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The Purity Myth

Where does a woman’s worth lie? In her brains? In her heart? In her soul?

Between her legs. Some would claim! Society has long wanted to  control women’s sexuality in the name of culture and religion.

Like most Nepali girls, I grew up believing that virginity is a sign of purity. I grew up in the ‘purity culture’. A culture where ‘sexual purity’ exists as a concept and dominates most households. A culture where women’s bodies are not fundamentally theirs and can be devalued by the mere thought of sexual activity. A culture where it is OK for girls and women to be ‘sexy’ for someone else if there is actual sex but not otherwise. A culture that emphasizes that a woman’s moral compass lies somewhere between her crotch.

As I grew older and became more aware, I began to question the teachings of this purity culture. I began to see it as not only as misleading but as potentially harmful.

There are some extreme versions of the purity culture in certain societies. Most cultures require virginity as a prerequisite for marriage but some insist on brides taking a ‘virginity test’. This involves ensuring that the hymen is intact. Otherwise, women might have to show the proof of blood after sexual intercourse on their first night with their husband to prove that the hymen tore. Women who fail the tests can be subjected to shame, torture, domestic violence, harm, grievous harm or might even become the victim of an honor killing in extreme cases.

Some women who have lost their virgnity are afraid to fail the test that they resort to “quick fixes” such as “re-virgination” or purchase fake hymens.

Requiring women to undergo a virginity test is not only an invasion of her right to privacy but proof of an extremely sexist culture that allows a woman’s sexual history to be public knowledge and open to criticism while a man’s is not scrutinized at all.

Research has found that a non-intact hymen is not proof of vaginal penetration. The hymen can be torn by activity that is not sexual. You cannot simply look at a woman between her legs and read her sexual story. Furthermore, in some rare cases, girls can be born without a hymen.

Whether or not you are ‘sexually pure’ has no bearing on who you are as an individual. Moreover, purity is so much more than just physical mechanics. People might be technically virgins but might have compromised their so-called purity in other countless ways. Virginity cannot be used as a tool to measure the self-worth and dignity of a woman.

By telling young girls that no deeds can be kept secret and that their bodies will reveal them no matter what; society ends up paralyzing them with fear. Girls are afraid of ruining or devaluing themselves either through sports, tampon use or sexual activity. Their freedom is curtailed and their opportunities limited.

The myths about the purity culture have existed for centuries and abolishing them remains a challenge. But it’s about time we broke the myth. If not now, when? The more people are vocal about it, the easier it will be to reclaim the moral high ground. And perhaps, young girls will not feel the pressure to walk the line of purity to prove they are valuable.

Author: Preeti Shakya

Editor: Anne Thomas



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12.09.2017 | 14:06