Maintaining virginity until young people marry remains a controversial topic among Cambodian teenagers: some people do not want a woman who loses her virginity prior to marriage, while others do not really care about it. When asked, many high school students and college sophomores don’t seem to feel this is a pre-requisite for a happy relationship.
However, freshly-graduated from Sisowath High School, Reth Sophea Thireach has a slightly different perspective, “I think it does matter, but it also depends on the couples. It’s okay to have sex before marriage as long as you’re loyal and honest with your partner.”
Is having sex before marriage considered immoral?
Although some people believe that sex before marriage is immoral according to Cambodian tradition and culture, others may ask whether every single one of us has to follow this norm. Sex before marriage for women is seen as immoral, but often viewed as ‘okay’ for men.
Khen Sophara, 19, a sophomore at the Institute of Foreign Language (IFL), agrees that most people, including a majority of Asians, believed that this double standard is still in place, but he personally doesn’t believe it is immoral.
“Because at the end of the day, this is solely a personal choice,” Mr. Sophara said. “It isn’t harmful as long as you practice safe sex and know that you’re ready for it.”
Commenting on this issue, Chy Bormey, 19, a sophomore at the Department of Media and Communication (DMC) said, “If we’re talking about human rights, men and women are equal; having sex before marriage is not illegal for either gender.”
“However, as I was growing up in Cambodian culture, my perspective has also been shaped according to that [culture]. Therefore, I wouldn’t do such a thing because I’d feel wrong about myself,” she continued.
Program Manager at Strey Khmer, a local organization that helps empower women’s rights in Cambodia, believes there is a changing trend amongst Cambodian women today in terms of marriage and life decisions. “These days, women do not marry someone for the sake of wanting to have a husband. They may not tolerate all the house-works that are provided for them. Like many others, women want their pleasure satisfied for the time being.”
“Regarding the Khmer culture, this sort of thing is absolutely taken seriously. For the youths themselves, having sex before marriage is their choice, but they have to think twice before taking action,” she added.
She suggests that sex education should be provided in order to prevent sexually transmitted diseases or other non-intended outcomes that could result from participating in sexual intercourse.
Is it a girl’s duty to preserve her virginity?
Growing up, most Cambodian girls are instructed to preserve their virginity until their marriage consummation, – meaning that their maidenhood is only for her husband.
One of the old sayings that supports this double standard is still being spoken today, “Men are like gold. Girls are like white clothes, once stained it cannot be removed.” This saying goes about diminishing the status of the women if they lose their virginity, while men came out shining like gold that can never be tarnished.
Executive Director of Gender and Development in Cambodia, Ros Sopheap, said, “We can see that society doesn’t put pressure at all on men’s virginity, but girl’s. As most people think that men are more superior to women over understanding sexual activities.”
“Women who used to have sex are not valued in our society. This act proves that we don’t give value equally to human.”
Giving his views on this controversy, 17-year-old DMC sophomore Hang Yuttivong Jamy confirmed that it is a girl’s duty to keep her virginity for her husband, but he said that personally, he would not care about it.
“If my wife wasn’t a virgin when I married her, I’d still love her as much as I can. I wouldn’t let the virginity [issue] ruin it,” said Mr. Jamy.
Regarding this issue, Mr. Sophara believes that girls are expected to put their virginity on top of the list, while guys are never questioned about their virginity by the family of both sides. “I understand traditions but this is just pathetic. There is much more to a girl than her virginity.”
Nguon Monil, a 20-year-old sophomore, believes virginity does not define the woman herself. “It’s not really important because if I happened to marry someone, it wouldn’t be for her virginity. I would marry her for her personality,” he said.
It seems stereotypes and double standards still apply to the issue of pre-marital sex versus the preservation of a girl’s virginity.
Ultimately Cambodia’s daughters are still expected to protect and maintain their family’s reputations within society.
Clearly, old beliefs die hard.