Testing a bride for virginity is a part of the culture of many tribes in The Gambia. This test usually involves checking whether the bride bleeds when she has sexual intercourse with her husband for the first time.[1] If she bleeds, she is deemed to be a virgin but if she does not bleed she is deemed to have engaged in pre-marital sex.

Women who pass the virginity test are regarded as “good women” who are “pure “and “worthy” of love and respect from their husbands and society at large. They are ‘celebrated’ and praised by family members and showered with gifts by the husband. On the other hand, society views women that do not pass the virginity test as immoral, promiscuous and “unworthy” of love and respect from their husbands and his family. Such women are scorned, humiliated and ridiculed by their own families for bringing ‘shame and dishonour’ on them.

This so called virginity test is faulty and discriminatory in many ways. In this article I will discuss how checking if women bleed when they have sexual intercourse for the first time is an inaccurate means of testing for virginity. I will also discuss how testing a woman for virginity is double standard, objectifies the female body, and promotes sexual inequality between the sexes.

The hymen is a membrane covering the opening of the vagina which leaves an opening for blood flow during menstruation. [2] There are different types of hymens; some may require surgical procedure to open the hymen.[3] It is very important to note that not all females are born with hymens.[4] The hymen can be broken by some other means not involving sexual intercourse e.g. riding a bicycle, falling etc[5]

There are several reasons why a woman may or may not bleed during sexual intercourse. A woman with a complete hymen can bleed when an erected penis penetrates the vagina[6].

Whether a woman bleeds during sexual intercourse or not is not an indication that it is her first sexual intercourse[7]. This is because women with complete hymens may not bleed when they have sexual intercourse for the first time due to stress or that the hymen wore out or they just don’t[8]. A woman who has never had sexual intercourse before may not bleed during sexual intercourse because her hymen may have broken through some other means.[9]

Women who had sexual intercourse before may bleed during sexual intercourse due to various reasons such as infection, dryness of the vagina, etc.[10] Thus, it is very important to note that there is no way to scientifically test women for virginity .Sex is different things to different people; for some people sex may not even involve penetration of the penis in to the vagina[11]. Thus virginity is a social construct, designed to control how and when women express their sexuality.

The issue however, is not how faulty the so called “virginity test” is. The issues are the fact that the test is done on women (in the first place), as a means of measuring the worth of a woman.

This is a double standard that society is so comfortable with. The groom is never tested for virginity (some will argue that a man cannot be tested for virginity that is why but neither can women). A man is never questioned for chastity or virginity. However girls are often advised to abstain from sexual intercourse until they get married so that their husbands can respect them, but boys are never advised to remain virgins so that their wives can respect them.

Women are asked to save their “vaginas” to earn their husbands’ respects but what part of the men’s body do they have to save to earn their wives respect? Men are viewed as being born deserving of respect from their wives regardless of how many sexual encounters they have had before marriage, while women need to stay “pure” and “untouched” for their husbands-to-be, so that they may be declared worthy.

This is very problematic because women are treated as “gifts” untouched and wrapped up for their husbands. From birth, women are prepared for one night, and that night determines who they are in the eyes of the society. What a woman has achieved or how far she has gone in her career is really not important, what really matters is whether she was a virgin upon marriage

Virginity test is another form of sexual objectification of the female body, because it equates the worth of a woman to her sexual function.[12]Women who bleed in their first sexual intercourse are worthy. Thus, being “pure” and “untouched” is where they get their worth from. This proves that the female body is a means of acquiring respect from her husband and the society at large. This so called virginity test portrays the female body as an object of sexual satisfaction only for the man that married her and as a result she should be untouched until a man marries her.

This is very problematic because it infers sexual inequality between men and women. The sexual desires of women are to be locked away only to be unlocked by marriage, while the same is not required of men. This so called test infers that women need permission from others regarding their own bodies. This test views the female body as a tool for male satisfaction and ignores women as sexual beings.

