Can Virginity Cure AIDS?
A Deadly, Untrue Rumor in Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest HIV/AIDS rate of any region in the world. The pandemic is horrendous. But only a few months ago I discovered something truly terrible about it – a myth widely believed across Africa. I saw a television program that talked about a little African girl, under the age of two, who was raped by a group of HIV-positive African men when she was an infant. Because she was a virgin, they thought raping her could cure them!
This myth puts female infants and young children, especially ones aged seven or younger, at highest risk. They can be both traumatized by rape, and infected with HIV by the men who raped them. And virginity testing, an old Zulu custom gaining new popularity in Southern Africa, not only puts these young girls more at risk for sexual assault, but violates their human rights and endangers them.
The Zulu tradition of virginity testing was originally intended to assure a husband of the purity of his bride. But the HIV/AIDS pandemic has spurred revival of the practice - its supporters say that virginity testing promotes and honors abstinence and helps reduce sexual activity, pregnancy, and disease. Supporters claim that virginity testing saves lives by preventing the spread of HIV, detecting child abuse, and empowering girls to say no. In some areas where virginity is highly prized, even female infants and young children are checked to ensure their hymen is intact and given a white star and a ‘certificate of virginity’.
Opponents believe that virginity testing, has become a major factor in the rising numbers of child rapes. Opponents believe it violates their human rights. And of course, only female children are tested, revealing the double standard inherent in the practice.
There are serious problems with the practice of virginity testing.
- Experts believe that the myth that sex with a virgin will cure HIV/AIDS is linked to increased sexual assaults on children. Experts say the testing, which often publicly identifies virgins, increases a girl’s chances of being raped.
- The testing itself is an assault on the dignity and human rights of young females.
- Those checking the girls usually don’t wear gloves or wash their hands. Even if they wear gloves, they may use the same gloves to check many girls. As a result of these unhygienic practices, the testers can pass infections of various sorts from girl to girl.
- Fear of failing the test may cause older girls to engage in anal sex or other risky sexual health practices.
- Virginity testing stigmatizes girls who do not pass the test. They may face ostracism and ridicule.
- Girls who are victims of rape and/or sexual abuse may face further psychological harm from the testing at a time when, more than anything, they need counseling and protection from such abuse.
- Finally, the hymen can break for non-sexual reasons, and some girls are born without a hymen. So, lack of a hymen still proves nothing.
Virginity testing abrogates the human rights and dignity of females – children, teens, and adults, and it endangers their safety, health, and life.
- TruthorFiction.com. Sex With Virgins to Cure AIDS: Women and Children in Portions of Africa Are Being Sexually Violated by Men Who Believe That Sex With a Virgin will Cure Their AIDS- (1998-2005); http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/a/aids-virgins.htm.
- McGreal C. Virgin tests make a comeback. Daily Mail & Guardian (Johannesburg), 1999; http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/37a/162.html.
- Sayagues M. Virginity testing doesn’t stop HIV/AIDS spreading. Mercury.com (South Africa), 2005. http://www.themercury.co.za/index.php?fSectionId=336&fArticleId=2881694.
- Resources Aimed at the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect; http://www.rapcan.org.za/RAPCAN%20Submission%20to%20Soul%20City.pdf.