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Virginity is part of our existence in the world as embodied sexual subjects. While many meanings are associated with virginity, in most of the Arab world virginity relates to the presence of a hymen and extends to encompass the honor of the Arab community, and virginity loss commonly relate to first vaginal intercourse. This study explored the meanings of virginity from the perspectives of Arab and Arab American women. A qualitative phenomenological approach, informed by the philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, was used to conduct in-depth interviews with ten women.

Our participants provided a better understanding of the diverse meanings of virginity that move beyond the binary of virginity and virginity loss, and into a spectrum of embodied meanings.

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Findings suggest the need for future research around sexuality in Arab Americans with attention to socio-political contexts in order to understand the nature and context of sexual initiation and its impact on sexual behaviors and well-being. Virginity is part of our existence in the world as embodied sexual subjects and, while many meanings are associated with virginity and commonly related to first vaginal intercourse, in most of the Arab world virginity relates to the presence of a hymen and extends to encompass the honor of the Arab community.

Virginity, sexuality, and heteronormative gender roles are common identified in most studies examining Arab and Arab American identities Ajrouch ; Akl ; El Feki ; Ilkkaracan ; Naber, Read and Oselin ; Read ; Shakir ; Shalhoub-Kevorkian Virginity, heteronormative sexual expression and gender performance are important aspects of the daily lives of Arab women and are important in understanding their identification as Arab women Amer et al.

The purpose of this paper is to explore the meanings of virginity from the perspectives of Arab and Arab American women and what life experiences shape these meanings using a phenomenological approach. Naber and other feminists scholars Abu-Lughod argued that new Orientalist discourses reinforced several ideas such as Arab and Muslim queers and women are oppressed by a homophobic and sexist culture Arab and religion Islam.

Lately, more scholarly work has been conducted among Arab Americans but few focused on sexuality Akl ; Ikizler and Szymanski ; Mousa ; Naber Virginity and sexuality are important in identity formation of Arab and Arab American women but are understudied. Our study is a step to fill a gap in the literature and add to the scant existing knowledge around virginity and White girl dating middle eastern guy and Arab and Arab American women.

We aim to better understand the meanings of virginity through the lived experiences of these women. Phenomenology is a philosophy about consciousness, knowledge, and the diverse ways of being in the world; it is an analysis of the intentional experiences in order to perceive the meaning of a phenomenon and to arrive at its essence Sadala and Adorno Phenomenology differs from other standard qualitative methodologies in that it is a philosophical methodology White girl dating middle eastern guy is concerned with the life world and the human experience as it is lived.

He conceptualized the embodied person existing in a knot of relationships that opens the person to the world. Hence, in our study, the lived experiences and meanings of virginity among Arab and Arab American women were interpreted from the perspectives of their inseparability from the world, societies, cultures, and other people they interconnect with. Experiences and meanings of virginity are developed, influenced, and transformed by relationships with other people and the situational context in which they live. Merleau-Ponty believed that the meaning of a phenomenon is always ambiguous, no matter how much we investigate it; there is no absolute truth, and meaning is always in transformation Thomas We conducted face-to-face in-depth interviews with ten Arab and Arab American women living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

We followed a purposive sampling method using several recruitment techniques flyers, s, personal connections, university campuses, and snowballing. The target participants were women who identified as Arab or Arab American and had Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian, Palestinian, Iraqi, or Egyptian origins; lived in the US for at least 3 years; had both parents from an Arab country; were either born in the country of origin or in the US; were Arabic-speaking; and were ages 18—35 years. This paper emerged as part of the doctoral dissertation of the primary author.

The data collection started in May and was completed in November of The transcribed interviews were analyzed in their White girl dating middle eastern guy language Santos et al. The interpretation was a continuous process of relating a part of some text to the whole of the text and all passages were understood in their relationship to the larger whole. They all self-identified as middle or upper middle class and had at least an undergraduate education or were enrolled in one. Two of the participants were married, one was engaged, one was in a relationship, and six were single.

Two participants identified as Christians and eight as Muslims. Table 1 shows the demographic characteristics of the participants. The meanings of virginity related to every theme and subtheme that emerged. Virginity could not be explained separately from the way in which it was embodied by the women in the study or from the way it was disembodied by their parents, friends, Arab men, religions, White girl dating middle eastern guy, and overall Arab societies.

