“Men can’t handle a woman’s past."
Dressed in a traditional outfit with a veil drawn over her face, she is an Indian woman of the yesteryear. Ask her – does virginity still matter, and she will nod in agreement.
The one who is coy in her ways and whose fate is in the hands of the men in her life, she never experienced much of the world outside four walls.
From the education she receives to her friendships, she hardly has a say in matters regarding her life. Let alone losing her maidenhood, which is unimaginable before she weds.
Since ages, a woman’s chastity has been synonymous with the honour of her family, and by extension, the society, as if the entire world resides there (probably, we wouldn’t care much about it then).
However, with time a major part of the Indian society has evolved to be more accepting of pre-marital relationships and sex.
With an increasing number of men and women having no qualms in committing the act, irrespective of whether the relationship culminates in marriage, does virginity still matter or is it no longer a big deal to Indians?
Although the picture looks progressive on the outside, it is not as pleasant in reality. We explore whether virginity still matters.
The Obsession With Virginity
When it comes to marriage, stigma around virginity still looms large in the country as culturally we are conditioned to believe that it equals purity and virtue.
Sex before marriage is not so much of an issue for men as it is for women, who are born with a ‘seal’.
Scratch the filters of literacy and open-mindedness, and an ugly image of a mind that conforms to different standards of morality for men and women will be revealed.
According to a HT-MaRS Youth Survey, around 63% want their partners to be virgins.
Considering these results, renowned psychiatrist Dr. Sanjay Chugh explains:
“The trope of virginal bride still holds. While women are far more empowered today and ready to embrace their sexuality, the male mindset has hardly changed.”
A Kolkata based, highly educated professor with 20 years of experience was recently in the news for his disturbing post on the subject.
As per a news report, he compared a virtuous woman to a sealed bottle and explained the benefits of having a virgin girl as a wife; which apparently are better upbringing and sexual hygiene.
These opinions may answer the question of ‘Does virginity still matter?’ in positive. But, the concept of chastity in India goes beyond its literal definition.
As Myra says:
“Men can’t handle a woman’s past. A guy I dated had difficulty digesting my past, even though I was a virgin.”
“I was labelled a slut and verbally abused for having dated someone in the past.”
Despite increased exposure and a westernised education, ‘impure’ women are given titles. Strangely, the definition of celibacy is not restricted to breaking of the hymen. A woman with multiple relationships also raises suspicions.
As per another report pertaining to the Indian state of Bengaluru, a sick bride threw up on her wedding day and was made to go through virginity tests by her husband without her knowledge.
While on the one hand, it is considered shameful for women to have sexual encounters before marriage, on the other hand, a virgin male is mocked for his inability to impress and conquer a woman.
As a result, men don’t shy away from having ‘fun’ only to fit in. While their ego gets a boost, the woman is usually left distraught.
Considering this, it is clear that the issue of virginity is not limited to having sex, but large enough to include problems of culture, trust and values.
And, the answer to does virginity still matter gets shaded further as we delve deeper.
Does Virginity Still Matter – The Urban & Rural Divide
Chastity is associated with love and commitment for Raj:
“It’s an act of love and not to be confused with sex. For me it is a feeling that you give out of love, so simply performing the act doesn’t make you lose it.”
Whether his partner is celibate or not is also of no concern to him. He adds:
“It is her past, and it remains there.”
Likewise thinks Shreya, for whom it was a big deal in her early 20s, but not anymore:
“In this world of infidelity, I wanted to lose my virginity to my husband and expected the same from the other end. Gradually, as I grew up, I realised loyalty is more important.”
When it comes to the matters of the vagina, the question of choice arises as well. While many would prefer deciding on behalf of women, Rahul is not one of them. He says:
“What’s wrong with having sex? It is a choice, which applies to both the sexes. It would make no difference to me if the girl I marry is a non-virgin. It’s a choice she made in the past.”
Thankfully, many urbanised folks don’t place much emphasis on a layer of the shell. Rather, they look beyond these matters, which they know are best left to a woman to handle.
While this holds true, there are also those who do not have a clear stance on the subject.
The taboo on pre-marital affairs combined with the pressure to marry early, leave some men and women with hardly any opportunities to experience sexual intimacy in their early years.
As Ashish tells us:
“I have never been in relationships before marriage, so can’t comment on it. Probably, if I had the chance to get sexually involved with someone, I wouldn’t have thought of it as a big thing.”
Regarding the chastity of his partner, he adds:
“It would matter to me if I find that she is not a virgin, but only because I love her so deeply. That doesn’t mean I would doubt her. Love wins eventually.”
Virginity can be an emotional issue for some. Gladly, they don’t neglect their sense of logic when making decisions.
Usually, we see literate men displaying double standards when they take off their liberal masks and admit to wanting a virtuous bride.
But, there are many women as well who smartly hide their conventional mindset, which comes to the forefront when they set out to find the right guy.
Here, Nikhil talks about his encounter with a girl who he had met for marriage:
“She asked me if I am ‘pure’. I was flabbergasted, I didn’t have any answer.”
Nikhil has felt the sting of love but never been in a relationship. He doesn’t expect a goddess wife. But he was shocked to see such thought prevail in a developing society.
