My friend Aleena* confessed to me the other day about how scared she is to lose her virginity. “I know I’m not in Egypt,” she acknowledged, “but my parents have this expectation that I marry either an Egyptian or a Muslim. I know it’s not fair to myself to think this way, but it’s been ingrained in me since birth.” She proceeded to show me two articles she found from CairoScene.com: “On Virginity: What Egyptian Men Think of Women Who’ve had Premarital Sex” and “Losing My Virginity in Egypt: 6 Women who Broke the Taboo“, both written by Mariam Raymone.
In the first article, Raymone interviews three men. In short, two of the men were adamantly aversive to the concept of a woman losing her virginity. The two men were college-age male university students, who are naturally exposed to young, attractive women. In Egypt, a woman’s hymen is “Egypt’s version of quality control,” meaning that aside from women being socially and politically objectified as ‘goods’, women are furthermore demanded to meet a standard of immaculateness, totally unblemished and unsullied because their external aspects directly reflect the quality of their inner attributes in Egyptian society.
A virgin body equals a pure soul; herein lies the double standard that is acutely recognizable in American culture as well. If a woman engages in sexual intercourse, she is submerging herself in the depths of taboo. She may as well plunge into Hellfire because her body is no longer fair and untouched, as an angel’s body is. It’s exactly a scarlet letter that she possesses for the rest of her life that brands her as a disgrace. By contrast, a man who has sexual intercourse is awarded praise because it enriches his machismo and makes him seem more practiced and mature. A man knowing that he has the power to take a woman’s innocence and be rewarded for it will therefore cause him to view the woman as a possession, as a thing meant for him to practice on to gratify his ego and even boost his morale.
So back to the two men, Mohamed Salah*, 20, and Ahmed Youssef*, 21. Both men confided and confirmed that a girl’s virginity is hers and that cannot be controlled, however they both stated that it’s a girl’s responsibility to control herself. Their idea of a girl who has had premarital sex, especially out of lust, would shift negatively. Women are objectified and then they are blamed for engaging in human behavior. This is analogous to blaming a vase for breaking itself–at best, it shows that men cannot be culpable for anything that happens to a woman’s hymen. The men also blatantly stated that if their sons were to confess to their fathers that they had sex, the sons would be yelled at, but they wouldn’t face nearly severe consequences that women are forced to face.
“It’s not a personal matter, it’s a matter of morals; each person has his own mentality and background, but still – it’s a matter of what’s right or wrong. If I were with a girl and she confessed that she did this before, I don’t know how I would react. If she understands that this is wrong, then God forgives and I will forgive her as well, as long as she feels guilty about what she’s done…The devil is sly and plays tricks on the mind, but if you fall for his tricks then you have a weak personality. I would appreciate her honesty in telling me, but how do I know she won’t do this again?
In a hypothetical sense, if my son one day confessed to doing this I would be furious, but I would have to calm myself down and talk to him. Everyone sins. However, if it were my daughter, I would go straight to the man and make him marry her…” -Ahmed Youssef*
What it must feel like for a woman to hide her virginity! In Egypt, and in other societies where women are placed under society’s chauvinistic stringency, it seems that women were created to be morally protected beings, caged inside beautiful, lascivious bodies for men to unveil the mystery behind these bodies. There’s an allure to women that such men can’t seem to accept, so they project shame onto women to feel less guilty about fantasizing and fucking them. They shouldn’t be “easy” nor should they even be willing to have sex, which is the scariest part. They simply must…acquiesce.
I illustrate this by placing a woman on her knees, her legs drenched in a pool of blood. Her body is purple because hiding the truth asphyxiates her. She is on fire, the truth burns her. She has no hands because she cannot grasp her reality. But she masks her fear, her confusion, and her hatred toward the world and toward herself with a smile.
Only the last man interviewed, Omar Bahaa*, 26, was the one I cheered for because he underscored the hypocrisy and how religion and patriarchal dominance’s historical significance was conducive to the idea of preserving a woman’s virginity.
He calls it “a conviction that leads to chronically ignorant traditions and norms that pose dangers to women on a psychological and physical level, especially when they are attached to the evaluation of a woman’s purity and sanctity.” Furthermore, he emphasizes that it’s “insane to even correlate a physical disposition to the morality and ethics of a person. Mere horseback-riding or a bicycle accident can take the ‘virginity’ of a woman…”
Not only is sexual education important, but religious and gender education must be amplified in order for a culture to fully embrace the idea that women too have natural inclinations for sexual desire and intimacy. If society thinks that restraining men from sex is harsh, then why can’t women act upon their own sexual instincts without fearing for their lives, no matter if they act out of love or lust. Bahaa attests that we are all human, capable of making mistakes, capable of making conscious decisions, and capable of being in control of our own bodies. Additionally, he doesn’t believe in negative reinforcement–instead, we should focus on making decisions that reflect our true feelings and emotions.
In the second article that Aleena sent me, I agreed with all six girls. They echoed my sentiments exactly about how losing a virginity should not be a regret that instills fear for the next partner. They understand that losing one’s virginity does not define a person. Some lost it out of love, others out of infatuation, but they all boldly exemplified that losing their virginity was better than a) marrying someone whom you would have to hide your past from because they won’t accept it, b) marrying someone who doesn’t understand and accept that you have desires too, c) marrying someone who fears you. Because as one woman named Heba* brilliantly explained, men do have a certain phobia of “women reaching their full potential and taking over because obviously they can.”
After sending me these articles, Aleena pointed out, “People get divorced all the time because of bad sex.” Bad sex or a lack of sex can definitely frighten people because sex creates intimacy, and intimacy helps bind a couple.
Eventually, my advice to Aleena was that we are undoubtedly living in a man’s world. All of the answers she needed were in front of her. Although it’s hard living in a household where parents consistently pressure and reinforce the standards that they grew up living under, this does not imply that those standards should ever hold jurisdiction over a human body and its desires. By doing this, we escalate the pedestal which men stand on, holding them up so high that their word becomes codified. In my opinion, it is beyond unfair and ignorant to hold virginity as a purity emblem; the thought on its own is malicious and promotes fear, which is unfortunately quelled with hatred and disgust all too often because people are too immature and afraid to admit that women actually do have control over their bodies–you just choose to ignore it.