Friday, October 07, 2005

How Different Cultures Handle Losing Their Virginity

Virginity has become an obsolete concept in modern Western society, allowing young women to experiment with their sexuality while their male counterparts are doing the same. This actually results in a healthier more well-adjusted sexual identity later in life. However, virginity has not totally left the modern scene. Many cultures are still upholding the value of virginity or pre-marital chastity, mainly on the basis of predominant religious concepts.

The most popular advocate of virginity is the Catholic Church. Its most obvious validation for this stand is the teaching that all young girls are the Virgin Mary's daughters. As such, and having presented Mary as the most pristine and chaste of all women, young Catholic girls are therefore forced to follow her lead throughout their lives. Of course, sex is not prohibited once the woman has entered into the sacrament of marriage. However, while married women are viewed with respect and approval, women who remain virgins all their lives are considered as consecrated. Thus, the latter still achieves a higher status in the Catholic community. Aside from using the Virgin Mary, the Catholic Church has also employed countless symbolisms in order to justify the importance of virginity. Canonizing St. Maria Goretti, who died while trying to fight off a rapist, presents such a symbolism.

While the Catholic Church in ancient times did impose cruel punishments on women who become unchaste out of wedlock, modern ideologies have already diminished such harmful practices. However, while Catholic girls may have been spared such pain and humiliation, those from other cultures have to contend with much graver consequences. One such culture is present in Hindu countries. Chastity is a crucial virtue for all Hindu women, not only before they get married, but also after the latter's termination, usually upon the husband's death. Thus, if the husband dies, the widow, who is no longer a virgin, is not suited to wed someone else. Furthermore, her existence becomes not only superfluous, but abhorrent as well. Thus, the ancient practice called Sati was performed. This custom usually prescribes that during the husband's cremation, the wife shall fling herself into the flames. In so doing, she cements her faith and honor as a wife. A modified version of such practice is called
the Jauhar or Jouhar. This custom is performed on a larger scale, likewise prescribing that the wives kill themselves, but this time, with their husband's imminent death in mind.

These heinous practices are now outlawed in India, but some fundamentalists still press for a reversion to these traditions. Nevertheless, premarital chastity is still a highly treasured virtue in Hinduism today. The same statement holds true for Islamic cultures. Muslim brides must remain chaste until the night of their wedding. According to Islamic teachings, Allah created the hymen because it serves the function of determining the validity of intercourse, in which women may engage after marriage. The hymen is present in order to make it clear to women that sexual relations outside the marriage bond are perversions of a holy act and are considered unclean. Islam prizes the body's cleanliness above most things, and should, thus, be protected and upheld.

Unlike the modern Western culture, those discussed above maintain the importance of virginity before marriage. However, the decision of whether or not virginity is important depends essentially on personal choice. After all, a woman must be free to choose, without fear or coercion, what she can or cannot do to her own body.

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