Attitudes towards virginity

In a nationally-representative survey of 2,000 Moroccans aged 15-24, for example, more than half of men and women thought it was acceptable for unmarried men and women to go out with one another, and more than two-thirds themselves had had a “romantic” relationship. However, they drew the line at sexual activity. More than 70% of young men, and 90% of women disapproved a sex outside of marriage; as for the argument that premarital sex could help couples get to know each other, only a quarter of the men surveyed, and less than 5% of the women, agreed.

As for female virginity, more than 80% of the men and women thought girls should abstain until marriage, and more than three quarters of both thought that girls who have sex before marriage would regret their actions, and would no longer be respected by men. These Moroccan youth, especially the women in this survey, were a little more tolerant of male pre-marital relations: only two-fifths of boys, and just over a third of girls, thought men should refrain from sex before marriage; a third of boys and a fifth of girls thought those who failed to do so would come to regret it. (Axetudes and Kingdom of Morocco Ministry of Health, 2007)

In a counterpart to this study, a survey of more than 500 male civil servants from cities across the Morocco found that around a third of those questioned believed that young women have a right to a sexual life before marriage (though how far this activity could go was not specified); in the capital Rabat, this acceptance level rose to almost half of those questioned. Nonetheless, almost three-quarters of the men also believed that the sexual activity of an unmarried woman reflected on the honor of her family, and more than half thought girls who slept around were essentially prostitutes. Men may not like it, but they essentially recognize that the premarital sexual activity of women is a reality, the study concluded.

Meanwhile, in Beirut, a 2003 study of 600 private university students—largely middle and upper class youth—found that while more than 70% of the Christian men and just under half their Muslim counterparts said they would marry a non-virgin (and even more, if they themselves had been her partner before marriage), more than 50% of the Christian women and 90% of their Muslim sisters thought that pre-marital sex was a mistake, essentially discounting male talk to the contrary. The men who refused to contemplate marriage with a sexually-experienced woman cited lack of trust as their major concern, followed by religious considerations, fear of sexually-transmitted infections and family and social embarrassment; more than half were willing to make an exception if she had lost her hymen through rape or “physical accident”. Almost three-quarters of the men, and two-thirds of the women, said they would want to make a clean breast of her premarital history before tying the knot. For more on educated, affluent male attitudes in Lebanon towards virginity—women’s and their own—see “The Culture of the Catch” by Natacha Yazbeck.