If you’ve ever bothered to look at the classifieds in the newspaper, you’ll notice that there is a whole bunch of people looking for eligible bachelors and spinsters to marry off their sons and daughters to, respectively.
Maybe your eyes glazed right over them because the requirements to get married nowadays look so much like the qualifications you’d need to get into a multi-national company (in fact, I’m beginning to wonder whether getting into an MNC might be easier than getting married).
Anyway, if you looked carefully at some advertisements asking for brides, you’d find that most families have one particular requirement – which the bride should be “of good character and morally sound”.
You’re mistaken if you think they’re looking for a kind heart and a good sense of what’s ethical.
What is a hymen?
Google defines it as “a membrane which surrounds and partially closes the opening of a vagina and whose presence is traditionally taken to be a mark of virginity”.
Doesn’t seem like a big deal right? Well, this membrane may be small but it has had a big impact on the way that we view sex, virginity, and women.
Not just in Indian culture, but in several cultures and communities around the world, a woman’s virginity (i.e. the presence of an intact hymen) is considered to be a sign of purity. In fact, the phrase “losing one’s virginity” itself seems to imply a reduction in value.
From all this, we can clearly see that there is a gender bias when it comes to virginity. Historically, male virginity was not paid much attention. In fact, the very promiscuity that was (and is) discouraged in women was (and is) glorified and celebrated in men as a mark of masculinity (or “being a man”).
People seem to be willing to go to any lengths to ensure that their new bride is a virgin, right from the classic white bed sheet on the first night of marriage to barbaric practices such as agnipariksha (where the girl is made to walk on hot coals, like Sita did to prove her loyalty to Rama in the Ramayana).
Terrified of the consequences that these tests of purity could have on their image and reputation, many women even opt for hymenoplasty, a temporary surgical restoration of the hymen.
Sadly, the general reaction to the knowledge that a girl is not a virgin is not limited to a few raised eyebrows and rejected marriage proposals. Many girls who are found to have broken or ‘missing’ hymens before marriage have been the victims of brutalities by their own families, the families they marry into as well as the communities they inhabit.
Many of them suffer punishments that are unwarranted, due to the fact that there are several misconceptions surrounding the hymen.
Here are some myths about the hymen, debunked:
- The Hymen Covers The Vaginal Opening:We’ve always been told that the hymen is a membrane that completely covers the vaginal opening, like a seal and that this seal is “broken” once a woman has vaginal intercourse for the first time. This makes no sense logically because if it really covered the opening, there would be no room for menstrual blood and vaginal discharge.In reality, the hymen is a membrane that surrounds the vaginal opening.
- All Virgins Bleed During First-Time Intercourse:
Tearing of the hymen and bleeding may be the case for about half of the female population. Even then, if there is any damage to it during intercourse, it simply repairs itself. It may end up looking a little different, which is what leads people to come to the conclusion that it has been “lost” or “broken”.
About 50% of the time, however, no damage is done and it is simply stretched out. It’s a very elastic membrane and not as fragile as we’ve been led to believe.Some women can continue to engage in sexual relations for a long time and still have an intact hymen.
This is why some virgin women do not bleed during first-time intercourse and fail ‘virginity checks’ due to the fact that they have highly elastic hymens.
- The Hymen Is Torn Only During Sex:
The hymen can tear or stretch for several reasons other than sex, such as rigorous athletic activities, for e.g. horse riding and gymnastics, or from tampon usage. This may or may not be a painful occurrence. Some people experience light spotting, while others may not even notice.
These facts about hymens have been known to medical professionals for over 100 years, but still, we continue to believe the myths. This only proves that the stories we have been fed about hymens and virginity are a ploy to control women’s sexuality.
We teach our girls that their worth is attached to this so-called indicator of purity and instill fear in them that anything they choose to do with their bodies cannot be kept a secret. These insecurities are what drives them to go to ridiculous lengths such as getting hymenoplasties, fake hymen inserts to use on their wedding night, animal blood and even harming their genitals in order to cause a certain amount of bleeding which will serve as proof of their virginities to their husbands and in-laws.
In recent years, however, due to the rise of the feminist movement and the emphasis on bodily autonomy, more and more women are beginning to be open about their sexuality and sexual experiences. Women now refuse to let their self-worth be tied to something as trivial as virginity.
Sex before marriage is no longer a taboo, at least in urban areas with a cosmopolitan atmosphere. Sexual compatibility is actually beginning to be a prerequisite before marriage for most new-age couples and many prefer to be in romantic and sexual relationships before they decide to tie the knot. In fact, many prefer to never marry and opt for live-in relationships. The pressure to get married and settle down is a lot less than it used to be in our parents’ and grandparents’ time. Casual sexual relations without any promise of commitment are also on the up rise.
What a woman does with her body is her choice and whether we like it or not, we should respect that choice.