Why women should hoe their wild oats
Lake Bunyonyi in southwestern Uganda is an idyllic spot. The lake meanders around 29 islands, where residents travel in canoes. One of the flattest in this lush cluster is Akampene Island (Punishment Island). There, our tour guide points out, is where unmarried, pregnant daughters would be abandoned to die of starvation. He directs us to a small patch in the distance housing a single tree, which already looks partly submerged in water. Lake Bunyonyi is believed to be the second-deepest lake in the world and most residents cannot swim.
This form of punishment, apparently, was still practised less than 100 years ago. One rescued woman lives in the community. I want to believe this is folklore, told to discourage girls from sexual intercourse. Would a young woman, knowing she was being transported to certain death, not have fought, likely capsizing the canoe?
Maybe this is one of those tales embellished by colonialists to prove the “savagery” of Africans?
There are strong markings of Christianity in Bunyonyi, prevalent in the culture and the prominent positioning of the only building that seems to benefit from painting and maintenance – the Catholic church.
My incredulity aside, the facts are that from ancient times to modern societies in many parts of the world, there is a fixation with women’s sexual purity.
The Bible talks of the stoning to death of a woman who is sexually active outside of marriage. This is reported to have happened to one Afghan woman last year because she had an affair. Her lover, on the other hand, got a lashing.
In South Africa, in Durban at least, authorities will not kill girls, but they have decided to threaten them by taking away the most important element in a young woman’s life – education. The Times reports that the Maidens Bursary, awarded by the uThukela District Municipality, has 16 university bursaries for girls who remain virgins. They must submit to virginity tests every holiday and if they fail, the bursary is rescinded.
The world is obsessed with a girl’s virginity and has decided female purity can only exist within two categories: chaste or promiscuous.
It’s the fetishising and the power-mongering, where everyone – from your teachers and parents to friends and boys you meet – feels they have a stake, even as you enter womanhood. It hurts and it is destructive.
It reminds me of the response I got from a guy who had been courting me for years. Having found out that I had already had sex for the first time – not with him – he made this stinging remark: “He probably did it to you on the floor in Hillbrow.”
He was bitter because it had not been with him. So now I could only fit into his “loose woman” box. After years of his creepy courting, he abruptly stopped.
It is not just the misogyny – but the myths too – that is profoundly disturbing. Virginity is a nebulous concept.
Does a lesbian remain a virgin if her first experience is not penetrative? And what about cases of rape?
Research is showing that the hymen, which teachers have been lording over teenage girls for years, implying it is a gateway to promiscuity, is misunderstood.
It is not a seal to your purity; it does not pop or break. It is just a stretchy membrane which, most of the time, is hardly intact because it has been wearing away since childbirth. This makes the idea of virginity tests ludicrous.
I cannot think of a better time for a young woman to have fun and explore sex than when she is at university. Instead, many of us go into this stage with the cloud of a few legitimate fears (STIs and pregnancy), and many more made-up ones, based on how we will be perceived. So we look at every man we encounter as a predator wanting to steal some imaginary treasure from us, and we dole out sex like a prize.
“Fact; you need to hoe your wild oats in your 20s,” opined media commentator Janine Jellars in a tweet in November last year. That sage advice has come too late for me, but I am passing on the message to all the young women I know and love in my life.
Why do you think double standards still exist when it comes to female sexuality?
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