In Iran, virginity before marriage is important for many girls and their families. Sometimes men demand a virginity certificate – a practice that the World Health Organization (WHO) deems to be against human rights. But in the past year, more and more people have been campaigning against it.
“You tricked me into marrying you because you’re not a virgin. Nobody would marry you if they knew the truth.”
This is what Maryam’s husband said to her after they had sex for the first time.
She tried to reassure him that, even though she didn’t bleed, she had never had intercourse before. But he didn’t believe her, and asked her to get a virginity certificate.
This is not uncommon in Iran. After getting engaged, many women go to a doctor and get a test that proves they’ve never had sex.
However, according to the WHO, virginity testing has no scientific merit.
Maryam’s certificate stated that her hymen type was “elastic”. This means she might not bleed after penetrative sex.
“It hurt my pride. I didn’t do anything wrong, but my husband kept insulting me,” she said. “I couldn’t take it anymore, so I took some pills and tried to kill myself.”
Just in time, she was taken to a hospital and survived.
“I will never forget those dark days. I lost 20kg [3 stone] during that time.”
Growing calls to end the practice
Maryam’s story is the reality of many women in Iran. Being a virgin before marriage is still crucial for many girls and their families. It’s a value that is deeply rooted in cultural conservatism.
But recently, things have started to change. Women and men around the country have been campaigning to put an end to virginity testing.
Last November, an online petition received almost 25,000 signatures within a single month. This was the first time virginity testing was being openly challenged by so many people in Iran.
“It’s a violation of privacy, and it’s humiliating,” says Neda. When she was a 17-year-old student in Tehran, she lost her virginity to her boyfriend.”I panicked. I was terrified about what would happen if my family found out.”