October 31, 2015 by Kambili M.A. Chimalu
Recently, a lady presenting a certificate of her purity (signed by a doctor) to her father on her wedding day made major headlines. I could not comprehend the fuckery, so I was left with a lot of questions: how did this thought even originate; where is the man’s certificate of purity; why would a doctor even put his/her name on this? I definitely respect the woman’s decision to abstain from sex until her wedding day, but her presentation of a “purity” certificate made me uncomfortable. I had to discuss this with someone, so I called up a guy-friend. I was talking with him when he authoritatively announced that he would never marry a lady who is not a virgin. I was taken aback by the force of his utterance, so after I gathered myself, I simply asked, “You, are you a virgin?”
I already knew the answer to that question because the guy has a leaky mouth, but I wanted him to verbalize his answer nonetheless. He acknowledged that he was not a virgin, but felt his promiscuity could be excused because he is male. You see, according to him, men have the luxury of being promiscuous, but women do not get that privilege.
This is not that surprising or uncommon because that is a belief that a lot of people in Nigeria hold. This view gets so entrenched in society so much so that one often hears women say, “men are polygamous in nature.” With this view being widely accepted, some men take it as carte blanche to indulge their excesses, while ironically expecting all women to remain pure. Some claim they cannot survive by eating just Ogbono soup. They also want Egusi, Onugbu, Edikaikong, Ewedu, and all the other soups out there. My question to people that repeat that men are programmed to cheat mantra is always whether they think women become blind once they get married. They see Mr. Six Pack giving them the once over and clearly displaying interest, but most women remember their vow to be faithful and refrain from such acts, so why can’t men be expected to exercise that same degree of self-control. Anywhoo, I digress.
I am becoming increasingly fascinated with the reverent status that virginity enjoys and the scorn with which any display of female sexuality is viewed in our society. In the olden days, new brides were welcomed into womanhood with white handkerchiefs placed on the bed to collect evidence of their purity. The virgin whose blood stained the white cloth was regarded with awe, while the whore who failed was scorned. The problem with this virgin/whore complex is the many dangerous risks it carries.
For starters, it dehumanizes women and correlates their worth to their vagina. If you are not a virgin, then you are damaged goods, tokunbo, okirika, etc. What happens to a girl that loses her virginity as a result of extreme sports or other causes? Will her value still be based on how intact her hymen is? Will her husband feel slighted at not being the one to “disvirgin” her? This degradation permeates the consciousness in such a way that people don’t realize when they futher dehumanize women. When news went around that a young girl had been raped in my neighborhood, someone commented, “so, she is no longer a virgin eh.” The concern was not for the young girl and the immense trauma she had endured, but for the virginity she was supposed to have offered to her husband.
Another danger of this virginity worship is that it leaves vulnerable young girls susceptible to all manner of sexually transmitted diseases as a result of society’s unwillingness to move past the “you-are-either-a-virgin-or-a-whore” dialogue. The mantra is always “close your legs,” but that has never worked. As a result of this expectation that one is either a virgin or a whore, the schools do not teach comprehensive sex-education and parents rarely want to have that conversation with their children. In the church secondary school I attended, the one time anyone mentioned anything about “family planning methods” was in my S.S. 1 Economics class. The teacher could hardly get the words out of his mouth and we simply ended up skipping that section. I could ascribe his unwillingness to discuss sex with us to him being an elderly man in a class filled with teenage girls. However, what excuse do parents have? I never had the bird and bees talk with my parents because virginity was the requirement. I guess it is too late to have that talk now because I am a grown woman. The result is that young women have unsafe sex and either contract serious infections or end up pregnant. When they get pregnant, they are further punished and demonized by society because evidence of their “whorish” nature is clear for all to see.
It is this near deification of the vagina (virginity/hymen) that led Gov. Oshiomhole to declare that he met his wife a virgin: “I can boldly tell all of you that I was a very principled man during my first marriage, I didn’t succumb to the worldly pleasures of this lustful environment, even though I had lots of opportunities. And it was this principled sobriety that made me fish for a virgin wife.” Aside from the fact that we did not need to hear this information from the governor, he effectively reduced his wife to just her hymen when he made that information public. According to Oshiomhole, he “fished” for a virgin wife because he behaved in the way our society should expect all men to behave; respecting their marriage vows even given opportunities to cheat. In effect, he sees his wife’s virginity as some sort of gift/reward for being a decent husband.
Some women love sex and they deserve the freedom to not be treated as whores whenever they dare explore their sexuality. The emphasis that is placed on a woman’s virginity should be rethought because it serves neither women nor men in any way.
This is not to say that those who keep their virginity for marriage should be looked down upon. It takes great self-control to stick to one’s convictions and that is commendable. If you are a virgin, that is great. If you are not a virgin, that is also great. The virgin/whore complex is a relic of a puritan age and should be left where it belongs.