As the holiday season descends upon us all, let’s tackle something UNTRUE about female sexuality that’s especially timely. It’s the myth of the hymen, that overdetermined bit of membrane that earned the Virgin Mary her moniker.
The hymen is having a moment right now, and not just because of the immaculate conception. Rapper T.I. recently said that he escorts his teenage daughter to the gynecologist every year for a “hymen check” so he can rest assured she’s still a “virgin.” T.I.’s move and talking about it prompted wide outrage. Let’s state the obvious: It’s wrong to coerce a young woman into a medical appointment and then preside over it as if her body and sexual inexperience are yours to jealousy “protect” and preserve. And then to broadcast her private details to the world on a podcast? Ew. And to normalize this grotesquely controlling behavior as “a dad being a good dad” or a “natural thing to do”? Stop it. It’s only “natural” in a fu*ked up ecology where women are only valuable as “unused” possessions of men i.e. where we don’t value girls and women at all.
But T.I. and the many people who support him aren’t just tools of the patriarchy—they are idiots. Because the hymen is no proof of “virginity,” a word we need to purge from our vocabulaires (I’ll be writing about that for Elle Italia soon, stay tuned). Despite the fact that many cultures have treated the tissue like a “seal” on a girl’s chastity, there is no scientific or medical validity to this belief. Indeed, as Dr. Jen Gunter has noted, half of sexually active teens have intact hymens. And on the flipside, hymens can be disrupted by activity as unsexual as riding a bicycle or dancing or doing gymnastics. Or whatever. The hymen is a collection of cells that, at a child’s birth, form a rigid barrier to keep urine and feces out of the vagina; as the child grows older, it tears or flexes into new shapes.
So consider the Virgin Mary, (herself a teen!). Regardless of your beliefs, science tells us that her hymen meant nothing, if she even had one. FFS, happy holidays, let’s recommit to kicking these types of patriarchal tropes and behaviors that damage men and women and boys and girls alike to the curb in the New Year.