Pure in the East

Words by Sandy Hoang
Art by Melody Ou

At present, the view of chastity in most Asian countries seems to objectify women.

Everybody has their own way of thinking about and giving meaning to “Virginity”. In some Western cultures, among youth, virginity is something to get rid of. For many it may even be embarrassing to study at university and still be a virgin. Yet for most Asian women, it is the exact opposite. Over centuries, Asian cultures—through religion, literature, mythology—have also shaped a meaning for virginity. In our culture, virginity is the embodiment of values such as purity and faithfulness; it is often associated with love and filial responsibilities. This is about a deeply-rooted tradition. In this sense, “Virginity” can have a very beautiful meaning. But, if viewed at another dimension, the idea of “Virginity” when associated with honour and worth, can also be unfair, cruel and even detrimental.

Most unfair is the double-standard in Asian cultures in regards to premarital-sex. A person once used an analogy to compare a man to a key and a woman to a lock. If the key can open numerous locks, it is a skeleton key, but if a lock can be opened by numerous keys, it is a useless lock. If virginity really is about pure love and faithfulness, why does it only apply to women? Why is it that only women are constantly scrutinized and judged by their chastity?

Even in the English language, there are numerous and popular ways of describing a woman who is sexually promiscuous and in comparison, such words for the male counterpart are rare to come across. Evidently, in this 21st century, this gender inequality is a problem which most Asian countries still face and an issue which needs to be discussed more openly and more often.

At present, the view of chastity in most Asian countries seems to objectify women. In marriage, the loss of chastity of the wife brings shame for the husband’s family because it feels like they are using a “Second-hand” item, and it is clear that if we have a choice between new and second-hand objects, we would probably prefer the new ones. To describe a woman as a “Second-hand object”, as something that “Belongs” to her husband, as something that is “Used” is the very act of disregarding her as a human and thinking of her only as an object. This is in fact a very retrograde and old-fashioned way of thinking. There are many factors that can contribute to the loss of a woman’s virginity—perhaps it was not her choice. And even if it was, the choice was hers. We’re not objects with price tags on them. Each of us has our own characteristics and values which we uphold. To overlook all these other qualities that make up a person; to just weigh someone’s worth based on their chastity is indeed very cruel.

Another pressing issue is the lack of sex education in some Asian schools. The Guttmacher Institute, during 2010–2014, estimated 36 million induced abortions occurred each year in Asia due to the lack of knowledge about safe sex.

In most Western countries, sex education is part of almost every school’s curriculum. Why is that not the case with Asian countries? Well that’s because of the way we think about it. Our schools and governments think that teaching teenagers about sex is akin to encouraging them to engage in sexual activities. They even think that it is shameful and inappropriate to discuss such topics in school. I don’t think schools teach us about things such as sex, drugs or alcohol because they want to encourage us to engage in such activities, rather; this kind of education is necessary for people to be able to make their own intelligent and responsible choices.

Whether to engage in premarital sex or not is up to the individual. Sex is a natural process and there’s nothing wrong with girls wanting to experience and explore their own sexual desires. There’s also nothing wrong with girls wanting to have sex only after marriage. Women should become empowered with the knowledge of their own bodies, with knowledge about sex, and with the power to choose what they want for themselves. Instead of judging women based on these choices, society should give them the freedom to choose the life they want to live and respect those choices.

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