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For many women, sex education involved being bent, scared and shamed into conformity. Women are deprived of information or deliberately lied to and misled to uphold the requirement of chastity and purity that virginity supposedly symbolises.
Physically, the concept of female purity is enshrined in the hymen, but the hymen itself varies among women and much of what is known widely about it is untrue. The hymen has no proven medical or physiological purpose, neither does it confer any physical value on its bearer.
Though in many women, the hymen is a thin membrane over the vaginal opening, some women have no tissue at all. On rare occasions, a minor surgical procedure is required where the hymen covers the entire vaginal opening or where the hole in the hymen is very small. Throughout a woman’s life, the membrane can be worn away by physical activity or the use of sanitary products.
There are many myths about hymens and virginity.
It is a common misconception that the presence of the hymen is an indication of one’s virginity. Many people believe that you’re not a virgin if your hymen is stretched open, but having a hymen and being a virgin is not the same thing. Some people are born with hymens that are naturally open, and the hymen can be stretched open from many physical activities besides sex.
It is also popularly believed that the hymen is rigid and inflexible and can be “broken” during sex. Bleeding on your first instance of penetration is not a universal event. Not all women bleed during sex and, yet some cultures have made it a requirement to pass a “virginity test”.
Virginity testing has been and is still being practised in several countries around the world including Egypt, South Africa, America, Indonesia, and the United Kingdom.
In 2019, American rapper T. I faced an onslaught of criticism after he said during a podcast interview that he requires his 18-year-old daughter to undergo virginity testing with her gynaecologist annually.
These beliefs have been reinforced by Abrahamic religions and “no sex until marriage” mandates as well as our customs, requiring proof of purity after the consummation of the marriage. If a woman “fails” to remain pure until her marriage, she faces damning consequences and the accusation of promiscuity.
While remaining a virgin until marriage is a valid choice for those who wish not to have sex. It is not sacred and it certainly is no reflection of a woman’s worth. There is nothing symbolic, profoundly meaningful, or special about having a hymen. There was never anything to lose as the phrasing “lose your virginity” implies.
Because of these factors, it is impossible to tell if a woman is a virgin by examination. Virginity testing is a sham. The examination, an inspection of female genitalia to determine whether they have had vaginal intercourse, has no scientific merit or clinical indication.
Benny (17) was admitted to the hospital because of an infection and while she was there, a nurse told her parents her hymen was broken. For a young Nigerian girl, this is close to a death sentence. Her parents assumed she was having sex, casting aspersions on her, and though, ultimately, her parents let it go, many girls don’t get off so easily.
In Afghanistan, a long-standing tradition holds that virginity is required for brides and they are expected to prove it. Upon failing to prove her purity, she risks abuse, imprisonment, or even death.
It is enraging knowing that these things are baseless. Even if grown, consenting women have sex before marriage, it does not devalue them. A woman’s sexual history or decisions are not especially scandalous simply because she is a woman.
Boys and men do not face the same burden to remain virgins. Virginity testing does not exist for men and the purity and chastity conversations typically exclude them.
The concept of virginity and the weight it carries were orchestrated by society as another tool to control women. A decision to have sex or to abstain should be personal and not inspired by external influences; societal, cultural or religious.