Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chastity, virginity, and hymens.

These three terms are often conflated without much thought. Let's break it down.

A hymen is an elusive biological artifact. It doesn't only, and always, occur in humans, but when it does, it can be an thick or thin tissue with or without holes that stretches across the entire vaginal opening. It can be loose bits of tissue along the opening, or completely absent. A hymen may or may not serve a physiological purpose -- one hypothesis is that it protects cervical cells from dirt and germs before they mature and start secreting protective mucus.

Exercise such as horse-riding or gymnastics can stretch, tear or reduce someone's existing hymen, or do nothing to a hymen that wasn't there in the first place. Even stretching and tearing does not guarantee copious amounts of blood, destroying the myth of wedding-night bleeding.

Defining virginity depends a lot of your social context. In contexts where virginity is strictly defined as penile-vaginal intercourse, there are a variety of other behaviours which are considered virginity-friendly, including digital, oral and anal sex. Technical virginity is easy to maintain, since there is something clear to avoid, and someone who places great importance on hymens probably have a technical definition of virginity.

Alternatively, another definition of virginity requires intention -- so if someone was raped, their virginity is still intact. Or if a woman uses tampons or menstrual cups, they're still virgins. When the definition of virginity approaches a certain or total state of mind, it approaches the meaning of chastity. This is what I think the Obedient Wives Club (Kelab Taat Suami or KTS) means when they promote being 'virgins physically, mentally and spiritually'.
"A pious woman is the best of worldly decorations"
Once you already have sexual intercourse (of any kind), arguably, you're not a virgin by the broadest definition. I see virginity as a physical state of purity. But chastity is still attainable, because it involves abstinence (if unmarried) and monogamy (if married). I see chastity as a mental or psychological state of purity.

Chastity and virginity both involve purity. For men and women who consider purity important, they know they can't determine anyone's chastity unless they can read minds, so some resort to tangible, physical indicators. And the poor hymen has been the victim of this ideological obsession.

That's why women from Pakistani and Middle-Eastern backgrounds who are caught in this hymen-virginity-purity myth sometimes resort to all kinds of procedures, products and tricks to ensure blood on their wedding night. Whether they have or have not had sexual intercourse becomes irrelevant, because there is no guarantee of bleeding.

Historically, I read somewhere that women could nick their thighs with a razor blade. Today, there are virginity restoration surgeries, blood capsules, and most stunning of all, the artificial hymen fake virginity kit. I must say, the latter kit is comprehensive and even includes instructions on how to behave like a virgin:
 If the mixture of pain and shy like a better effect.
Get acting! With some mood music.

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