A couple of weeks ago, a court in Lille, France, annulled the marriage of a young engineer and a 20-year-old nursing student. The grounds for this annullment were not infidelity, violence, or even the ever-vague “irreconcilable differences.” Rather, the marriage was dissolved because on the couple’s wedding night in 2006, the groom had been unable to present a bloody sheet to the wedding guests who were partying downstairs. The groom, apparently troubled by his inability to produce a bloody sheet—proof of his bride’s virginity—went to court the next day and demanded an annullment. For her part, the new bride confessed to having had sex before the wedding—presumably with someone other than her future husband.
The court decision sparked outrage in France among secularists, who felt that religious beliefs should not be upheld by law, and feminists, who felt that the law should not be used to control a woman’s sexual behavior. I agree with both viewpoints. It seems that some men from some communities value the intactness of a woman’s hymen above all else, which is baffling to me. I mean, who would want to have sex with a virgin anyway? Sure, virginity has it’s place but sex is as important a part of the human experience as nutrition, literacy, or education. As far as I’m concerned, there would be no human species without sex and if sex is so essential to the very existence of our species, then it’s important enough to be done well. I can’t personally speak from experience on the issue of sex with virgins, but I can only imagine it’s not very good. Not the first few times anyway, if the anecdotes I’ve heard from my friends—male and female—are anything to go by. I imagine it would be akin to asking an illiterate person to read you a passage from The Merchant of Venice. Thoroughly unsatisfying.
But that’s just my opinion because apparently, some men—like this jerkhole engineer—don’t really care about the enjoyable side of sex. Not for the woman anyway. I mean, imagine going to bed with someone whose primary concern is to get some blood on the sheet so he can go show it to his wedding guests!! Nice!! And I guess he must not have been that into his new wife because he sent her back to her parents’ house and asked for a divorce the very next day. In fact, the whole story makes me wonder why he decided in the first place that this was the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. His decision must have had everything to do with his assumption that her hymen was intact because, once the traditional test proved negative, he kicked her out.
Now, I’m not saying this woman was or was not a virgin on her wedding night. From what I’ve heard and read, plenty of women don’t bleed the first time they have sex. Different people are built differently and women who engage in some physical activities—like cycling, horseback riding, and running—have been known to bleed very little or not at all. But that’s neither here nor there, because a woman’s worth should not be measured against whether or not she chooses to have sex before marriage. I can think of lots of other variables besides virginity that would make or break the marriage deal. For example, is she nice? Does she give change to the homeless? How does she feel about the Holocaust? Does she vote Republican? (“Yes” is definitely a deal-breaker).
Thankfully, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and some women are finding ways to have their cake and eat it too. Commenting on the case, French philosopher and feminist Elisabeth Badinter, said, “The sexuality of women in France is a private and free matter. The annulment will just serve to send young Muslim girls running to hospitals to have their hymens restored.” It seems that Ms. Badinter’s prediction is coming true, according to a New York Times article on women who are having their hymens surgically restored. This makes perfect sense to me. The use of surgery by some women to make themselves more acceptable and desirable in accordance with social norms is nothing new, so in communities in which a premium is placed on virginity, it’s only natural that some women would resort to this procedure. The reality is that some men will continue to stupidly insist on women suppressing their sexuality so they can be virgins on their wedding nights. And the reality is also that some women—willingly or unwillingly—will end up marrying such men. But these two realities will inevitably produce a third reality, that some women might choose a middle ground in which they can experience sex before marriage and nonetheless present themselves as virgins on the night of their wedding.
At the end of the day, medical advances like contraception, abortion, and now hymen reconstruction, have long enabled women to make important choices about how they live, who they have sex with, and when, how, and with whom to have children. So for the women who can afford to pay for hymen restoration surgery, I say more power to you. Someday we might live in a world where men don’t care about your sexual history but, until that day comes, you gotta do what you gotta do.