Well, talk about a women’s worst enemy.
While expressing physical needs is no longer a problem among men and women, some simply choose to keep their virginity until they find the one.
Like Vaishali shares:
“I choose to be a virgin until I marry for I believe in monogamy. I would want to be in lasting love with the person who I share my mind, body and soul with.”
Despite being a one-man woman, she doesn’t expect the same from her partner. An important place in his heart and loyalty takes precedence over him being a virgin or not.
With the populace slowly shedding the rusted beliefs, India is surely headed toward progress. However, it is considerably slow, especially in small towns and villages, where many cling on to misogynist values.
The humiliating virginity tests that were once a custom continue to be practised in various parts of the nation.
Expressing his dismay at such rituals, Raj says:
“I read about one where the couple is asked to consummate their wedding on their first night on a white cloth to test the lady’s purity. And, if she does not bleed, for whatever reasons, imagine her fate.”
DESIblitz had previously written about this custom associated with the Kanjarbhat community in Maharashtra.
The groom declares to the council the result of the good (woman) the next day.
If the sheet is spotless, the ‘impure’ woman is beaten up and her family is asked to pay a hefty fine to settle the matter.
There are equally barbaric ‘tests’ performed in other states, including Rajasthan.
Some require women to hold a red hot iron kept on betel leaves or bear the torture of holding their breath underwater while a person walks 100 steps to prove they are pure.
Indeed, Indian women are believed to be goddesses.
One of the reasons behind this could be illiteracy. And rightly so, for some (if not all) educated people belonging to such communities have come together to protest against such heinous acts.
A WhatsApp group called, ‘Stop the V-ritual’ is proof of this. Many young and old men from the Kanjarbhat community are part of it.
The Indian mentality has come a long way, though there’s much progress still to be made with many latching onto patriarchal values of female sexual purity.
As Abhishek puts it:
“I find no difference between people living in cities and small towns, as many still consider it a major factor.”
Values & Virginity – The Filmi Effect
One of the major aspects that come into the limelight when speaking of the taboo around sex before a wedding is Bollywood.
Time and again, movies are blamed for promoting western beliefs regarding social and sexual ethics, having a bad influence on the youth of the country.
Some feel the arrival of ex-adult star Sunny Leone in Bollywood has had an impact in the country’s attitudes towards sex being diluted.
While some find these allegations baseless, others agree to an extent.
Vaishali feels the world is equipped with enough tools to make the right choice. She says:
“The youth has a certain amount of rationality that helps them distinguish between the good and the bad.”
Shreya also thinks that people are smart enough to realise that life is way beyond the fictional movies. On the contrary, she thinks that peers contribute to a large extent in one’s choices:
“Just like they say – you are known by the friends you keep.”
Raj, who agrees with the claims against Bollywood, says:
“Yes, Bollywood has a negative influence, and not only on the youth. Movies are selling sex, instead of focusing on love.”
Rhea has a similar opinion:
“The word love has lost its beauty. Dating and relationships are reduced to the status of a game where the one with the highest number of girlfriends/boyfriends wins. And, somewhere Bollywood is also responsible.”
Whether progressive films are demolishing cultural values or opening up Indians to perspectives may not justify the idea of subjecting a human to mistreatment.
Plus, can a thin layer of tissue alone define someone’s character?
The Scientific Take On Virginity
How can I ascertain that the girl is a virgin? – is one of the most common questions that Dr. Mahinder Watsa, a gynaecologist and sex counsellor, gets asked.
His usual response to this is:
“There is no way to determine it.”
As per a news report, Dr. Rajan Bhonsle explains:
“It is just not possible to assess whether a girl is a virgin or not. Some women are born without a hymen, for some it is so elastic that it never ruptures, and for others it may have been ruptured due to a slightly intense non-sexual activity.”
The layer of skin that guards the vagina can tear during intense workout, dance, or playing sports similarly like a muscle would.
Plus, medical professionals and researchers have maintained the stance that it is not necessary for a woman to bleed the first time she has sex.
If thought from this perspective, the question of ‘does virginity matter’ seems to be a far-fetched one, for there is no way to examine it.
Yet, the male ego combined with the prevalence of stereotypical standards of ethics lead to unrealistic demands, which further results in the suppression of the thoughts of progressive minded individuals.
It is no wonder then that a large number of women, especially born or married in conservative families are ready to go under the knife to restore the sign of their innocence.
Such treatments may encourage narrow-mindedness.
But it is the reasoning behind the women’s need for them – fear of being judged, tortured – that needs to be addressed.
So, does virginity still matter?
Undoubtedly, the taboo on sex and virginity is fading away slowly. However, equality still remains a distant dream in the nation.
Men, from even the most liberal families, expect women to comply with age-old standards set by a patriarchal society in terms of conduct; social and sexual.
What’s more disturbing is that women have accepted their position, which further encourages the unreasonable exploitation of one gender and endorsement of the other’s actions, even if they are inhuman.
The need of the hour is to redefine virginity in accordance with human ethics, instead of giving undue importance to it.
This calls for both educated men and women to come to the forefront and set examples by being fair, rational, and respectful in their personal relationships.
After all, the future is shaped by the choices made in the present.