November 19, 2019

Is There a 'Virginity Test'? What Does it Mean to Have a Broken Hymen?

In a few words, no and nothing.

Last week, the rapper TI made headlines when he talked about taking his teenage daughter for yearly "hymen checks' at the gynecologist's office. After proudly announcing to his interviewers that his 18-year-old daughter's hymen was still intact, he offered a short recap of the conversation with his daughter and her doctor on the subject, "Is there anything you would not want me to know? See, Doc? Ain't no problem" and then, "just check the hymen, please, and give me back my results expeditiously."

There's a lot going on here — let's break it down!

  • There is NO way to accurately determine whether or not someone has had sexual intercourse by examining their hymen or any other part of their genitals.

  • The hymen is not a film covering the vaginal opening, it is more like a ring of tissue that stretches and changes sort of just becomes part of the landscape of a person's vagina over time. Sometimes if it is disrupted suddenly, it bleeds — but this can happen with all sorts of activities, not just sex. Many women do not bleed the first time they have sexual intercourse.

  • Genital exams at the doctor's office are an important part of making sure our bodies are healthy. "Virginity check" are not. A genital exam should be discussed first with the patient and done in a way that respects their dignity and makes them as comfortable as possible. In all but the most extreme circumstances, if a patient doesn't want to have their genitals examined, we do not examine them! If there is a concern that a parent wants us to take a look at, we can discuss it and come up with a solution that works for everyone.

  • Teenagers deserve privacy in discussions with their doctors, particularly with respect to subjects related to sexual health. It's important that we tell teens the limits of that privacy — we have to break confidentiality if a patient is being abused or is considering hurting themselves or someone else — but building a trusting relationship with your doctor is an important part of growing up. We are happy to facilitate difficult discussions with parents if that is what the teenager wants, but that takes a thoughtful discussion with the patient prior to revealing any otherwise confidential information to their parents. It is not appropriate for a doctor to share this information if parent coerces a teen to agree to that. To be clear, the scenario described by TI earlier in this post is 100% coercive and inappropriate.

I genuinely hope that TI's daughter is not actually being subjected to inappropriate, non-medical genital exams. I hope that her doctor is treating her with dignity and respecting her confidentiality and ownership over her own body. The fact remains, however, that many women and girls in the United States and around the world do undergo this abusive practice, which has no basis in science. The World Health Organization and United Nations' Human Rights and Women's Groups have issued a joint statement explicitly condemning the practice of "Virginity Testing."