Don’t Test Me: Virginity Testing

Dear Sexpert,

My parents are very adamant about me abstaining from sex until after college.  Whenever I come home, they ask if I am still a virgin. I am sexually active, and I’m afraid they will find out I am lying.  Is there any test that can be done to confirm a woman’s virginity?

–Don’t Test Me

Dear Don’t Test Me,

First, let’s explore the term virginity.  Although it is widely believed that one “loses their virginity” after the first instance of penetrative intercourse, the concept of virginity is a heteronormative social construct.  A first sexual experience can encompass a multitude of different forms and personal, cultural, or religious significance. For some, the loss of virginity might include engaging in any form of sexual activity involving the genitals (e.g., oral or manual stimulation), engaging in new sexual experiences or activities with a current partner, engaging in sexual activities with a new partner, or having an orgasm.

Virginity testing has a controversial history here in the U.S. and around the world. I’m not sure what your cultural background is but you can find out more information about some cultural practices here and here.

Beyond being heteronormative, the emphasis on women’s “virginity” is a form of gender discrimination. The social expectation that girls and women remain “virgins” is based on stereotypes that female sexuality should be restricted until marriage. Virginity testing, or gynecological examinations looking for the presence of an intact hymen (a thin membrane that completely or partially surrounds the entrance of the vagina) have been popularized in many cultures.  Breaking of the hymen can occur through other non-sexual activities (e.g., using tampons, biking or horseback riding) and also may not result from penetrative sex.

In 2018, the United Nations and World Health Organization (WHO) called for the global elimination of virginity testing.  According to the WHO, there is no evidence that the appearance of female genitalia can indicate a woman or girl’s history of sexual activity. Beyond being a medically unnecessary process, virginity testing is oftentimes humiliating and painful for a woman.

I hope I’ve clarified that there is no anatomical indicator of virginity.  No one will ever be able to find out about your sexual experiences through anatomical indicators, and no one has the right to perform a vaginal examination without your consent. Additionally, rest assured that your medical care is confidential– in that your providers cannot share your medical information with your parents without your written consent.  If your parents’ restrictions are causing you distress, you may want to consider talking to a counselor (at Counseling & Psychological Services or outside of the University) – they can help explore possible conversations to have with your parents regarding your autonomy or ways to manage your feelings about navigating this tough dynamic.

If you have further questions about virginity, or sexual health in general, you can make an appointment online with a sexual health provider through MyUHS.

-The Sexpert

Information regarding virginity testing provided by National Public Radio (NPR), Huffington Postthe World Health Organization and The Telegraph.