Debunking the Myths: My Hymen, My Business

by Sophie Dorf-Kamienny

Imagine if every time a woman said “I do” she was agreeing to a physical invasion of her human rights and dignity simply because of the sex she was born into. In several parts of the world, now and throughout history, women have been subjected to inaccurate and degrading virginity tests upon their wedding nights which are used to judge whether or not they are “pure wives.” In other words, virginity testing is used to assure that a new bride has not had premarital sex.

The tests common in countries such as India, Turkey, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Indonesia and South Africa are based upon a component of the female genitalia called the hymen. Virtually all females are born with at least some of this membrane in the opening of their vaginal canal.

Myths dictate that the bleeding that (not always) occurs during a woman’s first time experiencing intercourse is a visual sign of the perforation of the male sex organ into the hymen. Therefore, some cultures take blood on the sheets as a sign that a woman has just ended her era of virginity. The family may enter the bedroom the next morning and examine the sheets, or the bride or groom might bring the sheets out of the room to show the parents.

Other gruesome tests involve an often painful medical examination by the name of the “two-finger test,” during which a doctor may use their fingers to feel for a perforated hymen. Virginity is so valued in some families that a groom feels the need to divorce his wife immediately upon discovering that she is not a virgin.

While you may already be shuddering at the sheer violation involved in these practices, believe me, it gets even worse. The scientific truth is that the results of these tests and rituals mean nothing. That’s right, a virgin woman may be embarrassed, shamed, disowned, and harshly punished because of something (perfectly acceptable) that she didn’t even do.

Allow me to explain: have you ever ridden a horse, participated in intense exercise, or even just used a tampon? Well, guess what––all of these activities can result in the tearing and stretching of the hymen membrane. It’s possible that a woman’s hymen may not break upon intercourse simply because it has already worn down during prior years, or because she was born with a hymen that had a larger opening than usual.

If you had a completely closed hymen (called an imperforate hymen), you would not be able to menstruate properly, and it is likely that you would eventually require medical attention. This just goes to show that, in fact, most healthy females do not have a completely sealed hymen membrane.

Additionally, a virgin with an intact hymen may not bleed during sex because her hymen is flexible enough to stretch without tearing.

The inaccuracies of these tests work the other way around, too. For example, according to the beliefs of the individual, sometimes being a virgin doesn’t just mean that you’ve never had penis to vagina sex. Other forms of intercourse (such as oral and anal) don’t include the vagina, and cannot be detected by examining the state of the hymen. Therefore, those who have experienced different types of sex other than penile/vaginal penetration may still be able to escape the consequences that exist in some cultures by avoiding a certain type of intercourse.

Beyond the unreliability of hymen testing, many ethical and moral issues rise to the surface regarding this topic. On it’s own, the fact that women are held to such ridiculous standards and punished for not obeying them is appalling. Women clearly are not choosing to be tested just for their own benefit. The concept of female virginity testing is an obvious example of an action done solely to satisfy societal expectations and the patriarchy, and to make it even worse, it is an action done frequently without choice.

Men and boys, on the other hand, are not subjected to such scrutiny. In fact, particularly in American culture, they are often applauded or praised for having a wide range of premarital partners.

Virginity testing continually oppresses many female populations worldwide by invasively assuring that a woman is “good enough” for a marriage. The history of a woman’s body and the choices she makes for herself should be neither investigated nor judged by anyone else.