Updated: Aug 9, 2021
When I first started working for MEWSo, I had no idea there was such a thing as a Virginity Test. I was oblivious to the fact that this sort of thing went on.
The very idea that some stranger can examine a woman’s vagina to see whether the
hymen is broken or not, and that this determines her virginity, was immediately, and continues to be, abhorrent to me. It’s abhorrent to the very girls and women who have to live with virginity testing.
Also called ‘two-finger testing’, virginity tests are incredibly invasive. It’s as uncomfortable and intrusive for a woman as it is for a man to have a finger up his anus to check the health of his prostate. But, in his case, at least the examination is scientific and it is for health reasons. Virginity tests are NOT scientific, have no clinical validity and they are most definitely not for a woman’s health.
In case you’re as ignorant as I was about virginity testing, here’s a quick summary:
In some very conservative communities and cultures (most often among Muslim populations) a girl or woman is expected to be a virgin when she marries. Her virginity is not her own. It is the property of her family and of her future husband.
Every year (or maybe even every six months) she may be taken, encouraged or forced to have a virginity test. The purpose being to check if she is still a virgin. This can start happening to very young girls soon after they start their periods or, more likely, to teenage girls of 13 or 14. If she doesn’t marry until her mid to late 20s, or even in her 30s, she has many years of this kind of abuse ahead of her.
As already stated, virginity tests involve a two-fingered inspection of female genitalia. However, the inspection performed incorrectly can also break the hymen. There are cases when women protesting against governments in Egypt and Iran, for instance, have been forced to have a virginity test as a punishment. Not only does it humiliate and degrade the women, but the examiner, who may or may not be a qualified doctor, will deliberately break the hymen to ‘ruin’ her, as this BBC video Detained and forced to have a 'virginity test’ testifies. There have been many protests against this practice but it still goes on today.
Not Just A Foreign Problem
The tests may be dismissed as only a problem in Middle Eastern countries, but it occurs in over 20 nations around the world - including here in Britain. It’s not uncommon for GPs and hospital doctors from Middle Eastern, Asian and North African communities to be approached to carry out virginity tests. Those who agree to do so claim it keeps women safe in their communities where it would be dangerous for her if it were proved she is not a virgin.
But this is exactly the point. Virginity CANNOT be proved with virginity tests!
The hymen can rupture for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with sex. Running, jumping, exercising, playing sport, riding a bike, using a tampon, even falling over heavily can cause the hymen to break.
The hymen can even remain intact after sex. When doctors in the United States examined the hymens of 36 pregnant teenagers, they found that 34 of them still had unbroken hymens.
What this shows is that a broken hymen may or may not be connected to the act of sex. You just can’t tell. Here, MEWSo's Campaign Coordinator, Natasha Feroze, explains the true nature of a hymen.
But the myth that hymens can determine women's virginity persists. And it leads desperate women to desperate measures - namely, unnecessary surgery.
Hymenoplasty or hymen repair surgery is when a broken hymen is stitched together to give the appearance of being intact. London and Dubai are well known destinations for ‘revirginisation’ or ‘restoring virginity’.
The procedure enables a woman who has not had sex but has a broken hymen to feel safe presenting herself to her future husband and his family. It also means a woman who has had sex can mislead others into believing she is still a virgin. Either way, it is as much of a deceit as the bogus science behind virginity tests.
The cost of surgery is also expensive - between £1,500 and £3,000 or more. Desperate women make a lot of clinics a lot of money.
The operation may succeed but it can also fail. Stitches can detach or rupture with vigorous movement or accidentally, just as in un-stitched hymens, but the woman may not know this until it’s too late. Surgery may also make having sex in the future difficult and painful. Again, she won’t know until it’s too late to do anything about it. And, who is she going to complain to or seek redress from? It won't be from the clinic that gave her a procedure that has to be kept a secret! A woman may be able to afford the cost of surgery but the price she pays in the long run, physically and psychologically, may be higher.
There are even hymen repair kits, providing buyers with plastic tweezers and fake blood, if women don’t want or can’t afford surgery. It may help a woman fool her husband on their wedding night but doesn’t help her if she’s tested before the wedding.
It is clear that virginity tests and hymen repair surgeries go hand in hand. One cannot exist without the other, and so if one is to be banned, both must be banned, or any prevention will be ineffective. Dr Ashfaq Khan, an NHS Consultant and Harley Street doctor, explained the situation when he attended MEWSo's Ban Virginity Tests conference. Click the video below:
This whole subject is shameful and a minefield made up of myths, bogus science, deceit and a persistent Medieval attitude that a woman’s virginity is not her own.
MEWSo has been fighting the virginity industry for years. We want virginity tests, hymen repair surgery and hymen repair kits banned in Britain. The World Health Organisation says such tests should be banned because they violate women’s rights, children’s rights, the right to be free from torture and degrading treatment, the right to privacy and the right not to be sexually discriminated against. Virginity tests and the virginity industry violates all such natural human rights.
Education A Must
But even once they are banned, young people and communities need to be educated so that the practice dies once and for all. If not, it could be driven underground where women and girls will be at even greater risk of physical and psychological harm.
That is why we continue to lobby the Government to include education about the virginity industry in the relationships and sex education curriculum (RSE) and in Personal, Social, Health and Economic classes (PHSE). Once it is part of statutory RSE lessons, it would encourage girls and boys to talk openly about the subject, help protect their physical and mental wellbeing, and those of future generations.
It also needs to be talked about by health and social care professionals so they understand what is happening in the communities they serve. How can a social worker truly protect young girls from abuse if they are unaware of the extent of the virginity industry among some cultures? How can gynaecologists properly treat young women if they don’t know that she may have had hymen repair surgery in the past?
Rather than concentrating on girls' and women's virginity, we need to uphold their rights to own their own body and determine their own sex life. Maybe, instead of discussing virginity we should talk about one’s sexual debut. It expands the definition of sex to include kissing, touching, cuddling and so on. And language is a powerful tool. If we change the words we use, the ideas and attitudes soon follow.
Everyone deserves the right to decide for themselves when and how they make their sexual debut. But, it is the responsibility of us all to stop the virginity industry now and forever, and to protect girls and women, whatever their culture or religion, from this barbaric practice.