"Virginity is NOT a physical entity. It is a social construct, a tool by which women have been kept powerless and shamed for centuries," Dr. Brown explained.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on July 2, 2021. It has since been updated.
One might think, wouldn't they, that all the fuss about virginity would be a thing of the past in the 21st century. Unfortunately, many still consider it a big deal and continue to judge people based on whether they do or do not fit whatever definition of virginity one upholds. This became a heated topic of discussion back in late 2019 when rapper T.I. revealed that he takes his then-18-year-old daughter, Deyjah Harris, to annual gynecological exams to have her hymen checked. "We have yearly trips to the gynecologist to check her hymen. Yes, I go with her... I will say, as of her 18th birthday, her hymen is still intact," he said during an appearance on the Ladies Like Us podcast.
New York lawmakers are considering banning doctors from performing so-called virginity testing, after outrage followed the rapper T.I. saying he takes his daughter to see a gynecologist every year to ensure that her hymen is still intact https://t.co/fmac1KRPSt— The New York Times (@nytimes) December 3, 2019
Although the 40-year-old acknowledged at the time that a woman's hymen can be broken outside of sexual activity, he countered by saying: "So then they come and say, 'Well, I just want you to know that there are other ways besides sex that the hymen can be broken like bike riding, athletics, horseback riding, and just other forms of athletic physical activity.' So I say, 'Look, Doc, she don't ride no horses, she don't ride no bike, she don't play no sports. Just check the hymen, please, and give me back my results expeditiously.'"
There is *no* test or exam that can accurately determine whether a girl or a woman has had sex. And yet, according to the UN, the practice of so-called "virginity testing" has been documented in at least 20 countries around the world -- including the US https://t.co/BNbICSxY8W— CNN (@CNN) November 11, 2019
As T.I.'s revelation drew strong criticism from netizens, Dr. Verena Brown — a pediatrician who specializes in treating child abuse victims — took to Facebook to set the record straight about the hymen and the concept of virginity. Sharing a diagram of female anatomy from the Children's Hospital of Minnesota, she wrote: "With the recent celebrity attention to hymens, I have been meaning to write some thoughts on the matter. For the past 10 years, I have been working as a child abuse pediatrician, taking care of hundreds of girls who have been victims of sexual assault. Those of us in this line of work know a lot about hymens, the female anatomy, and so-called virginity."
"So here's my PSA: Virginity is NOT a physical entity. It is a social construct, a tool by which women have been kept powerless and shamed for centuries," Dr. Brown explained. "'But what about the hymen?' you ask. Doesn't it 'pop' or 'break open' when a woman has sex for the first time? Nope. Look at the diagram above. The hymen is simply a thin bit of tissue, a vestigial remnant that sits at the entrance of the vagina."
"It is absolutely useless (unless you are a guinea pig. Their hymens do regrow for protection and recede when the female is in heat. To quote Todd Akin, female guinea pigs can actually 'shut the whole thing down.' But humans aren't guinea pigs)," she wrote. Dr. Brown then went on to share some scientific facts about the hymen:
1. The hymen has no purpose.
2. Hymens look like hair scrunchies, and much like hair scrunchies, they are stretchy.
3. The hymen is ALWAYS open: "Baby girls are born with holes. On rare occasions, girls are born without openings. This is a medical condition called an imperforate hymen, and it may require surgery to fix. There are other variations on hymen morphology as well, such as septated hymens (with extra bands of tissue across the opening), but since the vast majority of women fit into the typical category, I will keep to that here," she explained.
4. If hymens weren't open, girls would not be able to have periods. That's why imperforate hymens need surgery to make an opening.
5. Studies show that women who were pregnant and women who have never had sex have identical-looking hymens.
6. Only 50% of women bleed at first intercourse.
7. If an injury does occur to the genitalia from sexual activity (or otherwise), it does not mean that anything got "broken open."
"The vulva has many parts to it that can be injured (see diagram), not just the hymen," Dr. Brown wrote. "Also, the vulvar tissue is the same as what is inside your mouth. If you bite the inside of your mouth, it may swell or even bleed. But a couple of days later, it will be completely healed. A woman's vulva, and hymen, does the same. So why is the myth of virginity one worth busting? Well, first of all, it's not accurate, and women need to know the truth about our bodies. Secondly, women around the world are still subjected to virginity testing and other intrusive and dangerous practices to prove, ensure, or 'reinstate' the mythical virginity. Third of all, this: (trigger warning) A 13-year-old girl sits on my examination table. Her uncle started raping her when she was 7-years-old. I tell her that she looks healthy and that she is going to be okay. She asks me, 'Am I still a virgin?'"
"I say yes, and I tell her why. Because she looks just like any other girl her age. In 95% of cases, the hymen heals completely after an assault. And because virginity is not a physical state. It's not something that can ever be taken from you. It's a concept, a mental and emotional decision you make to give of yourself when you are ready, and not when someone decides to be violent with your body. And because being raped is not the same thing as having sex. Having sex WITH someone can only happen with consent. Otherwise, it's just violence from one person to another, period. She cries, her whole body shaking, with tears of relief. Then she dries her tears and smiles for a new beginning," she recounted. "So let's stop the shame and humiliation. Enough is enough."