Like a virgin

30 06 2010

Did you know…that the hymen is named after Hymenaios, who was the Greek god of weddings and marriages?

And do you know what thousands of young women in Sri Lanka are anxious about?
It’s virginity.

A young woman once wrote to me saying “I am a 19 year old girl. I’m getting married in three months to a boy that my parents have found for me. I am bit nervous about the marriage and the customs. Can you tell me how I can know about virginity?”

Working with young people, I get asked a lot of strange questions but this one was tough to answer, not least because this is something I so rarely think about! I was saddened to learn that even in this day and age women are expected to ‘prove’ their virginity. This involves having intercourse on a white sheet, (or on the man’s new white sarong, worn at the wedding). The sheets are later examined by the bride’s in-laws and the bloodstains will decide her fate. If the sheets are clean, there is a problem.

The very idea freaked me out, but more than that I was intensely disturbed that in the 21st century this sort of thing still happens. So I wrote to her saying that as far as I knew virginity refers to whether a person has ever had sexual intercourse. If they have not, they are virgins. The only real way one can know if a person is a virgin is if they tell you. Of course some people associate virginity with the breaking of the hymen in a woman.

People also believe that all women are born with a hymen. (The fact is that about 0.03% of women are born without a hymen.). And as the hymen has perforation anyway, it technically doesn’t need to be broken.

But besides all this scientific information about the hymen and virginity, I told her the real problem was how the concept of virginity is often used as a means of controlling women’s sexuality. People holding power over women’s lives including parents, older relatives and community leaders, often control how a woman proves if she is a virgin and how important this is in her life as well. This is dangerous because virginity is then equated with morality and virtue. People who have never had sex before marriage are not necessarily better, cleaner or more virtuous human beings than those who have. Virginity has always been used to  judge and control women and this cannot be just or right.

This was the real message I wanted to give her but I wondered how, even if she received it, she would deal with the inevitability of her wedding night blues?



12 responses

30 06 2010

Harks back to when women were considered chattel. Not so long ago really.
My own marriage was pre-arranged and virginity expected.
Over the years of living in the states our large family has “modernized” and for our own children it has been very different.
Notice I say different not better. I am not sure on that one.
It seems a very foreign concept for Americans understandably hard to understand if you haven’t lived in a community where what you described is common practice and not bizarre but sacred.

2 07 2010

i dont mind the sacredness. i just dont like the double standards…

2 07 2010

Women are still considered chattel in many parts of the world, haven’t you noticed? I would be very uncomfortable describing this custom as sacred and worthy of respect seeing as it is so hypocritical and problematic in terms of control and oppression.

1 07 2010

personally think that is just lame though it still happens. in the good old days if stains weren’t visible on bedsheets either the girl’s mom or she herself adds droplets of fish blood just to prove she’d lost it in his bed. funny. buh true.
apparently most men aren’t educated on the fact that a woman DOESN’T have to bleed during sex if its the first time and moreover girls who engage in a lot of sports lose their virginity naturally so in that case what is society going to label them?

its just all in the head. meh.
good post.

1 07 2010

Gah. This is one of our more ridiculous traditions and one of the more demeaning ways of oppressing our women in this tightass society. Notice how the virile man never has to prove his virtue. Oh no, in his case the more experienced the better.

1 07 2010

i remember a friend telling me whay they were “taught” about virginity by the (catholic) priest who was in charge of ‘life skills’ for them – its a big issue to do with a small tissue. i remember thinking what false information that was because it shouldn’t be a big issue and it has nothing to do with any tissue. my friend is from one of the famous catholic boys’ schools in colombo and this is what hundreds of them are being taught about virginity. *shudder*

14 07 2010

Opinion is not fact.
In my culture/upbringing,a woman’s stature in society is held in a much higher esteem then a man’s. She is closer to God by her being born female. Even Her blood is sacred. Whether she bleeds on her wedding night is an old tradition and considered ancient ritual not definitive on her “worthiness” thus just some redness however placed on the bedding is enough to satisfy the ritual. No one sees it actually, as is is custom not law. I don’t know about Sri Lanka.
I am sad to hear the harsh comments here as I personally feel and this is is just my personal opinion, is that it is important to respect all people and their religions and customs even if it seems unfair to you.
There are many things I don’t understand that goes on in other nations. But I wasn’t raised there and I have to respect that I don’t have a full understanding of their culture thus I may misinterpret what from the outside I see happening.
Circumcism done on women troubles me greatly, but I would have to assume that there must be reasons that the people who still perform this ritual have their own strong principles for doing it, my calling it genital mutilation is my American judgemental big mouth. To them it may be the gateway to Heaven. Who am I to judge others.
People are people, all are generally good doing the best they can with the knowledge they have. Again,just my opinion. I don’t think many set out to do evil, to oppress women, to make men greater than.
Having lived overseas for much of my life I know that it’s easy to misunderstand what is happening in other’s backyards. America was often spoken about as a hot spot of sinful behaviours. But I had been born there, and I told my friends, that in America, there are people just like you and me doing the best they they can.

27 07 2010
29 09 2010

I often wonder if Sri Lanka is another name for Iran or Saudi Arabia

11 10 2011

Don’t think sl will be rid of custom anytime soon… But just the fact that women are talking about it right here is proof that that will change and OS continuing to change, however slowly it may be. For half my life even I thought there was a specific hymen to be broken to payers find out the manipulating lies my folks had been feeding me as a teen! Not very funny I tell ya!

11 10 2011

Argh! Android predictive text sucks, thus the spell errors. OS – is, payers – later 🙂

9 01 2017

In Sri Lanka, this custom still prevails whether you like it or not. It’s a a wonderful society which treats girls as girls. Even I was raised in an environment where i was restricted to home. I was proposed to a boy who was studying engineering abroad. Although we were rich, I was never allowed to study abroad. My parents protected me and i I was never allowed to go out after 6 in the evening. There were times I argued with them. But, all they had to say was “you’ll see when you get married.”
I was 22 then. My fiance was 27 enjoying his life in Italy. He was following his MSc. Every night we used to Skype for about 20 minutes and that was the only time I was allowed to use the computer.
So, after he finished his master’s, he came to sri lanka to marry me. Everything happened so fast and then came the most awaited moment. His parents wanted to check my virginity. So we had to do it on a white sheet. He was so relaxed and I was nervous. At first it felt so painful and then all was well. When he saw my blood, he kissed me on the forehead and told “that’s my girl.”
It was then that I understood why my parents were so strict to me. It was to keep me happy for the rest of my life without making me a rejection by the society…..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: