From Your Doctor to You: Do Not Subject Girls to Hymen Checks
As a gynecologist who wrote a book about what teenage girls should know about their bodies and sex, a creator of Puberty Parties, and an advocate for the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls around the world, I felt the need to respond to TI taking his daughter to the gynecologist for hymen checks. I will respond only with the facts.
1. There is no test to confirm virginity. This is because the hymen which is a membrane covering the vaginal opening is usually open in all girls. If it was not open, girls would be unable to have a period, because the menstrual blood comes through the hymen. The hymen looks different in every girl or woman – so you can’t tell if someone is a virgin just by looking. The hymen can also be stretched by exercise, different activities or tampon use. There are multiple forms of sexual activity including oral and anal sex, so a hymen check cannot confirm or deny virginity.
2. There is no reason to do a hymen check on a girl or woman. Vaginal and pelvic exams should not be done until someone is sexually active or until age 21 unless someone is having medical problems that require an exam. The hymen check is an invasive exam that is done in many cultures around the world to oppress women and take away their personal control over their sexual and reproductive health. It is often done as a test of chastity in patriarchal societies and many times combined with painful and medically unnecessary procedures like Female Circumcision/Female Genital Mutilation. It has no place in modern medicine and most Gynecologists will refuse to perform them.
3. Humans are sexual beings and both men and women deserve to have satisfying sexual lives. Delaying sexual debut until adulthood and limiting sexual partners is about protecting health, not about denying sexuality. Parents need to let their children know that when the time is right it is ok to have sex safely while using a condom plus using contraception.
4. Every girl or woman deserves the right to protect their own sexual and reproductive health. As parents, you can support them to do this by giving them the tools they need – this includes:
A. Teaching them the correct names for their vagina and vulva from when they can talk.
B. Teaching them that no one should touch their vagina, vulva or breasts and that they should let a parent or trusted adult know if someone does.
C. Teaching them to understand and love their changing bodies and to delay having sex until they are physically and mentally able to handle the consequences of having sex which include STDs and pregnancy.
D. Teaching them that they have control over their bodies and can choose when to have sex with guidance from their parents.
5. Finally, we should all understand that the average age for sexual debut in the US is 17 so as parents, the best thing you can do is to talk to your daughters from childhood, develop mutual trust and understanding, and give them the tools they need to better protect their own sexual and reproductive health.
Subjecting girls to hymen checks is not one of those tools.
your Global Gynecologist.