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Carleton College

Publication Date

Summer 2016

Program Name

India: Public Health, Policy Advocacy, and Community


There is a general silence in both society and academia surrounding women’s health and the social conception of purity. Purity myths and misconceptions have created stigmas that women of all backgrounds must navigate to manage and care for their reproductive and sexual health. This study investigates the importance of purity and how it is used to define, measure, and categorize women’s bodies and behaviors. Women’s perception of purity, specifically in regards to menstruation and pre-marital sex, were investigated using semi-structured interviews in Dehradun, Uttarkhand. This study analyzes how stigmatized conceptions of impurities manifest as silence in society. Data collected from interviews indicates that this silence inhibits women from discussing sexuality and menstruation openly, accessing contraceptives without fear of judgement, and obtaining proper health information. Education and religiousness influence women’s perceptions of pre-marital sex and menstruation, and therefore impact their ability to break this silence. The study finds that the conception of purity is pertinent in Indian society, and suggests that the value placed on virginity has greater health implications regarding the practice of early marriage as a way for family’s to safeguard girls’ sexuality and the family’s honor.


Asian Studies | Family, Life Course, and Society | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Gender and Sexuality | Marriage and Family Therapy and Counseling | Women's Health | Women's Studies


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