Conclusion

Scientifically there is no way to test women for virginity. Sex takes different form for different people; it may not necessarily involved penetration of the penis in to the vagina.

Virginity is a social construct geared towards controlling women, how they express their sexuality and with who. The practice needs to stop. It objectifies the female body, infers sexual inequality between the sexes, and represents a brooder societal problem which has a different standard for women regarding how they behave sexually. Society applauds men who have numerous sexual encounters while women are branded as ‘sluts’ and are shamed for not being “virgins” or having a child before marriage.

[1] In this article sexual intercourse refers to the penetration of the penis in to the vagina.

[6] Available at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/teens/sex/virginity last visited 4th December, 2017.

[7] As above

[8] Available at https://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/977.aspx?CategoryID=118&SubCategoryID=121 last visited 4th December, 2017.

[9] As above

[10] As Above

[11] Available at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/teens/sex/virginity last visited 4th December, 2017.

[12]Available at https://books.apa.org/education/ce/sexual-objectification.pdf last visited 4th December, 2017.

7 Comments on “Virginity Testing in the Gambia

  1. As humans we have our conscience. And our self worth which we shouldn’t let no other person determine but ourselves. Be it virgins or not. Male or female. Own who you are regardless, and anyone who accepts you as such is deserving of you. Don’t stay untouched or chaste for no other person but yourself. If you want to. But if you don’t, remember, own it and don’t fake it.
    If we wanna change this myth, ler it begin from ourselves

    Like

  2. It’s just sad that this concept is still widely observed. Even amongst our colleagues who should help us put a stop to it. When you sound your opinion they will be like ‘Hana yow olu wulo sah bopa’. Look this thing is simple, if you want to keep your virginity, keep it because you want to. It’s a matter of choice, never do it for the society because it’s the same society that might judge you one day. If it is not because of vignity, it might be something else you think you have control over. It might be hard to convince our parents that this concept is wrong, but again nothing is impossible and let’s not fight for it for our own benefit but for generations to come. I’m glad that men are taking a bold step to stop this, to a point of taking their wife’s to hotels. Keep it up, we can’t fight this fight alone. Great piece!😍

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The family, society and ultimately the whole of mankind is treated by Islam on an ethical basis. Differentiation in gender is neither a credit nor a drawback to either of the genders. What makes one to be so valuable and worthy on the side of Allah is not this so called virginity test but the one who has God consciousness.

    It should stop and it isn’t the right tool to employ as a benchmark for a good worthy woman or unworthy woman.

    I am of the view that, the practice should stop but nonetheless
    We the young men and women should all control our chastity.
    In fact the Qur’an first told the male to guard his chastity before the woman.
    In surah Noor 24 verse 30.
    It happened to my friend when he was getting married. He had to play a game because everyone was sitting and waiting for news.
    He had to wonjo the white cloth. It’s indeed serious.

    Like

  4. This is an outstanding paper highlighting a very important cultural biase against the female based on a practice that is unreliable and potentially degrading and humiliating to the victim.
    While being chaste is not be be seen as outdated and discouraged, it should be more about the individual and their self worth and less about public singling out of girls for ritual humiliation whatever the outcome. I hope that it will open up conversations between mothers and daughters that will see an end to this practice while encouraging girls to take full ownership and control of their bodies.
    Well done Mam for a thoughtful and well researched blog. Keep it up.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This sort of double standard exists in most cultures on some level, where females are held to a higher standard than males. Wherever these ideals are found, they are blatantly discriminatory should be stopped. I’m looking froward to a day when everyone, regardless of gender, is allowed to reach their full potential through education and equal opportunity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am looking froward to that day too. We must continue to have conversations on injustices and discriminatory cultural practices in our communities and around the world. We must continue to advocate for access to quality education and opportunity for all women and girls.

      We have a lot of work to do and a long way to go. But fact that we are having conversations on such issues is a step towards ( or contributing on some level) a world were women and girls can realise and harness their full potential.

      Like

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