Questions about “virgins”

If there is one thing that staff in Sister Namibia has to be credited for, then it is for our constant efforts to look at issues and topics that affect women not only in Namibia, but also in the region.

Today, we started reflecting on issues of virginity and what being a virgin might mean. In a culture where a girl or a woman’s “virginity” is a mark of honour for the family this potentially has far reaching consequences for women. We already raised issue with concepts of virginity during the hype around Olufuko (female initiation schools) revival attempts in some northern regions last year.

So our questions: What does “being a virgin” mean at all? Who is a virgin? Can “virginity” be restored? 

It would seem that “being a virgin” might have something to do with the particular disposition of a young girl or woman. In other words, a “virgin” is someone who is “pure and untouched” in some ways angelic.  This person lacks in life experience, therefore has a naive innocence that is unblemished by life experience, definitely by sexual experiences!

Or does being a virgin have to do with the integrity of the hymen, that most flimsy of tissue on which the whole moral integrity of a girl or a woman depends? Possibly not a common phenomenon, there are girls born without a hymen. What does it say about the morality of these girls? I recently heard that plastic surgeons increasingly are engaged in “restoring” women’s virginity – ie. tightening (I suppose) of the hymen. I also had to laugh when I saw a soap making claims to a similar effect. How would a woman whose virginity was restored (whether surgically or by using that special soap) be valued in a society where women are subjected to “virginity” tests?

What about women whose hymen(s?) remained intact in spite of sexual activity – for surely, this is also possible? Would they be allowed to bask in the glory bestowed to an intact hymen?

There are many questions to consider when thinking about virginity. What disturbed me was the statement by a young woman to the effect that girls who voluntarily submit to the embarrassment of virginity tests should be amended for being examples to other girls. I could not contain my outrage at this statement, since I could not stop thinking about all the girls in Namibia who are raped and for whom a moral judgement will be made, should they agree to such an indignity!