Virgin cleansing myth

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The virgin cleansing myth is the erroneous and extremely harmful belief that many sexually transmitted diseases, in particular syphilis, gonorrhea, and HIV/AIDS, can be cured by having sex with a virgin, particularly a child.[1] Besides being unsubstantiated by any scientific evidence whatsoever, not only does it fail to work as advertised, but it is also a way of spreading sexually transmitted diseases and to encourage and justify the rape of children.


The prevalence of virgin cleansing is unclear, but accounts of the belief are reported from sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas.[1]

South Africa[edit]

A 2002 survey by the University of South Africa found that 18% of South African laborers believe that having sex with a virgin cures HIV/AIDS; while a previous 1999 survey by sexual health educators in Gauteng found that that 32% percent of the participants believed the myth.[2]

Anthropologist Suzanne Leclerc-Madlala wrote that the virgin cleansing myth is a possible factor in rape of babies and children by HIV-positive men in South Africa;[3] and psychologist Mike Earl-Taylor said that the myth may explain the increasing number of child or infant rapes in South Africa.[4] Also, UNICEF attributed hundreds of rapes of young girls to the myth.[5]

In 2001, commenting on a series of rapes of babies and very young children in South Africa, Dipuo Peters, the Northern Cape minister of health, said: "I suspect that at least part of the reason these children were raped is because of the myth held in rural areas by men with HIV that they can cleanse themselves by having sex with a virgin. [...] I do a lot of AIDS education; this myth is firmly entrenched and we are doing our best to dispel it."[6]


Betty Makoni, an activist who founded the Girl Child Network in Zimbabwe in 1999, a charity which cares for Zimbabwe's young sex abuse victims; says that the virgin myth is perpetuated by traditional healers, who advise HIV-positive men to have sex with virgin girls in order to cure their diseases.[7] In Zimbabwe, it is also believed that the blood produced by raping a virgin cures the infected person's blood of the disease.[7]


In 2017, Urmi Basu, the founder of New Light, an NGO working with HIV-positive people in some of Kolkata's poorest districts, reported that HIV-positive men are sleeping with virgins, in the hope that they will receive a blessing from a goddess and be cured of their disease, with "an absolutely devastating impact on the lives of the girls who are in the red-light district".[8]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Groce, Nora E.; Trasi, Reshma (2004). "Rape of individuals with disability: AIDS and the folk belief of virgin cleansing". The Lancet 363 (9422): 1663–1664. 
  2. IRIN (2002). "SOUTH AFRICA: Focus on the virgin myth and HIV/AIDS". IRIN. 
  3. Leclerc-Madlala, Suzanne (2002). "On The Virgin Cleansing Myth: Gendered Bodies, AIDS and Ethnomedicine". African Journal of AIDS Research 1 (2): 87–95. 
  4. Earl-Taylor, Mike (2002). "HIV/AIDS, the stats, the virgin cure and infant rape". Science in Africa: Africa's First On-Line Science Magazine. 
  5. CNN. "Child rape survivor saves 'virgin myth' victims". CNN. 
  6. McGreal, Chris. "Aids myth drives South African baby-rape crisis 'due to Aids myth'". The Guardian. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Vickers, Steve. "Staging sex myths to save Zimbabwe's girls". BBC. 
  8. Brown, Will. "The HIV-Driven Myth of ‘Virgin Cleansing’ in Kolkata’s Brothels". News Deeply: Women & Girls.