Conversations about virginity always get people riled up because it usually affects their cultural or religious beliefs and we know those are dangerous waters to trade on.
By Gracia Casandra
Firstly l will need to put a disclaimer that the following are not my opinion but rather from research and also opinions from Zimbabwean women and those across Africa and a few men. And this is just but a part of a big topic.
Zimbabwe has two dominating religions Christianity and African Traditional Religion and both have a common ground when it comes to virginity especially that of women.
Culturally, in African traditional religion virgins are married off at a higher bride price in comparison with those who are no longer virgins.
On the night of the wedding day the couple is given a white cloth by the elders and it is expected to be stained in blood in the morning as a sign/proof that the bride was complete (virgin) the absence of it will prove otherwise, then it means the woman lied and that’s a whole new different ball game.
An intact hymen is taken as a sign of virginity. Although it has been proven that the presence of the hymen or bleeding on the first sexual encounter is not irrefutable proof of a woman’s virgin status, the hymen has sociocultural significance as a sign of purity and upright womanhood.
Woman’s virginity at the time of marriage is highly valued in diverse communities not only in Zimbabwe but in other countries as well.
It is regarded as a sign that the young woman is virtuous and respectable. The honour extends from the individual woman to that of the husband, family, and community.
Consequently, virginity testing of females is practised, for instance, in South Africa and Zimbabwe, to ensure that girls and young women maintain their virginity until they get married.
Nevertheless, it has been argued that this practice strengthens male dominance and female submissiveness and has negative implications on the girls’ social status.
On the contrary, proposes that virginity testing can be a basis of women’s power especially in the context of HIV.
It is assumed that young women will be motivated to delay sexual debut, thus protecting themselves from sexually transmitted HIV infection. In some ethnic groups in Zimbabwe South Africa, Zambia, Kenya virginity testing is done almost every year to see if the girl is still ‘pure’.
However, there has been some negative outcomes to those whose virginity testing is done unwillingly. Virginity tests’ report experiencing extreme fear and anxiety before the test, and screaming, crying, and fainting during the test.
Long-term effects including self-hatred, loss of self-esteem, depression, a sense of violation of one’s privacy, and re-victimization (for survivors of sexual assault) have also been reported by women and girls. Virginity testing is often associated with harmful traditional and cultural norms that expose women and girls to stigma and perceived shame and dishonour to themselves, their families and communities.
Women or girls can be ostracized or even killed because they have had (or they are believed to have had) sexual intercourse outside of norms imposed by society – for example before marriage.
Additionally, early marriage is used in some communities as a sort of wrongly interpreted “protective” measure to avoid the shame and consequences of a girl who had sexual intercourse before marriage.
Some girls may therefore be married off early to avoid any kind of sexual activity before marriage. Reports have also been made that virginity testing has also exposed young women and girls to rape by men who believe that a virgin maiden cures HIV AIDS.
Some being kidnapped and their private part (vagina) cut off for ritual purposes (kuromba).
Other people keep their virginity because of religion. For example with Christians, many references are made from the Bible such as 1 Corinthians chapter 7, 1st Corinthians 6, Galatians chapter 5 to mention a few they speak from a perspective that purity is important to God.
Our bodies are temples of the Lord and fornication or sexual impurity before marriage is a sin against God. Hence one wouldn’t want to go against God since sinners end up in hell and no Christian wants that.
So these firm believers do all they can to maintain their virginity. People especially women keep their virginity saving it for that one special person that they will spend the rest of their lives with.
There are men who actually won’t marry unless the girl is a virgin and if he discovers that the woman lied about her virginity she is sent back to her aunties and the bride price is claimed back
But what happens to those young girls and women who were raped whilst they were young and their choice of remaining a virgin or not was taken away from them.
Already they face stigmatisation of being rape victims and on top of it have to face being women without respect or power or virtue and ‘not women enough’ because they already lost their virginity.
Does virginity still matter in the 21st century, seeing how many young people even teenagers are indulging in sexual intercourse like it’s a race?
Most, by the time they get married they have a body count of more than 5. Nowadays it seems stranger to find a virgin than to find a non-virgin.
A small survey was conducted in a WhatsApp group where 60% of the man said they don’t care about virginity as long the woman doesn’t have a long body count plus marrying a non-virgin means she comes with bedroom experience so the man doesn’t have to teach her.
30% of the woman in the group said they still want to keep their virginity till marriage whilst 40% of them said it’s their bodies and they should do whatever they want with them just as men have done so.
However everyone in the WhatsApp group did agree that virginity or lack of it won’t make your marriage last forever, virginity won’t make a person respect, and honour and trust you.
Marriage is about two people coming together and building a life, taking care of themselves and extended families involve, loving, respecting each other and providing the support that one needs.