‘Abstain from sex till you are married’ is something adolescents are continuously asked to uphold, and for good reasons, if the rate of teen pregnancy and exposure to sexually transmitted diseases is anything to go by. Virginity, described as the state of never having had sexual intercourse, is a virtue, some say. In many societies around the world, virginity is more valuable to girls than it is to boys. In Rwandan culture, it is a state of purity. In ancient times, pregnancy before marriage led to harsh punishment. ‘Kabakobwa’ (loosely translated as ‘for girls’) is an island on Lake Kivu where unmarried girls who got pregnant were abandoned and left to die. In this day and age, however, the question is, what’s the value of virginity? “Among my peers, losing one’s virginity is more respected. Its proof that one has grown, especially for boys,” says Enock Rutaganda. “Staying a virgin till marriage is a sign of virtue. If you can’t preserve yourself, you fail at a very basic discipline. Who wants to marry that kind of person?” asks Francine Mugwaneza, a married mother of five. “Virginity is very different from purity. It is a social constraint that people use to shame men/women into acting a certain way. Virginity is characterised by a very small part of the body called the hymen (a membrane covering the vaginal opening), which can be broken without necessarily going into sexual activities. Now tell me how that’s related to a person’s character,” Alix Keza argues. Bruno Bugingo shares Keza’s sentiments, saying, “I look at virginity as the package of a new phone, normally all new phones come in boxes, but it is one’s choice to keep the box or to leave it where he/she bought the phone, the phone will remain the same regardless. I don’t think virginity adds any value to a person. I believe being a virgin doesn’t categorise who you are.” The idea of abstinence “Abstinence is possible. It’s just that nowadays young people engage in many activities that lure them into sexual action before they are ready (marriage),” says 60-year-old Desire Mazimpaka. One Rutaganda agrees with this, saying, “I’m able to abstain because as a Christian I’m warned about it. Engaging in sexual activities with someone before marriage leaves one with soul ties (a deep connection with someone immersed in your soul) and I don’t want to be tied to someone I won’t make a future with. Surrounding myself with friends who will never pressure me into doing it also helps.” “It is possible to wait for the right time and the right person, but it shouldn’t be the ultimate goal or one’s life mission necessarily,” says Keza. “When virginity is regarded as ‘the forbidden fruit’, it incites curiosity and very high expectations. It will surely lead to disappointment later when one realises it was not as special as earlier portrayed,” she adds. Regis Rukundo says it is rare or almost impossible to abstain. “The young generation is under a lot of influence; from what they watch/listen to on TV/radio, in movies or music videos. Generally, we are pushed to normalise sex. “The desire is also enhanced by things that used to keep older generations from having sex early that can be avoided today, for instance, early pregnancy and STDs, can be prevented by use of condoms. Not that those problems don’t exist anymore, but it means preventing them is more doable,” he says. From backgrounds, beliefs, mindsets and other factors that people will never share in absolute whole, the debate goes on. However, one should understand oneself and act accordingly, all the while respecting whatever one holds dear.