Feminism India

Cherries Don't Pop

WARNING: Graphic language.

The night Katherine of Aragon married Prince Arthur, it seemed like all of England was waiting outside their bedroom for the consummation of their marriage. Arthur was timid and Katherine found him disgusting. They didn't have sex. Both of them were virgins but Katherine knew that in the morning the entire royal family would spill into the room to check the sheets for her blood. If they didn't find any stains, her chastity would be a point of contention. What did she do? According to some historians and authors, she cut the sole of her foot to stain the sheets with that blood.

Of course, this took place in Tudor England but now, 500 years later, society still cannot keep its nose out of female virginity. Last year, there was a similar incident in Nashik which didn't end so well for the girl. He was a 25-year-old man getting married for the second time. She was a first-time bride training to be a police officer. He wanted to determine whether she was a virgin, so he took the matter to the caste panchayat there. They gave him a fresh white cotton cloth and told him to sleep with her that same night. If there was blood on the sheets, badhai ho uska. He'd married a virgin. In the morning though, there was no blood on the sheets and he was allowed to end his marriage to her! Given the way female virginity is put on a pedestal, it's no surprise that she and her family were disregarded and disgraced. Virginity is arguably a social construct just to keep women in check. Though there are physiological methods to check if a woman is a virgin, none of them are foolproof.

According to popular belief, during penetrative sex, the hymen rips (the hymen or the ‘virgin knot’ is a membrane that partially covers the external vaginal opening) due to which the first time hurts and women bleed everywhere. This is a myth, much to Aunty’s chagrin. Let's set the record straight by getting into a little bit of biology here.

Women might bleed during their first time having sex due to inexperience: the vagina is poorly lubricated or there's some rough handling going on. The hymen, on the other hand, can be damaged due to exercise, self-exploration, or even by the insertion of tampons. It hardly plays a role determining female virginity. So if you, a female virgin, have sex with a more experienced male partner, you might not even bleed because he probably knows what to do.

Still, why do we care so much about female virginity? In my mind, the answer is simple. For centuries people have had a way of checking for a woman's virginity: blood - stained sheets. Till date, there is no physiological method to check if a man has had sex before. Given the manner in which sex was viewed, anyone who had ‘done the deed’ was considered impure, full of unholy carnal desires of the flesh. Since one could apparently check for female virginity, women became the targets of this mindset. The ‘Madonna-whore’ complex summarizes this pretty well. According to Sigmund Freud, society viewed women either as sexless saints or debased prostitutes. There wasn’t (and still isn't) a grey area when it comes to this. A virgin was therefore, desirable to marry but someone who had had sex could only be a whore. This dichotomy had been incredibly degrading towards women throughout the ages, as sex was only deemed acceptable if a woman was a sex worker. Men, on the other hand, have had the pleasure of marrying virgins and fulfilling their sex drive in brothels. Double bonanza? Once again, Freud comes with a pearl of wisdom: “Where men love, they cannot desire and where they desire, they cannot love.”

This obsession with the purity of an untouched woman is detrimental both to male and female sexuality, although it is plain that women receive the shorter end of the stick. We can all agree that sex is an inherent, basic, and natural human drive, necessary for procreation and incidentally pleasurable too. Virginity in the traditional sense is absolutely toxic. Ideally, your first time should be enjoyable and consensual, without injury, and with someone you know. You’ll always remember that time and you wouldn't want to feel the cloud of guilt weighing you down.

It's time to stop making such a fuss about female chastity and let women do what they want in their bedrooms. After all, virginity is an indicator of quality only if you're a bottle of olive oil.