From time immemorial a woman's virginity has been her prized possession. Throughout history one will read about cultures across the world placing a high value on a a woman's virginity. But times are changing and for an increasing number of young men and women, sex is no longer the kind of taboo that it earlier used to be. And much to our older generation's charging, pre-marital sex is a definite reality of our times. In fact, these days, couples who are in a relationship have no qualms about getting sexually intimate with each other even though there may be no guarantee that the relationship will culminate into marriage. However, when it does come to the question of marriage, especially in the case of arranged marriages, a woman with a sexually active history still raises eyebrows and sets tongues wagging. What then is the big deal about virginity and how does this kind of a mentality hamper the lives of numerous women? According to one gynecologist and sex counselor, this kind of mentality is largely because our traditional values are still strongly embedded in us. "One of the most common questions I get, till date, is 'How do I know that my bride or girlfriend is a virgin?' The only answer that I have to such questions is that there is no way to know," says that gynecologist. According to him, it's just the man's and his family's inflated ego that results in such unrealistic demands. How then, does our traditional culture not hamper couples from engaging in pre-marital sex? "Once a couple is engaged, it's like a license for marriage so they feel they can do anything," he opines. "It's actually not such a big deal. However, I still get men who complain to me saying that the wife did not bleed on the first night and hence, they suspect that she's not a virgin. The truth is that the presence of the hymen which ruptures (resulting in the bleeding) is not a sure shot sign of virginity. Some women are born without it, there there are those for whom it is so elastic that it never ruptures while for some it is so fragile that a slightly intense activity may have ruptured it without them even realizing it. It is just not possible to access whether a girl is a virgin or not by just examining her except if she's been through a pregnancy or if she admits to having sexual intercourse," says one sexologist . He goes on to add that in a relationship, if a couple is to make it work successfully, it is more important for the couple to worry about virtues like trust and honesty. "If a woman admits to a sexually active past, it shouldn't be held against her. The very fact that she's even admitting it, even though she could have very well hidden it, means that she is honest and that's all that should matter," he says. For some men, however, especially those raised in very orthodox families or old-fashioned joint families, it's the family members who tend to influence their decision. "In many of these families, something like falling in love or sex before marriage equates to the girl being bold. Their reasons, hence, for rejecting such girls is that post-marriage, too, the girl will continue with the same behaviour,"the doctor explains. Commenting on the issue, one actress opines, "Most people in Dar es Salaam and other towns do not expect their partners to be virgins anymore because Tanzania has gone through a dramatic change in the past 30 years.Tanzania is no longer the closed society it was. The modern young Tanzanians woman is working, independent and makes her own choices in life. It's a change the Tanzanian man has had to adapt to. Nonetheless, we cannot ignore that there is tremendous pressure on girls from smaller cities and more conservative families and virginity does still play a major factor when it comes to their marriage." An intact hymen is not a sure sign of virginity. A woman's hymen can be ruptured by non-sexual activities like intense sports, dancing, sitting astride on two wheelers, etc. It is not necessary for a virgin to bleed the first time she has sex. In fact, is one goes by the statistics, only 42 per cent of women do so. With the current advances in medical technology, a plastic surgeon can quite easily reconstruct a layer of tissue to resemble the hymen (the procedure is called Hymenoplasty). Remember, virginity and chastity are not the only measures to base a happy marriage on, honesty and trust are far more important traits that both partners should possess.