Humankind, all throughout history, has placed a lot of importance on a woman to be a virgin up until her wedding day. Like chastity, the principle of virginity typically requires sexual abstinence. The concept of virginity in many society typically encompasses spiritual or religious problems which can have implications in terms of social status and interpersonal relationships for the individual, more specifically for the women
The socio-biological view is that men choose chaste women to guarantee their paternity. Whereas, even though in ritualistic form, the fundamental economic consequences of the bride price and dowry may have largely vanished but not completely, the meaning of ‘owning’ the woman for many men’s self-esteem is still present, even today.
THE HISTORY OF THE CONCEPT OF VIRGINITY AND NON VIRGIN WOMEN
In ancient India, particularly in the Vedic Ages, sex was not a taboo. With respect to sex, people were very free, with separate instances of characters indulging in sex in the open, premarital sex, incest, and so on in the Mahabharata. Men and women, both, had equal autonomy over their bodies and sexual desires. However, this view started to change due to the influence of the Sultanates that ruled from Delhi and also the British rule in India.
In ancient Greece, the concept of virginal maids was popularized by the goddesses, Artemis, Athena and Hestia, all who pledged to be eternal virgins. In ancient Rome, the Vestal Virgins were regarded as the highly esteemed priestesses of Vesta, they were purely celibate, and the keepers of the holy fire of Vesta. Since the chastity of the Vestal was believed to be closely associated with the sacred burning of the fire, if the fire were extinguished, it was concluded that the Vestal was unchaste. The punishment for a Vestal Virgin who had any sexual relations while still being in service was being buried alive.
During the Medieval Ages, when Christianity flourished across Europe, many Catholics relied on the New Testament. According to the New Testament, if neither of the participants were married, it was considered a sin of fornication. Although both these sins were applicable to women as well as men, it was considered more shameful for a woman to take part in it.
This way of thinking, continued up until the 20th century. As more and more women started entering the workforce, they gained financial autonomy and eventually autonomy over their bodies and sexual desires. While the Western world has accepted the sexually liberated woman, in many Asian countries, especially India, it is still considered a taboo for women to engage in sexual relations before marriage.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN
A woman’s first act of sexual intercourse is generally considered a significant personal achievement in many cultures. Its meaning is reflected in words such as “saving oneself” “losing one’s virginity,” “taking someone’s virginity” and often “deflowering.”
Traditionally, there was a societal presumption that a girl would not participate in premarital sex and that would come as a virgin to her wedding and that in the act of consummation of the marriage she would “give up” her virginity to her new husband. Feminine sexual rituals have revolved around the concept of women refusing to have sex before they are married.
In certain cultures, an unmarried woman who is found not to be a virgin, can be exposed to humiliation, ostracism or even honor killing. Female virginity is closely intertwined with personal or even family honor and therefore, the loss of virginity before marriage is said to bring immense shame to the family. In the past, a woman’s marriage prospects were largely based on her status as a virgin in most cultures.
Female virginity has been viewed as more important, traditionally and in recent times, than male virginity; the belief that sexual prowess is central to masculinity has lowered the standard of male virginity without diminishing social standing. Men are expected or motivated to want to participate in sexual activity and to be more sexually experienced across different nations or cultures.
INFLUENCE OF SOCIETY AND GOVERNMENT
Human sexual behavior, like all other kinds of human activity, is often typically regulated by frequently differing social codes. Such social laws are referred to as sexual morality and sexual norms. Among cultures, there are a range of organizations advocating their views of sexual morality in a multitude of ways, including through sex education, social beliefs, pursuit of vows or assurances of purity, and other methods.
Virginity tests are also performed in some countries, with the assumption that it will determine whether a woman or girl has had vaginal sex. For purposes, including demands from parents or prospective spouses to determine marriage eligibility or from employers for job eligibility, women are made to undergo virginity testing. Virginity Tests not only violate the human rights of women, but may also inflict increased distress in cases of rape and imitate the initial act of sexual assault, resulting in re-experience, re-traumatization, and re-victimization.
Most nations have legislation specifying a minimum marriage age, with 18 years being the most common age, lowered in “special circumstances” to sixteen years of age. Laws often prescribe the minimum age at which an individual, generally called the age of consent, is allowed to engage in sexual intercourse.
Historically, and to some extent even in present times, the sexual experience of a woman is also often considered a relevant element in the conviction of a rape suspect.
ACTIONS THAT CAN BE TAKEN TO ELIMINATE THE STIGMAS SURROUNDING VIRGINITY AND WOMEN
Society has placed many expectations on women. Not adhering to these standards can lead to ostracization and frankly speaking, are downright sexist. That is why, it is necessary for us to take actions that can help in the elimination of these standards that still continue to plague our society.
Inclusion of sex education in school curriculum can help in removing various stigmas surrounding sexual relations and women. It can help women to feel more comfortable in their skin and not hide their sexual desires. It can also teach many young girls and boys the concept of consent which is very important in pursuing sexual relationships.
Positive portrayal of women, in film and literature, who are comfortable in their sexuality can also be helpful in opening up the conversation about sex and reducing the negative standards that society has towards the sexual activities of women.
While various inequalities among the two genders have been eliminated or have been reduced, it is now important to reduce sexual inequalities. We can create a society that celebrates feminine sexuality without demeaning it, by communicating frankly, a culture that respects the most fundamental human needs and the attractiveness of the bodies of women.