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Like a virgin?

November 22nd, 2005

Dr Petra

In much of the Western world when it comes to sex it’s pretty much expected that people won’t be virgins when they marry. Whilst some ethnic or religious communities within the West expect women (and less often men) to be a virgin when they wed, overall it’s assumed most people won’t be virgins and that’s okay.

In fact in many communities in the West not only is it seen as normal or desirable to have sexual experiences before marriage, it’s also acceptable to have sex with more than one person before you get hitched, and if you don’t want to wed then that’s fine too.

This view can sometimes lead to problems, particularly in the media since this view of sex is seen as globally universal.

Which is why there’s a big ol’ ruck going on in Chennai after Bollywood star Khushboo happened to remark that it was fine to have sex before marriage so long as you used protection. Her remarks have offended many Tamils and even caused arguments between political parties (some of whom have attacked Khushboo).

Indian media coverage of this incident has picked up on the idea that many young people are no longer virgins when they marry, and that some parents even accept their children may have sexual experiences prior to settling down with a partner.

But it’s still a sensitive issue that is difficult to find a clear answer to. Whilst one doesn’t want to upset those whose religious views specify no sex before marriage, evidence does suggest sexual knowledge (if not experience) can help couples enjoy sex when they marry. Unfortunately for many groups there’s a desire to limit access to sex education as well as sexual encounters.

Whilst Khushboo may not intentionally chosen this brave stance, her statement has led to wider public debates on sex – including sexual health. This is important given the rising problems around HIV in India and its neighbours.

Hopefully rather than this continuing as a moral attack on an actress, this story can lead to some productive discussions that allow those with strong views about virginity to still get sex education, and those who have premarital sex to avoid negative repercussions, exclusion, or punishment.

The challenge is for Chennai and similar countries to maintain traditional values but understand in a modern society open discussion of issues like sex before marriage can no longer be avoided. And for those in the West, particularly the Western media, to appreciate that for some people in some countries even discussing sex before marriage can be downright dangerous.

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