t be bringing up another man’s child. In essence, the guy could rest assured that his offspring were all from his loins.
The ancient Greeks didn’t pay any attention to the hymen as the marker for virginity but, strangely enough, their god of marriage happened to be called Hymen.
According to Guilia Sissa, author of Greek Virginity, an unmarried woman could still have sex and be a virgin; provided no one could bear witness to the fact that the deed had been done. It was a case of “see no evil, know no evil”. But if an unmarried woman fell pregnant and gave birth, such a birth would be regarded as a “virgin birth”, because the details surrounding the child’s conception were unknown. As such, “virgin births” were more common than miracles and, in ancient mythology, gods were named as the fathers of mysteriously conceived babies.
This concept of virgin births was not unique to the Greeks, but was also present in other cultures. For example the Egyptian goddess Isis was perceived as a virgin despite her fruitfulness.
The Christian church has also played a role in hyping virginity. In her book, Alone of All Her Sex, Marina Warner says the virgin birth played an overwhelming role in promoting virginity as a good thing. A Christian may regard a voluntary state of virginity – male or female celibacy – as a sacrifice, a pledge to share in the suffering of the Cross of Christ. Religious orders of all faiths have, over the centuries drawn strength form the dedicated service of such single-minded devotees.
If you believe in a spiritual side of life, and have a thirst for respect, power and influence, you might want to consider the notion that virginity is associated with magical powers, strength and independence. Take a good look at the great African virgin queens:
• The warrior Queen Amina of Zaria, who was the leader of the Zazzua cavalry and was responsible for the vast expansion region (modern day Zaria), is remembered as “a woman as capable as a man”.
• Candace, Empress of Ethiopia and one of the greatest generals of the ancient world, so much so that even Alexander the Great (according to legend) turned back his armies at the Ethiopian border; and
• Nzingha, Amazon queen of Matamba West Africa – a brave military leader who relentlessly fought against slavery, waging war with the European slave traders.
They might convince you of the might of virginity. Or else you could try to find out through personal experience.
The British under Queen Victoria believed that if a woman remained a virgin for a long period of time she developed masculine characteristics, in addition to the possession of power and great deal of influence. An example of this lies in the reign of a much earlier queen, Queen Elizabeth I, who is revered as one of the most powerful women in English history. She is even quoted as saying: “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king.” The queen never married, because that would have meant surrendering her independence and right to power.
Another side to this oath is that it is actually the quickest, cheapest and least physically painfully way to undergo a sex change. By taking the oath, you earn the right to live as a man – which means you can work as a man and dress like a man and you are given all the rights of a man. Taking such an oath may seem extreme, but there are advantages:
• You gain more independence;
• You can escape an arranged marriage; and
• You can take on the role of Patriarch in the absence of a male heir
Freud’s understanding of virginity gives exclusive rights to a woman’s husband as the only one to possess her, thereby stripping her of her right to independence and power. If you have ever wondered why it is so difficult to ditch that first love, even when it is obvious that he’s not right for you or just not that into you and even long after you’ve gone your separate ways, you’d find Freud’s explanation interesting, even if downright chauvinistic.
“Whoever is first to satisfy a virgin’s desire for love, long and laboriously held in check……that is the man she will take into a lasting relationship….. This experience creates a state of bondage in the woman which guarantees that possession of her shall continue undisturbed and makes her able to resist new impressions and enticements from outside.”
VIRGIN ON THE EXTREME
In most African countries, virginity is anchored by tradition and religion. Ethiopia, Morocco, Egypt and much of the Arab world place a lot of significance on virginity.
In Nelly Nelly Youssef’s report, Virginity in Egypt, we are told that virginity before marriage speaks volumes about a bride’s faithfulness; it also enhances her reputation. If you don’t have your hymen intact before your wedding night, it will be concluded that you have engaged in immoral behavior and are consequently a disgrace to your family.
There are grave consequences for those who deviate from this norm of virginity. Sadly, in order to erase the shame that a deflowered bride brings to the family, “honour killings” are performed.
According to a women’s research centre in Cairo, 1000 women are killed every year to restore honour to their families – a tragic reflection of the worst kind of male chauvinism, especially considering that it is men who are responsible for deflowering virgins.
Anthropologists Susan Schaefer Davis and Douglas Davis describe how, in a semi – rural town in Morocco, it is obligatory for the blood stained wedding sheets to be produced on the wedding night; otherwise the union could be rendered null and void and the bride sent packing.
