Feminism

Losing It

Stfu, believers, the blog dedicated to sharing unnecessary expressions of faith on facebook, posted something a little more worrying than usual a couple of days ago. A screenshot of a facebook post showed a picture of bloody sheets with the comment “Consummated :)”

This image was posted, along with the caption from the submitter:

“He met some chick and rushed into marriage (so they could f**k, obviously). Then he posted this picture to prove that, while he isn’t ‘pure’, she is…. Yes. Yes. This is what you think it is.”

This is gross on multiple levels (and I don’t even care about bodily fluids):

1. This guy is high-fiving over the fact that his wife was ‘pure’ on their wedding night, while he isn’t. Can we say double-standard much? We live in a culture where all too often the worth of a girl or women is measured in terms of her sexual experience (or lack thereof). This is ridiculous to say the least. In females virginity is synonymous with purity and seen as virtuous. In the US, purity balls are held by churches nationwide, and girls as young as five and six pledge to keep their virginity until they are married (I won’t get into all of the things that are wrong with this culture just now, but OH BOY are there lots). Yet for men, all too often it is seen that sexual conquests are to be bragged about and seen as an indication of status, while virginity is to be ashamed of, a la movies such as The 40-year-old Virgin.

Your worth, whatever your gender identification may be, should never, ever be determined by your sexual history, whether it be extensive or non-existent. Don’t let anybody tell you it is.

2. He is displaying a highly intimate experience for all of his FB friends (and now the whole internet) to see. It is a gross invasion of his new wife’s privacy all for a power trip. Yuk!

3. The assumption here seems to be that, because there was blood, the woman was virgin and her hymen broke. This is not necessarily true! The hymen is a thin membrane that surrounds the vaginal opening, with a space or spaces for periods to flow through. It can be stretched or torn during the first experience of sexual penetration, or with tampon use, masturbation or vigorous physical activity such as horse-riding. Bleeding can also occur even in women who have been sexually active in the past. It is sensitive down there! The presence or absence of the hymen says absolutely nothing meaningful about a woman’s sexual history. The hymen wasn’t even ‘discovered’ until 1544 when the Flemish anatomist Andreas Vesalius went looking for the reason some women bled when they first had intercourse. He identified a small bit of tissue at the opening of the vagina, and because men of the time were so desperate to medicalize virginity, they made the hymen their signpost. This has stuck around today as a virginity test.

Historically, a variety of different methods have been used to test virginity (mostly of women, given the patriarchal nature of most societies).These often depended on proof of unusual powers of a sexually pure woman. In the past, virgins were credited with performing miraculous tasks like taming wild animals, calming stinging swarms or holding water in a sieve (WHEW! tough ask!). In Pliny the Elder’s History of the World there are recipes for preparing diuretic potions which were administered to girls as part of virginity tests. If the drinker could hold her urine after consuming or inhaling such preparations, she was declared a virgin. If she can’t do this, she’s clearly not a virgin because of the ‘open channel’ between her mouth and vagina. These kinds of tests were all equally useless and over time the evidence of a bleeding hymen came to be considered the most acceptable form of virginity test and became quite common as part of marriage rites in almost all parts of the world.

In many parts of the world, being a virgin at marriage is a matter of pride and dignity, and can often lead to violence for women if they are found not to be.

According to Time, a marriage in France was annulled “on the basis of a husband’s complaint that his wife had falsely promised that she was a virgin — a confession he obtained after furiously waving the new couple’s spotless bedclothes before still-celebrating wedding guests.” (And I thought the dudebro that inspired this post was bad)

As such, many women feel the need to artificially recreate their virginity.

A quick google search reveals that you can buy fake hymens. According to the website:

Insert the Artificial Hymen into your vagina carefully. It will expand a little and make you feel tight. When your lover penetrates, it will ooze out a liquid that appears like blood, not too much but just the right amount. Add in a few moans and groans and you will pass through undetectable! It’s easy to use, clinically proven non-toxic to human and has no side effects, no pain to use and no allergic reaction

Or if you’re willing to dish out a bit of money (actually, a lot of money– several thousands of dollars depending on your location) you can have hymenoplasty. According to this website:

The virginity of a woman is valued for religious, social, and even economic reasons. Hymen gets disrupted after the first intercourse or even after strenuous physical activity or tampon use. Anyway, you wouldn’t want your boyfriend / future husband feel ashamed because your hymen no longer existed.

Emphasis mine, because WHAT ON EARTH? These people are advocating having surgery so that the male won’t feel ashamed? It isn’t his body! There are totally natural reasons for a hymen already being broken that are not related to previously having intercourse! They just said that! (never to mind the whole other issue of rape). In fact, some women do find themselves in trouble even if they haven’t had intercourse. From this NYT article:

She insisted that she had never had intercourse and only discovered her hymen was torn when she tried to obtain a certificate of virginity to present to her boyfriend and his family. She says she bled after an accident on a horse when she was 10.

The trauma from realizing that she could not prove her virginity was so intense, she said, that she quietly borrowed money to pay for the procedure.

Oh yea, did I mention this is common not only in Middle-Eastern countries, but in France. Highly secular, I might add, France. One doctor in one clinic in Paris does two or three hymenoplasty procedures a week.

This is not a culturally isolated issue. Harmful attitudes toward virginity are present in all cultures, and they all come back to control. Mr. Dudebro who posted the picture of his sheets on facebook for all his friends to see is interested in control. As are men in other patriarchal societies:

Arab writer and social commentator, Sana Al Khayat believes the whole issue has much to with the notion of “control”.

“If she’s a virgin, she doesn’t have any way of comparing [her husband to other men]. If she’s been with other men, then she has experience. Having experience makes women stronger.”

Plus! (oh my, whole other point here) this whole notion of virginity as being lost the first time a person has penetration is mightily heteronormative to say the least! But that is the topic for another post, and if you’re interested I would suggest Greta Christina’s piece Are We Having Sex Yet? (probably an 18+ rating on that).

Bottom-line? No kind of virginity testing is foolproof. Women need to be valued for who they are and all of the ways they can contribute to society, and not for whether they are technically a virgin or not. If you want to be a virgin, great! If you want to have sex, also great! Never let anybody determine your worth by your sexual experience.

P.S. Want to know what you can do to help women in other societies whose basic human rights are being violated by virginity testing? Amnesty International could be a good place to start.

Featured image credit: Google Images

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Lauren

Lauren

Lauren is a Maths and Physics student from somewhere in the southern hemisphere. She has an affinity for reality, and you can find her on twitter @lolrj, or Google+.

5 Comments

  1. November 23, 2011 at 11:26 am —

    That should be a poster: “First sign you’ve married an idiot.” Except of course one shouldn’t be spreading the image for shits and giggles.

  2. November 23, 2011 at 12:53 pm —

    I have a question. It’s hard to tell exactly how much blood is on that sheet, but it seems like a lot. I don’t remember any time outside of a period when I bled like that. I’m assuming there are variations between people and more or less can be normal, but is that really the norm?

    • November 23, 2011 at 5:19 pm —

      Hmm, there are a bunch of comments at Jezebel saying the same thing. There are also other people commenting saying they bled more. So! I don’t know. It could be the result of period sex, and that would be…uh… ironic. Add that to the list of reasons virginity testing is useless.

  3. November 28, 2011 at 1:41 pm —

    I think it’s quite individual. The hymen is incredibly variable, some women barely have one at all, some unfortunate few are born with an “inperforate hymen” that needs to be punctured by doctors immediately.

    • November 29, 2011 at 3:53 am —

      I didn’t know that. More reasons it is all nonsense.

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