No Blood=No Marriage or, Some Gentlemen Prefer Virgins.

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.

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26 thoughts on “No Blood=No Marriage or, Some Gentlemen Prefer Virgins.

  1. What is the name of the custom of showing the post-wedding night stained sheet as a sign of the bride’s purity? I can’t seem to find the commonly used name for the custom anywhere.

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  2. Pingback: Virginity for Sale « T’ings ‘n Times

  3. Men aren’t the same from time immemorial. They resist change, especially by a woman, but they are not immune.

    The male drive to compete is behind a man’s desire to marry a virgin, or the next best thing, virtual virginity. It’s all those other guys he wants to beat. He especially doesn’t want to face prior conquerors of his woman.

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  4. A.GuyMaligned,

    Thanks for reading my blog and leaving a comment.

    Am I to understand that by saying the male nature “resists change,” you mean that men are and have always been the same, from time immemorial?

    I’m a male and I’ll be the first to say that my thinking on virginity and other areas of women’s sexuality—to say nothing of personality—has changed tremendously over the course of my life. I’m now at the point where I value women for so much more than their potential as sex partners/wives/mothers that their sexual past of miniscule importance to me.

    Obviously, I wouldn’t want to be infected with an STD or something of that nature but that’s not even the primary concern of the pro-virginity men because I’m sure many, many of them sleep with prostitutes. So their concern for the virginity of their wives has little to do with fear of STDs. In fact, I have yet to meet a man who prefers to marry a virgin who is himself a virgin, or who hasn’t had sex with a prostitute. Sure, it’s an unscientific, anecdotal example but I stand by it.

    Which leads me to my second issue with the whole women-should-be-virgins-until-marriage argument. It’s hypocritical. If a man who is a virgin says he wants to marry a virgin, that’s fine with me.

    As far as I’m concerned, any man who demands virginity-until-marriage from a woman while himself engaging in pre-marital sex is, at best, a hypocrite and, at worst, chauvinistic and retrogade.

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  5. Er,

    Thanks for reading my blog and for your comment.

    Apologies if my post seemed culturally insensitive to you. That was not my intent.

    While I think you make some valid points in your comment, the issue is that the couple in question is/was living in France, where the law takes a very difference position on the question of women’s bodies and women’s choices. At least it did before the decision was issued in this case (which is what all the fuss was about in the first place).

    The point I was trying to make is that the husband in question—and perhaps the culture from which he hails—values women most as sex partners/bearers of offspring than as people. Because ultimately, the question of virginity/sex before marriage is rooted in men’s fear of raising another man’s offspring and/or leaving their property to said offspring. Hence the value placed on women’s “sexual morality” or “purity.” So a man who values a woman’s sexual morality more than anything else about her will not want to be with her if she’s not a virgin, in spite of whatever other positive qualities she may possess.

    As an immigrant Black Jewish liberal living in the US, I generally have a lot of respect for non-dominant cultures (after all, I am a member of several here in the US) but I’m less open to compromise on the issue of women’s rights. On this subject, I agree more with the feminists and the secularists than with the traditional-values or cultural-relativist crowds.

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  6. There is an extent to which I have to disagree with the sentiments in this post, and those espoused by all the commenters whose notes I’ve read. While I think bleeding during sex is a poor gauge for worthiness of a wife, I don’t think the man involved is an “asshole” or wholly to blame for the way the situation turned out. If traditions and cultural pressures are such that bleeding as a sign of virginity is very important to a married man’s honor, then it’s unsurprising that he reacted the way he did.

    Further, even if the woman’s freedom was limited by the cultural norms under which she was married, I think that, when she made the choice to have sex before marriage, she should have realized that this excluded her from that culture and therefore with a happy and honest marriage with a man adhering to that culture. At that point, I think a rational operator would have “started to date white guys,” as one prior commenter remarked. To adopt a more “progressive” view of her body and her rights as a woman would have been completely acceptable, but to enter into a marriage with a man who valued this physical manifestation of virginity, and to apparently lie to him about the state of her virginity before the marriage, was, I think, wrong on her part.

