Virginity has been glorified, praised, and demanded across most cultures, religions, and traditions.
It is often misunderstood as something one is giving away, losing, or having taken from them.
The worth, value, and purity of a woman is often based on the expectation of her being a virgin—ranging from the display of a bloody sheet on a wedding night, virginity tests, hymen examinations, and hymen reconstruction surgery. Dowries and feasts are often determined by the women’s virginity, leading to cases of suicide, honour killings, ostracizing, and re-traumatization of rape victims.
These views on virginity are based on religious and cultural beliefs that have nothing to do with the anatomical and medical facts. More than 20 countries still perform “virginity tests” to determine the purity and worth of a future wife, and often times, after a sexual assault has taken place, in order to determine the credibility of the rape.
Yet, there are no such virginity values demanded of men, no medical inspection of the penis to determine previous sexual penetration, or men’s value. Virginity testing is a concept and practice that promotes gender discrimination and sexism, and devalues female bodies and life.
So why is the hymen relevant to this and what are the facts we need to know?
- The word hymen stems from an ancient Greek term meaning “membrane” and also refers to the Greek god of marriage.
- The hymen is a small membranous tissue with no known biological function. It is a stretchy collar of tissue found at the entrance of the vagina that has nothing to do with virginity.
- The hymen is not like a piece of plastic wrap that pops.
- You cannot tell if someone is a virgin or not by examining their hymen.
- You cannot break or damage the hymen by doing activities like gymnastics or riding a horse.
- It is not common for tampon use to damage the hymen.
- All hymens are unique, some are more stretchy than others. Some more or less visible, regardless of the amount of sexual interaction.
- You cannot tell if someone is a virgin or not based on whether they bleed the first time they have sex.
- Bleeding can result from tearing in the vaginal wall, or not. Many women do not experience tearing or bleeding the first time they have sex.
- Descriptions such as “intact hymen” or “broken hymen” function to perpetuate misconceptions about women’s previous sexual history.
- The shape, size, and flexibility of the hymen is dynamic and can change significantly, across the lifespan.
“The term virginity is not a medical or scientific term. Rather, the concept of virginity is a social, cultural and religious construct–one that reflects gender discrimination against women and girls.” ~ World Health Organization
We need to reframe virginity as a quality or state of being, rather than a tangible, measurable, physical trait. With full, non-coerced, informed consent, one can choose for themselves to engage in pleasurable sexual activity and intimacy.
The only proven way to find out if a woman has had sex is to ask her and believe her.
World Health Organization: United Nations agencies call for ban on virginity testing, here.