In cultures around the globe, virginity in females has been mostly prized, and kept it in check with various social codes, from high “marriage price” to honour killing. There are still countries where virginity testing is a routine part of the deal before families agree on a marriage.
A very popular virginity measure throughout history has been bleeding after the first intercourse, but we now know that this system is far from foolproof.
Virginity is generally considered to be the state of a woman or a man, who has not yet had intercourse. Medically, a female virgin is a person whose hymen has not yet been broken, which will often occur after her vagina is entered for the first time, but there are many exceptions to this rule. The hymen is a membranous tissue that covers part or most of the opening to the vagina. If the hymen is weak, which may be the case in as many as 1 in 10 women, it would be likely to break at a younger age, during exerted movement such as horse- or bike-riding. Tampons will not tear the hymen, but may stretch it. On the other extreme, some women have such tough hymens that they cannot be penetrated, and need a small surgical procedure to open their vagina for sex.
Virgin or not, the wedding night comes and the new couple’s bloody sheet must be paraded before the parents or village elders. Apart from making the couple’s sexuality public domain, it is placing a huge amount of pressure on the couple to succeed in an act, for which they often have little or no preparation. Imagine moving from the first touch to sex all in one night? And then even those who succeed might be communally disgraced if they happen to not bleed, irrespective of whether they were virgins or not.
The immense pressure has led to some very excessive treatments. Some women insert blood-filled bags, made from bird insides or other goodies readily available in the countryside, deep inside the vagina, to be punctured during penetration. A more modern, and hopefully less contaminated, method is surgically re-stitching the hymen so that it can be re-broken on cue.
The answer, I believe, is to treat virginity with whatever value you choose, but not to have one standard for males and a separate one for females. After all, males can suffer as much from the social pressure to be experienced, as females can from the pressure to be inexperienced.