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Virginity fraud (also known as chastity fraud, or the virginity lie) is held to occur when someone lies about his or her virginity in order to obtain something of value. The concept is controversial, especially in view of fundamental societal disagreement over the definition and importance of virginity and gender roles (including the sexual double standard).
The archetypal case is of a woman who falsely claims to be a virgin for the sake of marriage to a man whom she suspects of insisting on, or at least valuing, virginity in his bride. (Other situations — such as two lovers who claimed to lose their virginity together on the internet as a publicity stunt — may technically qualify, but are rarely discussed in the same context.)
Operating concept of virginity
Female virginity may either be defined solely according to the presence or absence of a hymen, or else according to more ambiguous, philosophical criteria.
In many societies, for a woman to date or have boyfriends – even if refraining from full sexual intercourse – would already be viewed as a violation of traditional values. (See technical virginity; honor killing.) On the other hand, lesbian sexual activity would not normally be an object of concern. Meanwhile, a rape victim would be viewed as having lost her virginity by force.
An ancient wedding ritual, east European Slavic, involves relatives of the bride and/or groom waiting to receive the bloody sheet on which the bride was "deflowered", as "proof" of her former virginity (which would often be specified in the marriage contract). Techniques to simulate the bleeding and/or physical sensation of rupture are equally ancient. In rural Egypt, chicken blood is used if - for whatever reason - there is no real blood on the wedding night. The bloody sheet is then shown to the neighborhood as proof of virginity "deflowering".
Methods of detection
Several methods of "virginity fraud detection" claim to be available, but cannot adequately determine the status of virginity.
- Inspection to determine whether hymen restoration surgery has been performed, and/or the vagina's general state of elasticity. In many societies, such inspections have traditionally been conducted by older female relatives of the prospective groom, but are increasingly performed by doctors, who may issue certificates of virginity for the benefit of the groom's family. Also, digital inspection may fail to detect surgical suture which are visible only by means of specialized medical instruments. However, this cannot adequately prove virginity. As the hymen and vagina are elastic, there have been cases where women have actually given birth and had their hymen return to its original state. Additionally, hymens can be broken through nonsexual activity such as horseback riding.
- Background checks by a private detective aimed at uncovering a woman's romantic and/or medical history. This unfortunately relies on reporting of people who may have a score to settle with the woman being investigated. Ironically, a number of attempts at virginity fraud are exposed by a woman's contact with medical clinics specializing in hymen restoration procedures.
In the West, awareness of hymen replacement surgery has led to criticisms of the procedure, on the grounds that it is medically unnecessary and contributes to pernicious social practices; alongside recognition that women's reasons for undergoing it are not frivolous (as might be claimed of other forms of elective plastic surgery). Little, if any, concern has been expressed for the intended victims of virginity fraud. Muslim responses have questioned the motives of women undergoing the procedure, as well as of prospective grooms whose attitudes have made the procedure so prevalent.
In 2006, a French Muslim man in Lille sought an annulment on the grounds that his bride (also Muslim) turned out not to be a virgin. She denied having misled him, but did not contest the appeal, which was duly granted. In 2009, amidst a wave of media attention, French justice minister Rachida Dati ordered the government to appeal this decision (on the grounds that an important element of French public policy was at issue). Ronald Sokol, in an editorial for the Christian Science Monitor, writes that
- The question was whether the woman's virginity was an essential element of the marriage contract. If it was, then the contract could be annulled. If it was not, then the couple was validly married.
The appeals court reversed the judgment. Sokol continues:
- The government argued that the wife's virginity was not an essential condition because her unchaste past has no effect on married life. The judges agreed. Even if she had lied, they said, it did not matter, as a woman's lies about her past love affairs are not matters essential to her married life. In short, a woman's past is her own.
It became known as the "Virginity Lie" case.
- "Virgin Web hoax was 'moral lesson'". BBC News. July 22, 1998.
- Gwilliam, Tassie (April 1996). "Female Fraud: Counterfeit Maidenheads in the Eighteenth Century.". Journal of the History of Sexuality. 6 (4): 518–548. JSTOR 4617220. PMID 11618773.
- Rafia Zakaria (October 14, 2009). "A woman's burden of proof". Archived from the original on June 9, 2011.
- Sokol, Ronald (3 March 2009). "The curious case of chastity fraud" – via Christian Science Monitor.
- "New French Muslim chief on the "virginity lie" case". Reuters. June 24, 2008.