How can you tell a girl is a virgin? ‘Simple’, you say, ‘her hymen isn’t broken’. The problem with this simple solution to a complex question is that it’s simply wrong.
As Therese Shechter points out in her film, How To Lose Your Virginity, the connection between hymens and virginity is about as real as vampires. It’s a shame then that women pay around $5,000 for hymenoplasty to surgically reconstruct them.
Most people believe that the hymen covers the whole vaginal opening, like a freshness seal on bottles. But think about this – if it totally covered your vagina, where would your menstrual blood go? And how would you insert a tampon?
In the video above, the hymen compared to the shape of a balloon arch. There’s already a big ol’ hole in the middle for blood, tampons and fingers to go in and out of. In very few cases does the hymen dramatically, ‘pop’ – usually it just gradually tears and stretches. Activities like horseback riding, biking, gymnastics, fingering, and masturbation can all damage the hymen and make it shrink.
People are born with hymens in such a variety of shapes and sizes that while inserting a penis might cause one hymen to painfully break and bleed, it might have no effect at all on another kind of hymen. In the diagram below the blue area is the vaginal opening, and the little raggy pink bit around it is the hymen, in all its glorious variety. The last image, in which the hymen totally covers the vagina, is very uncommon and often requires surgery before puberty to let menstrual blood out.
Sorry to spoil this precious myth, but not only can you be a virgin with no noticeable hymen, but you can have sex without breaking your hymen at all. If the woman is relaxed enough, if the sex is gentle and you use lube, then your hymen can remain almost the same. In a 2004 American survey, 52% of sexually active teenagers still had noticeable hymens.
But the dedication to the hymen as the signal of virginity causes serious pain throughout the world. The World Health Organization spoke out against ‘virginity testing’ in 2014, stating that in addition to having “no scientific validity” whatsoever, it’s invasive and degrading.
Last year an Egyptian MP called for women to be forced to undergo virginity tests before being admitted to university. And in rural South Africa student scholarships are offered to girls if they can prove they’re virgins.
Before we get up on our Western High Horse and gloat about how barbaric the rest of the world is, it’s important to know that the UK conducted virginity tests on immigrant women from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh to determine if they were lying when they claimed to be engaged to men who lived there. The British government believed that virgins would be less likely to lie about their reasons for immigrating to the country. And this was practiced until 1979!
And Diana Spencer’s status as a virgin was a large factor in the royal family’s selection of her to marry Prince Charles. In a 1980 interview with the Daily Star, Diana’s uncle Lord Fermoy said:
“Purity seems to be at a premium when it comes to discussing a possible bride for Prince Charles at the moment . . . Diana, I can assure you, has never had a lover.”
The point is that people the world over have a creepy obsession with virginity that does favours for no one.
So let’s do the whole world a favour by not giving a shit about who has sex, with who, and when.