Virginity Tests: Let’s Leave Them in the Last Decade
January 9, 2020
Not only did January 1, 2020 mark a new year, but also a whole new decade. It’s a good time to leave some trends in the past: athleisure wear, putting your relationship status in your Instagram bio and so-called “virginity tests,” to name a few. But while athleisure’s worst offense is being absurdly overpriced, virginity tests are dehumanizing, unscientific and actively harmful for people with vaginas.
An Old Practice
Recently the practice came back into public focus after rapper T.I. discussed taking his now 18-year-old daughter to the gynecologist for yearly “virginity tests.” In this case, this entailed a doctor examining a young woman to ensure her hymen was “intact” and then telling her father what he observed. Although T.I. says his daughter agreed to the exam and for her doctor to discuss it with him, it’s unclear whether she may have felt pressured to do so.
Virginity tests have existed for centuries in a variety of forms—all based in falsehood. The ancient Greeks, for example, sought to tell “virgin women” apart from those who were sexually active by the size and shape of their nipples. Medieval doctors would observe the circumference of women’s necks.
The Myth of Virginity and the Intact Hymen
Once again, none of these methods has any sort of scientific basis—many doctors have said so. And neither does the “test” used on T.I.’s daughter. Though many people still believe the hymen to be an indicator of one’s virginity, this myth falls short for a number of reasons.
First: The hymen doesn’t always break or tear during sexual penetration. Different peoples’ bodies react in different ways. Some people are even born without a hymen.
Second: Sex isn’t the only way someone can tear their hymen. Masturbation or other non-sexual activities, such as riding a bike or using tampons, may also alter the hymen. It can also just change naturally over time.
Third: People define sex in different ways, and therefore they define virginity in different ways. Some people view only penile-vaginal penetration as “sex.” This excludes other sexual behaviors, including oral and anal sex, as well as sexual encounters between same-sex couples.
A Bogus Concept
Virginity tests come from a time when people with vaginas were seen as property to be married off to the highest bidder. People saw women who had sex before marriage as pieces of damaged property. While this is unfortunately still true in some parts of the world—including for some people in the U.S.—more often we now recognize people as people, not as a product. We know a person’s worth does not correlate with how much or how little sex they have. We know “virginity” is a bogus concept.
Virginity tests are not a harmless myth or victimless crime. The World Health Organization has called the practice “a violation of human rights.” In some instances, women across the globe who resist or “fail” the test have been jailed, barred from employment or, in extreme cases, even killed. The practice is, at its core, a violent form of discrimination.
It’s a new year. Let’s leave virginity tests in the past, where they belong.