Rape myth is a term that used in a few different ways conceptually but essentially is a false belief involving unwanted or non-consensual sexual behaviors. In one context rape myth is the pervasive belief that exists in many cultures that having sex with a virgin, called "virgin cleansing," can provide a cure for many illnesses.
In the 19th century, when this myth was first reliably documented, many Europeans believed that "raping" a virgin could cure sexually-transmitted diseases such as syphilis, gonorrhea. and others. In the 20th century HIV AIDS came to be included in this list. This belief is believed to have roots in the ancient Christian literature that holds that virginity (and therefore virtue and cleanliness) had been a powerful defense mechanism for early female saints and that this "cleanliness" was transferrable through intercourse.
According to anthropologist Suzanne Leclerc-Madlala in South Africa this same thinking causes men to believe that what is referred to as infant rape (child rape) and rape of physically and mentally handicapped individuals is a cure for sexually-transmitted diseases due to the belief that young children are assumed to be virgins. Likewise, the rape of handicapped people is believed to be a cure because of the belief that handicapped people are sexually inactive and most likely virgin. Rape myth can also be considered part of the general "rape culture" that is believed to exist in modern culture and society. The rape culture belief states that social behaviors commonly associated with this societal environment include victim blaming, sexual objectification, trivializing of rape, the denial of widespread rape, a refusal to acknowledge the harm is caused by some forms of sexual violence, or some combination of these factors. Rape myths in this regard are widespread and false beliefs about rape that attempt to legitimize sexual assault or deny that rape even occurs at all.