Virginity became more abstract but interrelated to who these women were. Virginity could not be described separately from the ways these women recounted stories of their Arab ethnic identity that was distinguished from other American and Arab identities. For some participants, the meanings changed over time; for other participants, the meanings stayed the same but their standpoints changed over time. As we read and listened to the stories of the participants repeatedly, we heard the voices of women describing who they are, their identities.

Hence, the overarching theme of the study is Virginity as Identity. Table 2 summarizes the themes and subthemes of the study. Embodied virginity was described differently by different participants, but none of them defined its importance as a separate biological entity or, more specifically a body part such as the hymen. Layal recounted:. I felt that was what virginity meant to me. It was that experience of you know, allowing someone in. She strongly opposed the idea that women are virgins after being physically intimate with someone, even if penetrating vaginal intercourse has not occurred.

She said translated from Arabic :. In the summer, we used to do everything, you take your clothes off, you do this, you do that. Is it just the word [virginity]? So I was like 20 years old.

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Similarly, Zeina referred to women who engage in different forms of sexual activities except vaginal penetration as using an artificial line:. What an artificial line. Kareen embodied her virginity in a different manner that reflected the importance of religion and culture. Kareen described how being exposed to different cultures and ways of thinking helped her redefine her perspectives on virginity.

After perceiving virginity as the only way of being in the world for a non-married woman, Kareen viewed virginity at the time of the interview as not just the physical or scientific explanation; virginity was responsibility, White girl dating middle eastern guy and spirituality:. Who of worth am I gonna give myself to? Who is worthy of me? Kareen, who was virgin was at the time of the interview, revealed ambivalence by going back and forth between describing her strong beliefs and values about remaining virgin, and describing the ideal relationship where there is a possibility that she will not wait till after marriage.

Despite her ambivalence, Kareen showed agency and ownership of her embodied virginity. Eliana described how a woman needs to be happy on her own and content with herself in order to be happy with someone else.

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She considered that being of an Arab ancestry and living in the US contributed to her way of thinking and the decisions she made:. I think that just means something between you and that person. The ten Arab and Arab American women described diverse ways of embodying virginity through intimacy that resonated with their lives as bodily beings, influenced by their identity, culture, ethnicity, and religion.

Despite interpreting virginity through intimacy, some participants embodied it by remaining virgins and others by not. At the time of the interview, three participants decided that they would only lose their virginity after marriage, three participants preferred not to lose their virginity till after marriage but might lose it before marriage depending on the relationship and the person, and four participants had lost their virginity before marriage.

The women consistently recounted that virginity is not just who they are or what their worth is. From the different life experiences and their interconnectedness with the world and other people, the participants discussed how they initially constructed the meanings of virginity through White girl dating middle eastern guy disembodiment process.

During the interviews, the participants reflected on their past and current experiences that led most of them to an embodied understanding of virginity. However, for most participants, the process described was a disembodied one. Nour considered that the great value that is given to female virginity is partly because of the importance attributed to it by all religions and partly because some people confuse traditions with religious beliefs.

For Nour, virginity was one of the many forms of sexism:. There is no virginity.

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Virginity is always spoken of with women because it is known that there is evidence. The procedure was perceived by all participants as a lie and deception that devalued women and was created by men, families and societies. As for Aianna, neither hymen or virginity restoration nor the hymen itself were symbols of virginity.

Zeina, who lost her virginity with a boyfriend, talked about the shame, sin, and guilt conversations around losing virginity and the sexual act.

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She recalled that she was not ashamed of losing her virginity until her boyfriend made her feel ashamed and consequently, she considered undergoing virginity restoration but never did. Zeina added that these conversations of shame lead women to fear their sexualities and to develop unhealthy relationships with their bodies. At the end of the interview, Zeina shared her overall thoughts on virginity that described the disembodied artificial process that Arab women go through to reach an understanding of the value of virginity:.

We let something that is natural and a part of us, we let somebody else dictate to us, it is dictated to us what the value is.

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You know? I was told how valuable it was. You know, there was no independent process on my part to arrive at the value of virginity. The women in this study clearly described the importance of the presence of the hymen as a of virginity, purity, and honor to the parents, the men in their lives, their religions, and their traditions.

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