By Jess Semler
Pittsburgh Current Columnist
I don’t know how old I was when I learned that a hymen was supposed to be indicative of a person’s “intact” virginity.
I do know that I was 11 years old when my hymen broke at cheerleading practice. No, I wasn’t having vaginal intercouse in the yard of St. Bonaventure Elementary; I was actually engaging in vigorous stretching. I haven’t thought about that fateful day in years. However, after reading about how 18-year-old Deyjah Harris has been subjected to a “virginity check” at her yearly gynecologist appointment, with her doctor checking her hymen to confirm that she was still a “virgin” and reporting the results to her father, rapper TI, my coworkers and I found ourselves sharing our hymen-breaking stories. Wouldn’t you know, none of them were sexual.
There is a whole lot happening here. A father checking to see if his daughter’s hymen is intact, because it implies she is still a virgin? That is a massive violation of privacy. Dr. Colleen Krajewski, a gynecologist in Pittsburgh shared her take in the Washington Post:
“A parent or partner handing you a form in front of the doctor and demanding that you sign it is not to be mistaken for your consent. A doctor should be able to recognize this as coercion, regardless of how famous the person in front of them is. Reading about how this transpired made my blood boil and my heart break.”
What is equally disturbing is that these tests aren’t based in science. The World Health Organization, the United Nations, and countless doctors have called for an end to “virginity testing,” including the hymen test and the “two-finger test,” for many reasons. Not all women are born with hymens. Some have thinner hymens than others; some hymens are torn over time or altogether, due to anything from sports, tampons, biking and more.
Here is my favorite analogy for hymens: When I was a cheerleader in high school, each week we’d make a giant sign for the football players to run through at the Friday night game. It was made out of white butcher paper and red tempera paint, ordering the team to “Stomp the Titans!” Or whatever. Sometimes, we’d make a small rip in the middle of the sign to make it easier for the guys to break through. Occasionally, we’d forget to do so, and thus they were met with more resistance. When it would rain, we could barely hold up the sign long enough for them to run through it before it simply fell apart. That’s kind of how hymens are! Completely dependent on a host of factors. Hell, sometimes we’d forget the damn sign on the bus, so there was nothing to begin with.
So, not only is this a complete violation of privacy, as far as determining whether or not his daughter is a “virgin” based on a method that isn’t even reliable, for gathering data that is meaningless, on who his daughter is as a person. On top of this being a complete violation of privacy, why is there such a preoccupation with virginity in the first place?
How would it feel to have your dad’s view on you and your worth so deeply connected to whether or not he thought you had sex? One coworker read an online comment made by a woman defending TI’s comments, who said “he was just protecting his daughter because he values her worth.” That right there, is ingrained gender discrimination and internalized misogyny. I remember receiving messages about sexuality and abstinence as a teen and the messages differed. There was pressure to have sex and to use sex as a tool for power. But there was also just as much pressure to not have sex, and campaigns promoting abstinence that portrayed remaining a virgin until marriage as a source of empowerment were thrown into my face. These myths exist so that women think about sexuality not as something that belongs to them, but as a means of currency, something that is meant to be given or withheld.
When it comes down to it though, even when there were models in Candie’s shoe ads wearing shirts with slogans like “You Don’t Have to Have Sex to be Sexy,” a woman’s sexuality was and clearly is still perceived as her baseline worth. A person’s value is unconditional and shouldn’t change whether or not they have had sex.
I don’t know how old I was when I learned that virginity wasn’t real; when I realized that it was a myth intended to sanctify heterosexual intercourse and the implications of what penises do to vaginas. I remember getting really fed up talking to some folks at a college party when a guy was talking about not wanting to be with a woman (he said “girl”) who’d been with too many guys because then she’d be “stretched out.”
I fucking hate math, but I found myself doing word problems in my head: If a woman bangs it out with a different man twice a week for three years, how is that different than if a woman bangs the same guy twice a week for three years? Answer: It isn’t and it doesn’t matter! This has nothing to do with anything! Fellas — your penises aren’t magical and powerful parts that have the ability to change a woman’s anatomy.
It really seems like it’s more about some of these guys wanting women to have lots of sex, but only with them. I can think of two reasons: 1. The idea of ownership, and 2. If we’re only sleeping with you, maybe we won’t realize that you can’t find the clitoris with a flashlight, compass, and a map.