    References to living in a “modern” way or “in 2008” or what have you – essentially, in an increasingly homogeneous, sometimes amoral society – devalue non-dominant cultures and, more importantly, disregard the fact that these cultures still shape the psyches of those who grow up under their moral influence. So, to me, this discussion seems culturally insensitive.

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  7. Myra,

    Thanks for reading my blog and for leaving a comment.

    However, the tone of your comment leaves me a little uncomfortable. I’m not sure who “they” are but I hope you’re not using “they” as a blanket reference to Muslims. Sure, Islam allows practitioners to marry more than one woman but not all of the world’s one billion (or more) Muslims choose to take advantage of that right. All religions contain outdated prescriptions and not all practitioners abide by them. After all, the Bible has a series of punishments for, say, adultery—including stoning to death—but we would be silly to assume that all Christians or Jews live by this precept.

    There are certainly some ridiculous ideas out there, and many of them are definitely based on religious principles, but we shouldn’t go overboard and use them to denigrate entire religions or the populations that adhere to those faiths.

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  8. It just annoying. So what if she slept with someone before her husband. And what’s up with this bloody sheet showing that’s embarrassing. No sense of privacy. It’s 2008 yet they still live by old rules. They also can have more than 1 wife that’s ridicilous too.

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  9. mhmd,

    Thanks for reading my blog and leaving a comment.

    I know plenty of women who’ve had sex with men they don’t even remember, so I wouldn’t worry about a woman being unable to forget her previous sex partners. If you are in love with a woman who’s not a virgin, just remember all the OTHER reasons you love her. After all, if she’s not a virgin, then you love other things about her besides her virginity, or her hymen. And if she loves you and wants to be with you, then you shouldn’t let something she did in the past keep you apart. By the way, are you a virgin? Because if you’re not, then you shouldn’t judge her for not being one.

    As for God creating me, I’m not sure about that. I know there’s a lot about existence I don’t understand but I’m pretty certain God is not a person and God is not concerned with the sexual choices we make. There’s right and wrong in every action we take, every decision we make. The rightness or wrongness of our actions and decisions should be measure by how they affect the people around us—in other words, how do our actions help or hurt the people we interact with.

    About the hymen, God created it probably for the same reason God created the appendix, the tonsils, or any other number of our body parts whose purpose we’re not 100% certain of.

    If there were a God, I’m sure God would be happier to see you spending the rest of your life with the woman you love, the woman who loves you instead of worrying about whether or not you can or should love her because she’s not a virgin.

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  10. i agree with every thing but let me ask u a question???
    if u had sex befor with a certin guy and now u are with another one…
    did u ever forget the first person u had sex with and i am sure in all ur life u will keep rememberring him untill u die…
    thats what stupid men think most off
    and second do u belive that GOD created u
    if u do
    then why did GOD CREAT the hymen and recently the start to hymen re-sewn that all what i can say…

    ps i am with u 50% but i am lost cause i love a not vergin women…
    (i keep thinking if i can marry her or not)

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  11. To get back to this conversation…I agree with “And So”, you are definitely right to show the flip-slide that many from the home countries are living a more sexually liberal life-style than those in the diaspora. This is certainly true in the middle to upper class Iranian context, as when I was in Iran I was surprised that despite imposed state religion, girls and guys were encouraged to go out and mingle- many holding parties that would do Studio 54 proud, with every type of drug/alcohol available. As a diasporic Iranian, I felt completely out of place with this sort of behavior. I was shocked by my own conservatism and by the wild “Sex and the City” behavior of my counterparts.

    To clarify, in the diaspora, there is stagnant, what-is-perceived-as-authentic-culture, while in the “home” countries, just like the politics, social issues are also rapidly changing reflecting a globalized society. But, as a caveat, this is reflected more among middle to upper class Iranians in the “home” country, and I’m sure this could also be said for a lot of other developing societies. Interestingly, on the flip-side, it is middle to upper class Iranians in the diaspora have this obession with virginity and policing women’s bodies.

    Marie Gillispie has done an excellent study on media culture reflected among Southall’s Asian community and she found that many 2nd generation British-Asians felt that their parents, those in the 1st generation, don’t realize that life has changed back home and that what they are doing in the diaspora doesn’t reflect how culture and social issues have changed in the “home” country.

