Hymen Talk

Caramel movieIn comparison to neighboring Middle-Eastern countries, Lebanon is often regarded as a haven for moral and sexual liberty. The bubbly, alcohol-soaked nightlife and its inevitable share of wild, uninhibited party girls are endlessly flaunted through the Facebook posts of proud Lebanese and praised by astonished foreigners who have had their preconceptions of the Arab world challenged. And indeed, we Lebanese have the privilege of living in an Arab country where the youth can unapologetically go out, dance, drink alcohol, and have its share of fun. And yes, gorgeous-looking, over-sexualized actresses singers and models have come to epitomize Lebanese feminine beauty in the eyes of the world. One should not imply, however, that young women are given a positive, open outlook on their sexuality, and one should certainly not consider them to be sexually liberated. Even for Lebanese girls coming from the mini-skirt-wearing, party-going bourgeoisie, making peace with one’s sexuality is a struggle.

I am well aware that all across the Arab world, our sisters are fighting against the darkest, most horrific face of patriarchy: being harassed, threatened, locked up, beaten, excised, forbidden to have a car, a career or a bank account. But just because sexism is less visible in some areas of Lebanon doesn’t mean it is not there. And I find this benevolent sexism to be the most obvious in the downgrading way young girls are taught to deal with their sexuality. Bad advice can come from the mother who wants to put you through college and who wants to see you become a doctor one day, from the aunt who buys you short dresses and tight jeans, from the friend who you confide into. It is sugar-coated with love and empathy, and it even takes on the face of empowerment and support.

Girls are taught that their virginity is the most precious gift God has endowed them with, that it should be preserved from greedy boys who can’t wait to cruelly snatch it away from them. That’s why the precious hymen is only to be yielded in exchange of some serious compensation: a wedding ring, offered by a man with a situation who can financially support her till death do them apart. That is how we teach our daughters to treat their own bodies like mere merchandise that they can strategically give away to the highest bidder, and that’s how we teach them to deny themselves any pleasure that can arise from sexuality.

Girls are taught that once they are “opened”, their market value will plummet, and that no self-respecting man will ever want to marry them. That’s how we rush our girls into abusive marriages, making them believe that self-respecting men are the men who consider them as property, wanting their wives to be “unspoiled goods”, for them to “open” and use up.

Girls are taught that once they have sex, they will get overly attached to the person they have had sex with, and never be able to leave them. This is how we encourage our girls to consider themselves as weak, emotional creatures, incapable of free-will and governed by their hormones.
Girls are warned that once they “give themselves” to boys, boys will run away from them, having taken the only thing they have been after all along. With this self-fulfilling prophecy, we tell boys that it’s okay to act like jerks, to disrespect girls and to disregard feelings and relationships. As for girls, we tell them that when they have sex, they give, abandon and lose, instead of learn, experience and grow.
Girls are told that if they have sex with one boy, they will have sex with every other boy in town, that the rumors concerning them will spread, and that they will forever be considered whores. We back up our argument by pointing out various “bitches”, “whores” and “sluts” in our neighborhood, thus planting the seeds of slut shaming and internalized misogyny.

Young people are told that sex is an open-door to unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases when a simple talk about birth control and protection goes a long way. With no basic knowledge of birth control, young people engage in risky behavior. Parents’ cowardice is responsible for unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease.

Girls are taught that above all, the hymen must remain intact, and this is why girls engage in risky sexual behavior, unaware of the implications and consequences, considering themselves “virgins” as long as they avoid genital penetration, when in truth virginity is a social construct that has very little to do with biology. Girls are denied any open, honest discussion about sex, learning about it only through the porn-infested media and the pressure of their equally unaware peers, thus accepting and mimicking a highly degrading portrayal of women’s sexuality.

All of this misogynistic advice can be given by women and men who love their daughters, sisters, cousins or nieces, and who undoubtedly think they deserve freedom, a job and college education. And don’t get me wrong, it is wonderful news that Lebanese people want to put both their sons and daughters through college, that they encourage girls to get jobs and that they let them go out at night and travel alone. However, it seems to me that as long as we keep treating women’s sexuality in such archaic terms, we are only superficially progressive and liberated. And there is no partying or clubbing in the world that could change that.


Image source: http://www.tribute.ca/tribute_objects/images/movies/caramel/caramel6.jpg

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  1. Hello Joy, i just love your guts and the way you portray the situation in Lebanon concerning virginity and sexuality! We have a long way to go…
    And thank you for Dr. Chrabieh for this enlightening blog!

  2. This is a huge problem in Lebanon, and elsewhere in the Arab world. Thank you for tackling the subject.
    I myself had to deal with a conservative family and society concerning my sexual and marital life. I had to leave my country and live abroad.
    Other women undergo surgery to reconstruct their hymen. I couldn’t…

  3. J’ai moi-même été opérée pour reconstruire mon hymen suite à la pression familiale et de peur de n’être lynchée. Je regrette de ne pas avoir pu m’opposer à l’oppression … Je ne sais pas si c’est trop tard pour moi mais plus je lis – comme les articles sur ce blog – et plus cela m’encourage à ne pas désespérer. Je suis certaine que bien d’autres femmes et jeunes filles endurent en silence…

  4. taboo !!! the female body is the Middle East is considered to be in itself a taboo or an object! a lot has to be done to change old customs and thoughts.

  5. R u suggesting that you would encourage all young adults to go out there and experience each other and enjoy each other sexually as a way of expressing freedom of sexuality?
    also, I’m suprised that you would think that women who preserve their virginity are being treated as merchandise. Just to clarify this myth, men are also expected to be virgins just like girls and yes men don’t have hymens but it’s still am obligation on them just as much as girls.
    Sharing that sexual experience with the person you love and only with the person you love has its value culturally and religiously. Hence, why single women families r much in the eastern world compared to the “free your sexuality ” west. Even though birth control pills and other forms of contraceptive r provided for free!
    So I think you have only assessed this topic from one angle and ignored the other positive angles. A man and a woman who loved each other and only experienced each other sexually will tend to have a long lasting relationship. And this can be proven if you do a retrospective study of the couples in the west. Many elderly who have had the one and only are still with the one and only. Plenty of now a days teenagers will not be able to sustain a relationship longer than 6 months because they want to express their freedom of sexuality and enjoy as many females as they can and will not be satisfied with one, why would they when there no obligation to bind them to one and one only.

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