Virginity

Virginity, especially in unmarried girls, is of at least some concern in most cultures around the world. Of a cross-cultural sample of 134 societies, only 25% place no value at all on virginity (Broude, 1975). Among the Marshallese of Oceania, every girl is sexually active before puberty and virginity is a foreign idea (Erdland, 1914). The Chuckchee of Siberia have no word for chastity (Bogoras, 1929). By contrast, in 35% of the sample of 134 societies, virginity is very important, at least for girls, and in 75% of these cultures, virginity is required in unmarried females (Broude, 1975).

Where virginity is required, a girl must often prove that she was a virgin on her wedding night. Such tests of virginity require that a newly married couple produce a blood-stained article of bedding or clothing. Among the Fon of West Africa, the groom sends his new father-in-law the mat on which the couple have slept on their wedding night. If the girl is not a virgin, the couple may have kept the bedding on which they first slept, and it is that which the girl's father receives (Herskovits, 1938). In Afghanistan, Basseri newlyweds sleep in a tent with nothing in it but the bride's bedding and a white cloth. Once the marriage is consummated, a male relative of the new husband fires a gun and the women living in camp respond by making a trilling sound. The next morning, the groom's family checks for signs of blood on the white cloth (Barth, 1961).

In cultures where virginity is valued, a celebration may follow proofs of a new bride's virginity. Among the Fur of the Sudan, if a bride was a virgin, her new husband honors her with a feast (Beaton, 1948). In Oceania, the Tikopian husband of a virgin bride wears a white flower in his hair. In the past, he would have smeared blood on his forehead instead (Firth, 1936).

Where a culture values virginity in the unmarried, attempts are made to increase the likelihood that young people will not engage in sexual activities. The Silwa of Egypt adopt the extreme measure of removing the girl's clitoris when she is 7 or 8 years old, reasoning that this will reduce her sex drive (Frayzer, 1985). Other societies practice infibulation, a procedure that temporarily closes the vaginal opening. In some places, girls are accompanied by older women whenever they are likely to find themselves in the company of the opposite sex. Sometimes, the sexes are segregated to minimize the opportunities for sexual experimentation.

In cultures for which virginity is important, a girl or her family may pay a price if she is not a virgin at marriage. In some societies, the groom or his family traditionally present money or property to the bride or her family upon their marriage. Where virginity in a bride is expected or required, the value of the gifts may be less, or they may be forfeited altogether, if the girl is not a virgin. Sometimes, a marriage is called off if the bride cannot prove her virginity. If the bride or her family have presented gifts to the groom or his family, then the gifts may be kept even though no marriage takes place. In extreme cases, the bride may be killed. At a minimum, the bride and groom may be humiliated.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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