    With regard to sexuality, this is why many diasporic Iranian gals that I have met, steer clear from the diasporic Iranian community, because you get policed and everyone seems entitled to give you their point of view from the style of clothes you wear, to your weight, to your sexuality, etc. I rarely go to Shabeh Jomeh events in LDN because it is the diasporic community, even among us 2nd generationers who police each other. I can’t walk in, bring a guy who isn’t Iranian (or who is), without getting flack from Iranian guys and gals alike.

    So, if there are any hot men from other nationalities, let’s give each other the “shag” of our life-time! x

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  12. JUSTin,

    Thank you very much for the supportive comment. 🙂

    Please feel free to browse other posts on my blog. You can use the “Search” bar in the top right to search for topics.

    Thanks again for reading my blog. I hope you continue to come back.

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  13. DEFINITELY, well written article about it. You hit every point exactly, i completely agree to your value on sex and on what we should value about it. i hope you write more articles like this, it would fulfill a lot of people out there about this topic. i couldn’t have said it better myself, well done.

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  14. And so . . .,

    I don’t mind if you get angry at all. I’ve been known to do it as well. 🙂

    I think Shagnaz’s larger point was about how sexuality is perceived in Muslim/Middle-Eastern communities in the West. I don’t have much direct knowledge of these communities so I’ll take y’all’s word for it. 🙂

    Muslim women in the West keep thier virginity and remain more ‘pious’ (!) than the ones in their home countries. Some people call it progress in the home countries, where women are at least sexually more liberal than their immigrant counterparts.”

    What an excellent point!! I’d never thought about this apparent contradiction, that women in the “home country” feel it is more liberated to explore their sexuality and experience sex while in the diaspora, virginity is still prized.

    It reminds me of what I call the Brighton Beach phenomenon. Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, NY is often called “Little Odessa” (after the Black Sea town in the former Soviet Union) because a large number of people from the Soviet Union/Russia settled there in the last century. However, friends of mine who immigrated to the US in the late ’80s/early ’90s have described Brighton Beach not as Little Odessa but as Odessa of the ’50s. Apparently, the real Odessa has moved on and changed—modernized, so to speak—while Brighton Beach, Brooklyn’s facsimile of Odessa, has remained stuck in the ’50s.

    It’s sort of the same phenomenon I think with immigrant communities that continue to idealize and “preserve” the home “culture,” even as that home culture continues to change and evolve. 🙂

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  15. Well yes, Shagnaz, that applies to a lot of immigrant men- not particularly Muslim ones – as well. They do what they like here and then go home and marry a young, pretty, possibly virgin girl. If it turns out later that she’s not a virgin or has had boyfrineds in the past, all hell breaks lose. I think we all either know or know of people like that. Some probably work it out. Others get divorced like they guy in this story.

    But just to start where you ended and prolong this conversation a bit more, here’s what I find interesting. Muslim women in the West keep thier virginity and remain more ‘pious’ (!) than the ones in their home countries. Some people call it progress in the home countries, where women are at least sexually more liberal than their immigrant counterparts. Partly, that is even true. Thigns have changed ‘back home’ – they have TV to emulate from, they are exposed to different cultures through various media – and people learn what they want to, including exploring their sexual selves. I personally find that fascinating. The other part is that in the name of Westernization, women from a lot of seeminly backward countries do things that are not truly Western, but just outrageous. They are not really liberal in their minds, but they want to do what everyone else in richer (better?) countries are doing.

    I found a girl in my class once who was alway dressed up in the tiniest of clothes. She was clearly Mid-Eastern, but I thought she was from somewhere here. But I found it weird becasue I had rarely seen girls wear such clothes in class – it’s just rare. Anyhow, it turned out she’s not from here – she was an international student. Why is it funny? Because she was far less conservative than the ones here, atleast in the clothes department (I wouldn’t be able to comment on anything else).