To avoid humiliation, scandal and even death, some couples have devised methods of deception which provide false proof of a bride’s virginal status. These practices include the use of menstrual blood or self – mutilation to stain the wedding sheets. Because the spotlight is on the hymen, unmarried women there have devised ways to physically remain virgins by engaging in other forms of sexual intimacy – such as anal and interfemoral intercourse, heavy and shallow penetration.
St Augustine’s theological work, The City of God, reflects an age long past. In it he deliberates that being raped does not add up to a loss of virginity as long as one resists with as much strength as one can muster. He concludes that there are two forms of virginity: the first is based on a person’s physical condition and the second based on their spiritual condition.
In other words, being raped as a virgin doesn’t mean your virginity is lost as long as you put up a good fight along the way.
STRENGTH IN ABSTINENCE
Where do men come into all this? Some sexperts maintain that long term abstinence can have negative psychological and physical effects on men, which may include poor sexual performance and impotency.
However, the journal of Science of Wholeness News maintain that long term abstinence or celibacy is actually good, because it leads to a build up of sexual energy which, when properly channeled, can give men a greater sense of purpose, improved concentration and a more efficient memory.
Despite the general indifference of modern society towards the essence of virginity, it seems to be making a strong come back in some quarters.
People have begun to see as a means of combating the scourge of sexually transmitted infections (STI’s), HIV/Aids and unwanted pregnancies. In some African countries, virginity testing is still practiced, and although legislation may outlaw it, it is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.
VIRGINITY THE MOVEMENT
Sexy supermodel Adrianna Lima is inspiring lots of young women to remain chaste until marriage, as she has publicly declared her decision to remain a virgin until her wedding night. Though her decision may not have any traditional or religious basis, she makes it clear that it is her choice, and that any man who disrespects her choice does not really want her. Personally, I consider her decision questionable because her profession eludes her.
In America, the “Silver Ring Thing”, an Evangelical American movement founded in 1996 by Pastor Denny Pattyn, encourages teenagers to wear chastity rings. These symbolize their vow to remain chaste. The movement was also launched in Britain in 2003. In Nigeria, Madame Adunni Adediran has begun an initiative that promotes abstinence before marriage and upholds moral and cultural values.
VIRGINITY THE PROCEDURE
One interesting aspect of the increasing desirability of the state of virginity is a surgical procedure known as hymenoplasty, which aims to restore virginity through the reconstruction of the hymen.
According to Monica Galvan’s article on “repairing your own down there”, the procedure is common among Muslim women in France and is making its way across the United States. In Egypt where it is not allowed, women have the operation in secret. A general survey reveals that the cost of hymenoplasty is between $2000 and $5000. If women are prepared to pay that much to become “revirgined”, perhaps virginity has more value than we usually care to give it.
Does virginity still have a place in modern society, or should it be considered old – fashioned and tossed aside? While some feel it is not an indication of how moral or immoral a person is, and thus disregarded its significance, others disagree. And while some believe that to put a rein on one’s sexual desires shows a high respect for moral values and a strong sense of identity and self – worth, others wonder whether a spirit of liberation and independence is not preferable.
Another important question is how virginity should be defined. Should it be narrowed down to the presence of the hymen? Is it right to look at virginity merely as a physical state, ignoring the woman’s mental and emotional state? Some ask if virginity should be restricted to penetration alone: what about women who encourage forms of sexual intimacy that bypass penetration? Are such women to be considered virgins?
Way back in the 13th century, philosopher Albertus Magnus proposed four different types of virginity:
1. Natural Virginity – you are a baby, you’re born with it;
2. Avowed Virginity – you take a public oath of celibacy;
3. Informal Virginity – a personal choice, usually temporary; and
4. Questionable Virginity – you say you’re virgin, but you certainly don’t look, talk or act like one!
In an era where women are adopting more front-line roles, the idea of virginity could actually be very welcome – maybe there is some truth to this association with independence, power and influence.
However, the importance of virginity often only hits home with an unexpected pregnancy or STI, accompanied by low self esteem and shattered emotions and expectations.
In the end, the decision to remain virgin or not shouldn’t be a matter of personal choice but should be borne out of total obedience to God and His commands. Virginity shouldn’t be restricted to not having sex alone but should be a way of life and even though in these times it may sound dumb and outdated according to human standards (and those who do it seem to get away wit it), remember that only the pure shall see God.