I met Naomi when her wedding was two weeks away. She comes from a deeply religious family. Sex before marriage is highly prohibited. Her family expected that she would marry a religious man and that the man would similarly be a virgin. For the first 20 years of her life, Naomi avoided sex. She is now 27.
“It is considered sinful,” she said. Her family took great interest in monitoring her behaviour and always reminded her of the sanctity of her virginity.
“Despite being godly, your virginity is your weapon to wining a man of your dreams, guard it jealously,” her mother would say.
At the age of 21, Naomi joined the university. For the first time, she was on her own. Her peers came from diverse backgrounds. Their lifestyles were different and she always felt lost or left out. At some point, she thought she was abnormal by avoiding intimate relationships.
“All my friends had boyfriends and I felt it was time to have one,” she says. Initially, she agreed with her boyfriend to keep off sex but as they grew closer, the temptation was overpowering.
“I prayed to be delivered from the temptation in vain. We ended up having sex several times,” she says. “I have no regrets. I loved the guy,” she concludes. Their relationship ended when they graduated.
Naomi later met a new man who she was to marry in two weeks. He was also from a strict religious family and they agreed not to have sex till after the wedding. Marriage negotiations had been going on between the two families and a wedding date had been set.
During marriage negotiations, Naomi’s mum openly told the man’s family that her daughter was a virgin and that they could check the bedding for proof on their first night together. Blood from a broken hymen was expected. The man’s family was excited at this news and an auntie to the man had been appointed to check the bedding.
Naomi was in my office desperate for help.
“Doctor, I need a solution. I have been told that it is possible to do a surgery to repair the broken hymen,” she said, hope radiating on her face. She had been researching on this topic and she found that some women have had their virginity recreated.
But medically this was an ethical dilemma. Interfering with the natural anatomy of the vagina for social reasons was akin to female genital mutilation which is not only unethical but also illegal. At the same time, I was cognisant of my duty of safeguarding the health of my patient, health which includes the social and psychological well-being as well.
I asked Naomi if she had asked the man about his own virginity in the first place. How much did she know of the man’s sexual past? When they met did he indicate he was looking for a virgin? Would his feelings change if Naomi was not a virgin?
“Doctor I don’t know,” Naomi replied,
“You may want to find out if your man is going to be having sex for the first time on his wedding night,” I told Naomi, not sure how to handle my dilemma of the situation. I proposed premarital sex counselling to tackle this issue.
The lovebirds were in my office the next day for counselling. I started from the basics, discussing the act of being intimate with the assumption that the man had no idea about how to have sex. But I was wrong, the man was very knowledgeable. I enquired about his experience.
“There is one secret I have always wanted to share with her but I have always feared she would leave me,” he said, “the devil tempted me when I was in campus and I made a girl pregnant.”
“I can’t believe this!” Naomi blurted out. Suddenly Naomi broke down.
“So sorry for this,” the man said.
“I am also not a virgin,” Naomi whispered, “Do you still love me?” There was a long silence. None of them was looking at me anymore. None of them was talking. Then suddenly the man blurted out;
“I love you, do you forgive me?” the man asked, tears rolling down his cheeks. Naomi nodded.
The two decided to fly to Zanzibar for their honeymoon on the evening of their wedding day. That way the auntie had no chance of inspecting their bedsheets.