    Conclusion
    Closemindedness has nothing to do with where you’re from. Whether we want to explore our sexuality (or have multiple orgasms) is something that we decide. Just because there are societal rules does not mean we repress the self. It is our body. We do what we like with it. If I’m a slut because I like to have sex (or have multiple orgasms) then so be it. Why should men have all the fun. All the men who claim to have ‘saved’ themselves for marriage – I don’t believe you. No one does. If we pretend to, it’s because there’s no way to prove you otherwise. And if it’s actually true, it’s because you couldn’t. Not because you didn’t want to.

    Did I just get angry? Yes. A little bit. But Abdul, you don’t mind, do you?

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  16. Ha…I noticed something in the photo you posted that goes along with your stellar comments. It looks like the guy is covering his wife-to-be’s eyes. I hope she also closes her eyes when having sexytime as to not look at his dirty ding-dong. Middle Eastern women and Muslim women in general are taught from a very early age by both their mothers and fathers to be ashamed of their sexuality. I have never met a Muslim and/or Middle Eastern women who was comfortable with having sex or could sustain multiple orgasms. If they do engage in pre-marital sexytime, they always feel some degree of guilt which is reinforced by many Muslim/Middle Eastern men and also women regardless of education or living in the West.

    In fact, Western or Westernized Muslim men are the biggest prepetrators of requiring virginal brides– it is okay that they have shagged everything under the sun when living/working/studying in the West. When they want to get married, they look for the usually (a) the youngest girl (who can be easily controlled), and (b) a virgin.

    I can’t tell you how many times this dynamic played out in the Iranian community in my ‘hood in the U.S. Naturally, once these sorry losers got their hand-picked-by-mom-&-dad wife, these women rebelled having had enough of waiting on them hand and foot, divorced these men and started dating white guys. These women may had had an eye on acquiring U.S. citizenship, but can you blame them? This was Iran in the late 80’s and early 90’s and after the end of the Iraq-Iran war, no one wanted to stay. But, they were also being used by these useless a-holes to satisfy their dreams of a virginal and subserevant wife.

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  17. nice!,

    I was being tongue-in-cheek when I mentioned the base of comparison thing being a small part of the motivation. I think psychological processes are always operating in the background of any human interation, especially in the case of sexual relations.

    Your observations about ego and power-plays are right on, I think. All human relations—whether we want to admit it or not—are structured by power and often, social “norms” or pressure follow the same rules. So you’re absolutely right. I think the virginity argument is a way to control and constrain women’s behavior.

    And your point about some men choosing a non-virginal mate so they can always hold her non-virginity over her head is a good one, and one that had never occured to me before. Right there, that says a lot about these men. And I agree, if a marriage begins to function on the “I’m-better-than-you-because-you-had-sex-before-marriage” logic, it ceases to be a marriage and becomes something else.

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  18. Hahaha I agree but I don’t think it’s a small part of the motivation. I personally thinks it’s a combination of 1)ego and 2)power-play. The men are probably unsure of their own abilities and feel more in control and better about themselves when the wife has no measuring stick, thus rending the husband ‘the best’ she ever had. People talk about social pressure etc al, but in this day and age, who cares about other people’s wives and their virginity? Unless they’re eyeing them in a way they shouldn’t be.

    On the other hand, I think some men are perverse in their selection, choosing a mate who has had sex before marriage only to make her feel less about herself, thus, again, rending himself the ‘better one’. It gives them the right to be controlling, demanding, and gives them an upper hand in any argument (because all arguments are bound to end up with this issue). But then, that’s not a marriage anymore is it? It’s a flee market.

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  19. nice!

    Thanks for reading my blog. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for your comment.

    I agree with you that it’s ridiculous that so many men in so many cultures—“modern” Western societies included—look askance at women who choose to experience sex whenever and with whomever they please. I’m sure some small part of the motivation stems from the fact that some of these men prefer “inexperienced” women because there’s a smaller base of comparison. 🙂

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  20. Hey! Great piece! I completely agree, there’s more to a woman than her virginity. That’s no surprise, I’m sure but what is surprising is that a lot of people, educated or otherwise, are completely in disagreement with this notion. Sex is termed disgusting, enjoying it makes you a whore if you’re a woman, and if you don’t bleed, you’re not a good wife. Makes my blood boil!

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