Warning: This post contains sexually explicit and sensitive material.
There is no such thing as a reformed whore. There is no way for a woman to erase her sexual past. A woman’s virginity should be preserved for her future husband.
While these are prevalent opinions in some religious circles, they’re also common to many MRAs—or men’s rights activists, for those who have avoided the group’s mostly misogynistic rhetoric. In the past year, they have packaged this worldview into a common mantra: “No hymen, no diamond.”
The hymen is “a thin, fleshy tissue that stretches across part of the opening of the vagina,” according to Planned Parenthood. And the diamond, of course, is that glimmering piece of carbon perched atop a metal band, traditionally given by a man to a woman after asking for her hand in marriage.
To these men—a group of more than 1,000 on an active Facebook page—an intact hymen is a symbol of purity. It means that a woman is unspoiled (and won’t know any better when her partner is terrible in bed). It also means that her “number,” or the amount of sexual partners she’s had, is extremely low or nonexistent. Meanwhile, his number is a nonissue.
What 1,000 men with a Facebook page believe might not seem like a big deal. But experts say that the ideas they espouse are more widespread than some might like to believe in this supposed fourth wave of feminism. Both genders are aware that a woman’s “number” can matter.
“Some women admitted to me that they lie about their sexual history to avoid being judged and shamed,” Leora Tanenbaum, author of I Am Not a Slut: Slut-Shaming in the Age of the Internet, told the Kernel. “They are right to be concerned, since many men make relationship decisions based on the number of the woman they are interested in.”
One of the 55 women Tanenbaum interviewed for her book shared a story that illustrates particularly well the double standard inherent in the “no hymen, no diamond” mindset. “One 24-year-old woman told me that her boyfriend broke up with her because ‘he told me that I wasn’t girlfriend material because I had been with 10 guys,'” Tanenbaum recalled. The “number” of the boyfriend in question, it should be noted, was also 10.
#NoHymenNoDiamond first appeared as a Twitter hashtag around October 2014. The inception of the term seems to have been organized on a forum for the Return of Kings, a website operated by MRA poster child and pick-up artist extraordinaire Roosh V, with the intent of trolling.
— Illimitable Man (@IllimitableMan) December 8, 2014
The Return of Kings celebrated the hashtag and the concept behind it in December 2014 in a post called “Women Should Save Their Virginity For Marriage”:
All kidding aside, there is a reason a woman’s virginity has been a value in almost every culture ever. Not only was her father trying to make her more appealing for the suitors, but he knew that she would be able to enjoy the marriage more herself. There’s a reason the #NoHymenNoDiamond on Twitter has resonated.
#NoHymenNoDiamond is still actively tweeted today, most recently alongside the hashtag #PoppedCherryDontMarry. “No hymen, no diamond” has made its way onto other social media channels as well. On the subreddit AskTRP, a discussion forum for men who ascribe to the “red pill” theory of an unfairly feminist-dominated sexual landscape, men have tossed around the phrase in one of their myriad threads about what a woman should and should not be.
“Classic and great advice,” one redditor commented in response to a thread comparing “no hymen” with the “ranking system,” which organizes women in different tiers. “They are both compatible. But it needs to be stated directly and in plain terms so it gets drummed into peoples brains that high partner count automatically disqualifies you for being LTR [long term relationship] material.”
A spirited discussion on the subject took place earlier this year on the popular BodyBuilding.com discussion forum. The thread was accompanied by a poll with these two options: “no hymen, no diamond” or “I would marry the sloot.” Many in the forum agreed that a wife ought to be “pure” as possible, although some dissenters made the observation—albeit crudely—that finding a marriage-ready virgin is as likely as spotting the Loch Ness Monster.
“There’s a reason the #NoHymenNoDiamond on Twitter has resonated.”
“good luck finding a girl in her late twenties that’s a virgin, is not batshit crazy, and is bangable,” one user commented. “you’re talking about the 0.00000001%. and what’s the hangup on girls who’ve dated 2-3 guys in her life? that’s normal. if you get a virgin, how would you know the sex won’t be like watching paint dry until it’s too late?”
One could write off men who hold such viewpoints as angry, bitter, or delusional. However, it’s worth noting religious dogma teaches many of the same beliefs about a woman’s purity. A glance at the Bible passage Deuteronomy 22:13 shows it to declare there is a need to “prove” that a woman is indeed a virgin and that it is a man’s right to know either way.
If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then hates her and accuses her of misconduct and brings a bad name upon her, saying, ‘I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her evidence of virginity,’ then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate. And the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man to marry, and he hates her; and behold, he has accused her of misconduct, saying, “I did not find in your daughter evidence of virginity.” And yet this is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloak before the elders of the city. …
It’s Biblical passages like this (and others) that have led, in part, to young Christians wearing “purity rings.” These rings, worn on the hand like wedding or engagement rings, signify a commitment to chastity and saving oneself for marriage. They were were introduced in the early 1990s as a counter to sex education that taught anything other than abstinence.
If a man is looking for a virgin, he may need to look no further than her finger. But if we’ve learned anything from famous purity-ring wearer Miley Cyrus, a little piece of metal is far from a guarantee for the future.
Feminist activists view the “no hymen, no diamond” attitude as a nuisance—albeit one that’s better off shared openly than hidden. Men with this mindset are actually providing a helpful service, one that could save women a lot of time, energy, and heartache, according to Therese Shechter, a filmmaker and creator of the new documentary How to Lose Your Virginity.
“Guys who want women wrapped in their original packaging are approaching intimate relationships as if they were shopping for their collectible action figures,” Shechter told the Kernel. “The good news is that anyone spouting judgments based on women’s sexual choices are doing us all a favor. It’s like they’re wearing little bells around their necks telling us to stay very, very far away.”
Shechter has a point. Anyone who believes that a woman without a hymen is “spoiled goods” is, simply put, badly misinformed. A hymen can be broken in a number of ways, long before a woman’s first experience with intercourse. And sometimes, the hymen may not have existed at all.
“Some people, and some cultures, believe that a woman whose hymen has been stretched open is no longer a virgin,” the Planned Parenthood website reads. It continues:
“But having a hymen and being a virgin are not the same thing. There are other ways that a hymen can be stretched open, by inserting something into the vagina (like a tampon or a finger) riding a bicycle, or doing sports. And some girls are born with so little hymenal tissue that it seems like it was never there.”
In years gone by (and still today, in some places, like Armenia) people believed that if a supposed virgin did not bleed on her wedding night and did not produce a bloody sheet as evidence, she was a liar and a fraud. The reasoning behind the bloody sheet has proven to be the ultimate old wives’ tale, but even if a woman’s hymen is broken during her first time being vaginally penetrated, there may not be any physical symptoms.
Even if one seriously considered administering a physically invasive “virginity test,” like they give to women looking to join the armed forces in Indonesia, there is no way for a man to prove that he’s the first to have sex with his future wife.
So what’s an MRA to do?
The lack of the proof of virginity has not stopped these men from justifying their belief in “no hymen, no diamond.” Explained Tanenbaum, “These sexual boundaries serve only to keep women in a status unequal to men and to permit a culture of sexual surveillance and policing.”
What MRAs cannot control with data or science, they seem determined to control with ideas.
A version of this story originally appeared on the Daily Dot on Sept. 24, 2015.
Illustration by Jason Reed