Virginity Tests Are Sexist And Inaccurate, But They're Still Performed On Girls And Women Legally In The United States

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Virginity Tests Are Sexist and Inaccurate
Sex

Early this year, courts in Pakistan pushed to outlaw virginity tests. Activists hope the country will join the growing list of nations abolishing the invasive practice. 

However, the U.S. is still among the list of 20 countries documented to practice routine virginity tests and there have been very few attempts to stop this. 

In 2019, rapper T.I. shocked audiences when he spoke publicly about bringing his daughter to a gynecologist for annual virginity tests.

The revelation inspired Assembly Member Michaelle Solages to work on legislation that would impose harsh penalties on doctors performing virginity tests in the state of New York. However, over a year later lawmakers have yet to pass the bill. 

The test and its persistance exposes one of the many ways that female oppression is enshrined in law. If we can't even move on from this debunked and ridiculous procedure, what hope do women have?

How are virginity tests performed and are they accurate? 

The test is performed in one of two equally invasive and medically inaccurate ways. 

The “two-finger test” may be used to examine the laxity of vaginal muscle in order to determine whether a woman habitually engages in sex. 

This has little connection to any biological reality and is entirely based on subjective observation. It fails to take into account the very basic fact that every vagina is different. 

The second method of testing for the presence of the hymen has also been debunked multiple times. 

This test is centered on the outdated and controversial idea that a woman’s hymen is broken or “popped” during the first instance of penetration. 

We talked to Paula Kirsch, a certified sex therapist about how this practice impacts women and society as a whole. 

She cited a UN statement and reminded us that several agencies invested in human rights have called for an end to this practice.  

“No examination can prove that a woman or girl has had vaginal intercourse and the attempt to do so is about shaming and controlling women and a human rights violation,” Kirsch says.

The hymen is not some seal on a woman’s purity until Prince Charming comes along and peeks through. Hymens surround the vaginal opening and can be “broken” or stretched through sporting activities, tampon use, or medical procedures. 

Similarly, hymens may not even be broken at all depending on the individual. As far back as 1906, studies dispelling the myth examined a sex worker whose hymen was still intact. 

In 2004, an examination of 36 pregnant women found that 34 of them had an intact hymen. 

RELATED: Why The Entire Concept Of 'Virginity' Is A Lie

Myths about hymens are used to oppress women

This preoccupation with hymens is rooted in notions about purity and is often used to shame women. 

Virginity tests are commonly used to test women’s sanctity before marriage. In Pakistan, they were previously used to determine a woman’s credibility if she was making a sexual assault accusation. In Indonesia, the practice can be used to judge eligibility for employment. 

Yet, inevitably, there is no male equivalent to the virginity test nor any legal system that puts a constraint on male heterosexual activity. 

Laws that allow these tests to occur leave women vulnerable to a whole value system that is misguidedly attached to virginity.

Women who don’t bleed during their first vaginal penetration are abused and shamed despite the studies that have refuted this as a common occurrence. In fact, bleeding during sex is more often an indicator of forced penetration or a lack of lubrication.

Kirsch tells us this notion detaches women from their right to pleasurable sex.

“The archaic concept about virginity passed on to young girls and the idea that sex hurts the first time and that something is ‘lost’ is a less than sex-positive approach to a natural and joyful experience.”

Hymen restoration surgery is available in private practices across the U.S. and “fake hymens” that produce blood during penetration are easily accessible on Amazon. This creates an entire industry that profits off of female shame and trauma. 

RELATED: Waiting To Have Sex Until I'm Married Does NOT Make Me A Naive Girl

Virginity tests can have disastrous consequences 

Aside from the social implications of virginity tests, they can be harmful in and of themselves. 

In 2018, several UN agencies issued a call to end the practice of virginity tests, a call the U.S. has clearly ignored. 

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In their report, they outlined some of the negative psychological consequences for women and girls. Among them were feelings of guilt, self-disgust, depression, anxiety, and a negative body image

The tests and the values they perpetuate make sexual activity a source of shame for women. Women who bleed during sex may be victims of trauma yet within a culture this trauma is rebranded as a requirement that satisfies an archaic, misogynistic ritual. 

“This idea of virginity is a patriarchal social construct from the past, about controlling women that unfortunately survives into today all too often,” Kirsch agrees. “When women and girls are shamed and scared into fighting their natural desires and left uneducated about their bodies, everyone loses.”

One systematic review of virginity tests even revealed cases of women having arms broken or taking their own lives after failing the test. It also revealed women screaming and crying during the procedure. 

The tests expose an outdated definition of sex

Though there are clearly many extreme cases of women being falsely accused of “losing” their virginity, these aren’t the only reasons to end the practice. 

The tests are often requested by family members and betray our consistent inability to allow women to make their own choices regarding their bodies. 

An entire medical procedure designed to expose women for “hiding” their sexual promiscuity reveals just how much of a taboo female sexuality still is. 

It’s more than just a cultural issue, it is literally inscribed in law that a third party is allowed to determine a women’s “purity.” 

We have attached an entire list of restrictive and oppressive values to a piece of tissue that can be broken with a tampon. 

Kirsch tells us that the inaccuracy of virginity tests is part of a wider perpetuation of myths about sex and makes us uninformed about the realities of this act. She argues that an entire reevaluation of this practice and sex education as a whole is necessary. 

“Providing medically accurate sex education, covering birth control, and avoiding STIs for both men and women will lead to fewer unwanted pregnancies, fewer STIs, fewer cases of vaginismus, and a healthier population as a whole.”

RELATED: Why I Refuse To Be Shamed Into Being Modest About My Body

Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment.