Virgin cleansing myth

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A street sign in South Africa, appealing to adults not to rape children in the belief that it will cure them of AIDS

The virgin cleansing myth (also referred to as the virgin cure myth, virgin rape myth, or simply virgin myth) is the belief that having sex with a virgin girl cures a man of HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases.[1]

Anthropologist Suzanne Leclerc-Madlala says the myth is a potential factor in infant rape by HIV-positive men in South Africa.[2] In addition to young girls, who are presumed to be virgins because of their age, people who are "blind, deaf, physically impaired, intellectually disabled, or who have mental-health disabilities" are sometimes raped under the erroneous presumption that individuals with disabilities are sexually inactive and therefore virgins.[1]


The myth was first reported in 16th century Europe and gained prominence in 19th century Victorian England as a cure for syphilis and gonorrhea among other sexually transmitted diseases.[3] The origin is unknown, but historian Hanne Blank writes that the idea may have evolved from Christian legends of virgin martyrs, whose purity served as a form of protection in battling demons.[4]


People all over the world have heard this myth, including in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.[1]

A survey by the University Of South Africa (UNISA) in South Africa found that 18 percent of laborers thought that having sex with a virgin cures HIV/AIDS. An earlier study in 1999 by sexual health educators in Gauteng reported that 32 percent of the survey participants believed the myth.[5]

According to the controversial Betty Makoni of the Girl Child Network in Zimbabwe,[6] the myth is perpetuated by traditional healers advising HIV-positive men to cure their disease by having sex with virgin girls.[7] In Zimbabwe, some people also believe that the blood produced by raping a virgin will cleanse the infected person's blood of the disease.[7]

In 2002, psychologist Mike Earl-Taylor wrote that the virgin cure myth may explain the staggering rise in child or infant rapes in South Africa, which is facing an HIV/AIDS epidemic.[3] UNICEF has attributed the rape of hundreds of girls to the virgin cleansing myth.[8]

However, it is unknown exactly how common the myth is and to what degree rapes happen because of the belief in it. The claim that the myth drives either HIV infection or child sexual abuse in Africa is disputed by researchers Rachel Jewkes and Helen Epstein,[9] as well as by research on convicted sex offenders in Malawi, where no evidence was found to support the idea that the virgin cleansing myth prompted any rapes.[10]

Importance of education[edit]

Ignorance with regards to HIV and AIDS infection serves as a barrier to prevention in numerous African nations.[11]

Education has helped women such as Betty Makoni speak out against the myth and attempt to dissuade people from believing the virgin cleansing myth.[12][13]

According to UNICEF, culture-based gender roles that prize innocence and ignorance in girls and that accept sexual licentiousness in men promote this myth. Other cultural factors, such as girls being married to older men, increase the likelihood of HIV transmission. The disgrace attached to AIDS also stops many people from seeking information or health services to shield their status, contributing to further transmission.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Groce, Nora E.; Trasi, Reshma (2004). "Rape of individuals with disability: AIDS and the folk belief of virgin cleansing". The Lancet 363 (9422): 1663–1664. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(04)16288-0. PMID 15158626. Retrieved 2011-12-29. 
  2. ^ Leclerc-Madlala, Suzanne (2002). "On The Virgin Cleansing Myth: Gendered Bodies, AIDS and Ethnomedicine" (PDF). African Journal of AIDS Research 1 (2): 87–95. doi:10.2989/16085906.2002.9626548. Retrieved 2011-12-29. 
  3. ^ a b Earl-Taylor, Mike (2002). "HIV/AIDS, the stats, the virgin cure and infant rape". Science in Africa: Africa's First On-Line Science Magazine. Retrieved 2011-12-31. 
  4. ^ Blank, Hanne (2007). Virgin: The Untouched History. New York, NY: Bloomsbury USA. ISBN 978-1-59691-010-2. 
  5. ^ IRIN (2002). "SOUTH AFRICA: Focus on the virgin myth and HIV/AIDS". IRIN. Retrieved 2011-12-30. 
  6. ^ Kwayedza-Umthunya (08-05-2009). "GCN boss Betty Makoni embezzles donor funds". Zimbabwe Online Press. Retrieved 21 September 2014.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  7. ^ a b Vickers, Steve (2006-10-24). "Staging sex myths to save Zimbabwe's girls". BBC. Retrieved 2011-12-31. 
  8. ^ CNN (2009-10-01). "Child rape survivor saves 'virgin myth' victims". CNN. Retrieved 2011-12-31. 
  9. ^ "The myth of the virgin rape myth". The Lancet, Volume 374, Issue 9699, Page 1419. 2009-10-24. Retrieved 2013-09-21.  "In the current South African case, this claim is predicated on racist assumptions about the amorality of African men..."
  10. ^ Mtibo C, Kennedy N, Umar E (2011). "Explanations for child sexual abuse given by convicted offenders in Malawi: no evidence for "HIV cleansing"". Child Abuse Negl 35 (2): 142–6. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2010.10.001. PMID 21353703. 
  11. ^ Connor, Steve (1999-09-05). "Focus AIDS: The myth that sex with a virgin can cure HIV". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2011-12-31. 
  12. ^ Mullins, K.J. (2009). "'Virgin Myth' Behind Zimbabwe Child Rapes". Digital Journal. Retrieved 2011-12-31. 
  13. ^ Stein, Sadie (2009). "Silver Linings: One Woman Takes On The 'Virgin Myth.' Many Others Perpetuate It". Jezebel. Retrieved 2011-12-31. 
  14. ^ UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia (2003). Faith-Motivated Actions on HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care for Children and Young People in South Asia: A Regional Overview (PDF) (Report). UNICEF. Retrieved 2011-12-31.