Virginity and the hymen are separate and unequal constructs


LaTressa Mapps, Contributor

Editor’s note: Students in Dr. Clark’s Argument and Advocacy class were asked to write a position piece over the article, The hymen’s a myth and virginity’s a construct. It’s time to let both goby Eliza Anyangwe. Anyangwe discusses hymenoplasty, reconstructive surgery for the hymen, also referred to as “virginity repair.” This is the first of three articles.

Author Eliza Anyangwe is the editor of CNN “As Equals.” This is a CNN series that aims to reveal what systematic gender inequality looks like, according to Anyangwe. Anyangwe offers the claim in her opinion article, “The hymen’s a myth and virginity’s a construct: It’s time to let both go.”  Anyangwe is correct, in that, virginity and a woman’s loss of her hymen are not created equal. The loss of a hymen and the loss of virginity are two separate and unequal constructs.

It is important to first understand the truths of both virginity and the loss of woman’s hymen. While there are many medical, religious, and cultural definitions of both, we will focus here on the medical definitions. Virginity, as defined by the medical dictionary, is a person who has not had sexual intercourse. Furthermore, a “classic finding” in virgins is an intact hymen which, according to the medical definition, is defined as “a thin membranous fold of highly variable appearance that partly occludes the ostium of the vagina before its rupture (which may occur for a variety of reason). It is frequently absent (even in virgins), although remnants are commonly present (hymenal carncula tags).

With the knowledge of the above truths, it is easy to accept journalist and author Lynn Enright’s assertion that “contrary to popular belief, the hymen is not a cling film-like covering of the vagina.” Enright interviewed Dr. Adeola Olaitan, gynecological oncologist, who confirmed that a hymen is “not a covering. In the majority of people it’s like a crescent. Erroneous but persistent description of a sort of cling film-like hymen is wildly unhelpful.” With the medical expertise from this Dr. Olaitan, the claim is further advanced that virginity and a woman’s loss of her hymen are not one and the same.

Women lose their hymens in a number of ways that are unrelated to sexual intercourse. Therefore, the loss of a hymen is not proof that virginity has been lost. Virginity testing “or per vaginal examination, is an inspection of the female genitalia meant to determine whether a woman or girl has had vaginal intercourse” per the World Health Organization, it “has no scientific merit or clinical indication – the appearance of a hymen is not a reliable indication of intercourse and there is no known examination that can prove a history of vaginal intercourse.”

Thus, Anyangwe’s claim, “The hymen is a myth and virginity’s a construct: It’s time to let both go” is one that she proved through supporting grounds that warranted the claim.

Additionally, the World Health Organization further asserts that “ the terms virginity testing, virginity examination, and virginity are used, with full awareness, that there is no scientific merit to, or clinical indication for ‘virginity testing’ or to a ‘virginity examination’ and that the term ‘virginity’ is a social, cultural and religious construct with neither medical nor scientific bases.”

Read the other position pieces here: