I’ve never seen the word “hymen” posted so frequently on my Twitter timeline.
In case you missed the news, rapper T.I. recently mentioned in a podcast that he goes with his daughter to the gynecologist each year to check that her hymen is intact.
Yep. You read that correctly. (LINK here, if you don’t believe me.)
It is hard to know where to start with this one because there are so many things wrong with this. I suppose the best place to start is a reminder that this isn’t just a T.I. problem. “Virginity Tests” and purity culture are as old as the patriarchy. As long as people have had sexual agency, other people have been trying to police their sexuality. Virginity tests, chastity belts, purity balls (not to be confused with Truck Nutz), genital mutilation and just straight-up shame have all been used (and are still being used) to keep people from having the independence and information to practice safe, healthy sexuality.
So just to clear a few things up:
- Hymens are irrelevant. Some people have them, some people don’t. Some hymens break when you have sex for the first time. Some break long before that due to activity. Some don’t break at all. You can’t tell someone’s sexual history from the structure of their genitalia.
- Virginity is a cultural construct. It is not a thing you can lose or give away. It is a cultural frame of reference and it doesn’t matter (or even exist) if you don’t want it to! Having sex or not having sex does not change who you are as a person.
- Your sexual history does not change your value. If you’ve had one partner, zero partners, ten partners, or 10,000 partners, you are just as valuable as anyone else. If you choose to be abstinent at any point in your life, that is just fine. If you choose to be abstinent until you get married, more power to you. You do you! That choice, however, does not make you any more moral or any better than someone who is making a different choice.
- Sex does not change who you are as a person, no matter what. You are not chewed-up gum, unsticky tape, unwrapped candy, or any other horrible analogy. You are a person who deserves respect.
Aside from the lack of science and the unwarranted policing of people’s bodies, hypervigilance around virginity sends the message that your body doesn’t belong to you. It sends the message that your body belongs to your father until it belongs to your husband. Too many young girls have been brought up with this message and have been taught that they aren’t in charge of their own bodies and their own sexuality. This leads to a culture that expects and tolerates sexual abuse.
And penetration by a doctor with a medical instrument for any non-medical reason IS ASSAULT. And let me tell you, there is no valid medical reason to “check for a hymen”, so virginity tests are also abuse.
We may not all be taking our daughters for yearly hymen checks or locking up a metal chastity belt, but we all live in a culture that defines a woman’s value by her lack of sexual partners and sexual agency. We all live in a culture that values [female] virginity over enthusiastic consent. We all live in a culture that that tolerates and excuses sexual abuse and assault. The question is, what will be do to change that culture?