This one is for the women who were ‘deflowered’. For the women who scrubbed so hard to feel better, who felt resentment for days, weeks and months.
This is for the women who believe they lost a vital part of themselves, having sex. To the girl out there, whose back was forced on a table, her legs spread open and a finger or two forced into her, to ‘test for virginity’.
This is to the society that expects purity from women; a society that expects women to bleed upon first penetration and if they don’t, this society brands them as wild. This is the society still using words like “deflower” and “disvirgin”.
Purity culture is a social construct that restricts women from exploring their sexuality and everything in between. It’s a system that dictates to women how and when to use their bodies and is most common in conservative religious homes and societies like ours, Nigeria.
Growing up, it is drummed into women’s minds that their “virginity” was the best gift to offer their husbands on their wedding night; sealed, packaged, wrapped with fine red ribbons.
Older people treated sex as an impure thing to do. Growing up, it was common to hear “Don’t let a man touch you or you’d get pregnant”. Women were lied to that the surest way of gaining marital respect was remaining virgins till marriage. This idea was reinforced by the preachers and the teachers; the idea that women who do not marry as virgins were less deserving of respect and marital bliss.
We were groomed to be pure.
Born to religious Nigerian parents, Stella grew up hearing her mom say she’d go to hell if she ever had sex and got pregnant. She couldn’t understand why something as natural and felt so good should be avoided. In her words, “It’s hard to understand why something that makes your body feel so good is considered sinful”.
“Before Ed* and I had our first sex, we only used to kiss, touch ourselves with our clothes either on or off and generally, make out. When he gave me my first orgasm, I was only 17 and I felt like a dirty slut right after. I felt like I had let my parents and God down and that I’d go to hell. Regardless, I still went back each time,” Stella says. “When we finally had sex, I remember feeling down and the shame was back again. I felt I had just committed the ultimate original sin. I had lost my virginity. I had lost my value.”
Many women have felt this way – like they have lost a vital part of themselves giving in to their sexual desires. This has resulted in feeling shame and guilt and dirt for oneself. For many women, the bathroom is a sanctuary, a safe place where they could scrub the impurity away.
This notion has caused a great deal of hurt for many women, mentally, emotionally and even physically. They are told to dress modestly and blamed for the sexual immorality of men. They are encouraged to avoid conversations surrounding sex and sexual desires. Many women have been shamed and harassed for harmless sexual practices within and outside the confines of marriage.
Purity culture is so deeply rooted in us, that despite having sex within your marriage, you still feel guilty. You still feel dirty and revolt for yourself.
Adaeze* Age n/a
Adaeze recalls her wedding night, her voice broken as she told me of sex for the first time and the ones after that. She was a virgin until marriage. A day after her wedding, sex happened.
Rather than the exciting feeling that supposedly follows having legal and marital sex, Adaeze remembers feeling so bad as she had lost something she had long protected. She wished she could bring it back. It took several weeks of unlearning and therapy to enjoy sex without feeling like a part of her was missing.
In some cultures and countries where purity culture is obsessively practised, many women have lost and still lose their lives and chances of marriage for engaging in premarital sex.
Purity culture has women being compared to flowers that wither, hence using words like deflower and perforated when talking about women’s virginity, implying that they have lost their worth.
In a recent viral tweet by a Twitter user @SmileDawah, she shared a photo that says women shouldn’t enter their matrimonial homes perforated, disregarding the fact that many were victims of sexual abuse, some were born without hymens and others probably lost their hymen engaging in strenuous activities. It is rather unfortunate that a society like ours attaches a woman’s value to the hymen.
This one is to women who have broken free of this culture. To those struggling to break free. To women who have sacrificed their lives to help other women break free. To the systems being put in place to help achieve this. To all women, you’re beautiful.
*names have been changed.