Virginity is a sacred aspect when it comes to marriage in Egypt - or is it? Mariam Raymone interviews men with different backgrounds to understand what they think of women who lose their virginity before marriage.
Of the unfortunate undeniable truths of Egyptian society and our general commonwealth is gender inequality. It is one of the simple infallibilities of our Egyptian existence. The Woman is second to the Man. That’s on a good day in urban domesticated Cairo; elsewhere the woman might find herself even further down that list. The Egyptian woman can be whittled down to nothing more than a prized possession and the responsibility of the current man she is attached to, and what better way to cement that fact than a visit to our marriage institution.
In wedding traditions around the world the father naturally walks his beloved daughter down the aisle towards her formalised husband-to-be and hands her to him as if to transfer ownership, a gesture the whole world has deemed exclusively a respectful nod to rituality because, of course, a woman is not a good to be traded. Egypt didn’t get the memo; we are a very literal people. This epidemic, as it is nothing short of one, goes so far as to even set standards of quality on women as is done with goods. Herein enters the Egyptian obsession with female virginity. It's no surprise Egyptian men prefer marrying virgins. Women have been objectified to the point where if certain physical features are no longer met, the product is deemed depreciated and unusable. The existence of a woman's intact hymen is Egypt's version of quality control.
But what is particularly troublesome is the double standard; people often associate virginity with purity for a woman, partaking in pre-marital sexual relations is extremely shameful and condemned, whereas for a man, it might even gain him praise for experience from his peers. It is conditioned and programmed into most young Egyptian men's minds that a girl’s virginity is of utmost importance. In a culture of double standards, a man's actions will not be as severely judged as a woman's. Curious to understand how the minds of young Egyptian men operate, I interviewed a few from different social backgrounds about what they think of women who’ve had premarital sex. Lust or love - does it make a difference? Here’s what they said…
Mohamed Salah, 20, Student at Ain Shams University
A girl’s virginity is hers and I cannot control it; of course it’s her decision, but it’s not okay because our society doesn’t allow such a thing. If the girl I were with confessed that she had sex before me, my idea of her and our relationship would completely shift. However, if I really love her then I would discuss the issue with her. I would ask when it happened, if we were together at the time or not, but I can’t say that it would be okay for me; the relationship would slightly change.
If she did it out of lust then I would not tolerate it; if it were out of love, we could have a conversation about it but the chances of staying with her would be slim. Also, if she’s a person who’s done it many times before with several guys, then I will not accept it at all. It makes a huge difference in the decision-making if people know about it or not. If it was out love then there would be a discussion, but if it was lust then where’s the self-control?
Hypothetically, if my son came to me and said he did that, I would just yell like a mad man. After calming myself down I would probably talk to him, understand why and with whom, and just discuss the situation with him. If my daughter told me she did that, momken temoot feh eedi at the time. I don’t know; it’s difficult to imagine this situation. I will not be put in the situation, though, because I would’ve been the one who raised her.
Ahmed Youssef, 21, Student at Cairo University
A girl’s virginity is hers, bas di fedee7a. Gender matters; a guy has to try to control himself, but for a girl it is simply unacceptable. It’s not a personal matter, it’s a matter of morals; each person has his own mentality and background, but still - it’s a matter of what’s right or wrong. If I were with a girl and she confessed that she did this before, I don’t know how I would react. If she understands that this is wrong, then God forgives and I will forgive her as well, as long as she feels guilty about what she’s done. It would make a difference if others know; people will mock, lose respect, and speak badly of her. If it’s just us, there would be less problems and people to deal with, and I would be more sympathetic. It’s still not okay, but it would be better if she did it out of love. The devil is sly and plays tricks on the mind, but if you fall for his tricks then you have a weak personality. I would appreciate her honesty in telling me, but how do I know she won’t do this again?
In a hypothetical sense, if my son one day confessed to doing this I would be furious, but I would have to calm myself down and talk to him. Everyone sins. However, if it were my daughter, I would go straight to the man and make him marry her; lazem nelem el mawdoo3 3alatool.
Omar Bahaa, 26, Advertising Executive
A girl's virginity is up to her, as with any other body part - the hymen is no different. It's only after religion and patriarchal dominance took their historical course that the notion of preserving virginity came to be - a conviction that leads to chronically ignorant traditions and norms that pose dangers to women on a psychological and physical level, especially when they are attached to the evaluation of a woman's purity and sanctity. It's insane to even correlate a physical disposition to the morality and ethics of a person. Mere horseback-riding or a bicycle accident can take the "virginity" of a woman... what if she was a religious saint? According to virginity-obsessed people, her righteousness is now questionable.
If God has created us virgins but with the natural tendencies of sexual desires and intimacy, then it would be cruel and harsh to condemn us when we follow our instincts... especially when God glorifies love and reproduction. When it comes to marriage, love is definitely the most important factor - otherwise it's a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, with primitive traditions still holding a strong grasp on our cultural norms, if a woman is not a virgin before or upon getting married, she is liable to condemnation and even public stoning in some parts of the world! How ridiculous, that a woman who was born without a hymen would get killed soon after her supposed happiest moment of her life. Absurdly cruel to say the least.
If she had sex out of lust, I would still attribute that to a human instinct, although a shallow one. But being the humans that we are, we are bound to make mistakes or hasty decisions without proper reflection. I would just like to clarify that it is way more valuable and satisfying to partake in the act of sex with a person you truly love rather than getting a temporary orgasm that doesn't embody a genuine connection. I wouldn't hold it against her, but I would prefer that she makes a conscious choice that reflects her true feelings and beliefs. Regarding men, the same exact principles apply.
In a hypothetical sense, if my kids were to one day tell me they did this, then I would assess the situation accordingly and give them my lowdown. I don't believe in negative re-enforcement because kids will always end up doing what they want anyway if they truly believed they should do it. It is more important to build a close relationship of genuinely friendly advice - that is, when they will listen - when they feel safe to reveal their darkest secrets without an impending tsunami of backlash.
It’s no secret that people prefer doing things under the table; as long as people don’t know about it, then it’s okay. Am I right? Most girls have already lost their virginity, you just don’t know about it; no one would go around broadcasting it. A girl’s virginity is up to her and, at the end of the day, it’s something private. A woman's choice on her virginity is the epitome of private decisions and should not in any way be a measurement tool. It shouldn’t define what kind of person she is. Whether it was out of lust or love (or by some other freakish accident), it happened; one shouldn’t be defined or judged by such a shallow attribute.
Whether a man or woman, gender shouldn’t matter. I believe sex is a very natural thing, and to break the barrier and have premarital sex in Egypt would be brave. Culture and faith are both linked and, in our country, religion has a huge role in our society. However, such an act does not define a person’s self-worth. It does not define their morality. It does not define whether they are “good or bad”. It does not define anything; it is merely an extra piece of information. So don’t judge others and just accept them; open up your mind to new ideas. Being open-minded is not about drinking or smoking up or any of that, it’s about accepting others for who they are and accepting their mentalities.
*In order to protect the interviewees’ privacy, some names have been changed.