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Fetishizing the hymen...the myth surrounding virginity tests...




The existence or appearance of a hymen cannot indicate a person’s sexual experiences. This belief is deeply entrenched in cultural ideologies and is not informed by medical practice. The hymen, a tiny membrane, is socially constructed in such a way that it is used to control women’s sexuality and gendered roles of “good wives” or “good mothers” which can be determined by virginity testing [1].


A recent inquiry, carried out by the BBC, found at least 16 clinics here in the UK who are offering “virginity testing”. Some also offer hymen-repair surgery costing up to £3000. In the past five years at least 69 hymen-repair procedures have been carried out according to NHS England. These tests are a form of control when girls and women are being coerced into having the tests. There have been calls for these types of surgeries to be banned. According to the World Health Organisation, virginity repair surgery is carried out in over 20 countries.


Research suggests that due to the highly variable nature of the size, shape and appearance of hymens, it is impossible to establish whether a hymen is intact in relation to past sexual intercourse [2]. Furthermore, it is widely known that the hymen can break for many various reasons including, for example, physical exercise or inserting tampons. Nevertheless, the pressure on some women to have intact hymens is immense and has spurned the development of so called “hymen repair kits” with fake blood and tweezers which are sold online for a tidy profit.


There have been calls to make these practices illegal as they reinforce shame and control over women’s bodies. The fact that hymens are being repaired surgically and certified is another falsehood. It is key that education programmes within schools and society educate on issues such as hymen reconstruction so that society can acknowledge that it is time to banish this patriarchal practise to the past [3].


If you have been affected by these issues you can contact Karma Nirvana who support victims of honour-based abuse and forced marriage. Karma Nirvana’s UK helpline is Tel. 0800 5999 2471 and it operates from Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. If you are in immediate danger please call 999. Their website is www.karmanirvana.org.uk


© PCOS Vitality, 2020

[1] S. Delgross, The Mythological Role of the Hymen in Virginity Testing, 2019.

[2] F.A. Goodyear-Smith, T.M. Laidlaw, What is an “Intact” Hymen? a critique of the literature, Med. Sci. Law. 38 (1998) 289–300. https://doi.org/10.1177/002580249803800404.

[3] Controversial “virginity tests” sold by UK clinics - BBC News, (n.d.). https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-55078634 (accessed November 27, 2020).



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