Red flag

We talk about red (seriously unacceptable behaviour) if there is either (1) no clear consent on the part of both of those involved or (2) if manipulation, blackmail or power is used to force sexual contact or (3) if there is significant inequality between those involved. The following is also deemed to be seriously unacceptable: (4) sexual behaviour, which is not observed in most children or young people until a later age, (5) which is not appropriate for the context or, (6) which causes physical, emotional or psychological harm to the child him/herself.

virgins
Fig 3: Three 15-year-old girls from the same group of friends have unprotected anal sex because they want to remain virgins. The girls are religious. Their lover does not want to use a condom.
1/2 width
Three 15-year-old girls from the same group of friends have unprotected anal sex because they want to remain virgins. The girls are religious. Their lover does not want to use a condom.

Girls and some boys from strict religious families are told by their families that they must marry as virgins for which both the religion and the family’s reputation are cited. Parents have a lot of influence on how the young people behave and what kind of norms they adopt. Young people known what their parents’ expectations are in this respect and don’t find it easy to go against those expectations. 

Girls and boys have to enter marriage as virgins, but both find that this often applies as being a less binding stipulation on boys than on girls. Girls’ virginity is also more bound up in the family’s good name and honour than is the case for boys. Women should be virtuous and not give cause for gossip or any undermining of the family's social position.

Let’s assess the behaviour of the girls:

  • Consent: -/+ OK. The girls agree to anal sex, it’s important to determine whether they actually enjoy it, or only consent so as not to lose their lover.
  • Voluntary engagement: -/+ OK. The girls’ voluntary engagement is not guaranteed. They are doing this under cultural pressure not to lose their virginity.
  • Equality: -OK. A lot is riding on the girls’ virginity. In this instance the boy and girl are not in an equal position.
  • Appropriate for age/development: -/+ OK. Anal sex is something that young people often don't do until a later stage, after first having acquired some oral and genital sexual experiences.
  • Appropriate for the context: ? OK.  Unknown.
  • Self-respect: -/- OK. By having unprotected sex, they are running the risk of contracting STDs.

Response:

  1. To the girls: ‘You say that you had unprotected anal sex because it’s important to remain a virgin. Your lover does not want to use a condom. Do you feel okay about this? What did the boys respond to you? Do they also think that virginity is important? How important is sex for them? And for you? It’s okay to have sexual experiences if you both want this, but what you do is not altogether without risk, you could contract an STD. Is it possible for you to make some other agreements with the boys?
  2. Policy: Make a referral for a consultation with a doctor, who can deal with these issues, and provide some psychoeducation on practising and negotiating safe sex.