Women, Sexuality and the Myth of the Virgin

Marianne BadineAs in most Arab societies, religion plays a fundamental role in the Lebanese society. Not only does it represent the base of the moral code but it also gives men of religion great power over the public opinion and allows them to practically dictate what the right and wrong ways to think and act are.

That being said, in the mind of most Lebanese individuals, sex and women’s sexuality are pre-defined topics; sex is restricted to marriage and “women’s sexuality” is merely a vague expression describing what would occur after a woman has settled down with a man. On the other hand, despite the fact that religion doesn’t exclude men from abstinence, and that, when asked for their opinion, men of religion assert that men are as responsible as women of remaining pure, society seems to think that men are above all effort of self-control, and even more, that they acquire value with “experience”.

The double standard puts a lot of pressure on young women to maintain their virginity.

What is though the definition of virginity which society cherishes so much?

Is it simply anatomical virginity as in the presence of a hymen? Or is it virginity as defined by religion which is complete abstinence from any actions or physical contact which holds sexual implications regardless of the goodness of the person’s intentions?

In the first case, it should be mentioned that with the progress of esthetic surgery it has become easy to replace or mend a broken hymen and that, consequently, the presence of a hymen as evidence of virginity and – even more, as is believed by our society – honor is insufficient and even unfair to those who might have lost it after a childhood accident or because of strenuous sport. As for the second case, I highly doubt that any young couple today has the resolve or even the desire to completely abstain from physical intimacy.

In that perspective, torn between the desire to enjoy sexual experiences and the need to maintain a wholesome image in regards of society’s eye, some girls are forced to lead double lives where in one they succumb to their desires behind closed doors and in the second they chant mantras of honor and virginity and of preserving themselves for marriage. Others, as the result of an obviously distorted understanding of the principle of chastity, set certain limits to what they’re willing to give and assert that they would rather let their boyfriend sleep with a hooker if “he has needs that he feels obliged to satisfy” as long as it keeps him pleased and by her side and leaves her exempt from the charge of providing that pleasure outside the frame of marriage.

However, this new messed up mentality and vision of relationships isn’t at all exclusive to women. It also affects some men who, for instance, say that they would take all sexual liberties with their girlfriends but only stick to the basics with their wives. Others say that they would allow themselves to sleep with as many women as their hearts desire but that they strictly require that the girl they would eventually marry be a virgin.

I witness such samples in my daily life and I have to say I haven’t gotten used to some of the things people say yet. Certainly, there are good numbers of people afar from these deluded examples but I am not confident yet that they form anything more than a minority.

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