[Editor’s note: This article contains a reported case of virginity testing, which may be upsetting for some to read.]
When our children are young, parents stay in the exam room during medical appointments because we need to keep them safe and having access to all their medical information allows that. But when our children are grown, their medical information is their own.
That’s why a celebrity news story this week has us outraged.
In an interview for podcast Ladies Like Us with Nazanin and Nadia, T.I. shared this week that he accompanies his 18-year-old daughter to the gynecologist every year to ensure that her hymen is intact. It appears that the podcast episode has been taken down, but according to BuzzFeed News T.I. said that his daughter’s doctor told him that under HIPAA regulations, he wasn’t allowed to disclose this type of information.
“He’s like, ‘You know, sir, I have to, in order to share information’— I’m like, ‘…they want you to sign this so we can share information. Is there anything you would not want me to know? See, Doc? Ain’t no problem,” he stated.
The doctor informed him that many activities besides sex, such as bike riding and horseback riding, can cause the hymen not to be intact. T.I. replied that his daughter didn’t do those activities, and asked the doctor to “Just check the hymen, please, and give me back my results expeditiously.”
The internet is outraged, and rightfully so.
There are so many wrongs in this story, and it is a strong reminder that there is still so much work to be done toward gender equality.
1. Virginity testing is inhumane and traumatic
Virginity testing is the physical assessment of pelvic anatomy to assess whether the patient has had penetrative intercourse. The hymen, a thin piece of tissue near the opening of the vagina, is inspected. The theory was (was, not is—see item two) that if the tissue was “broken” or nonintact, the person had had intercourse.
But virginity testing is a violation of human rights. In 2018, the World Health Organization released a statement in which they decry the practice of virginity testing. They state that it is “detrimental to women’s and girls’ physical, psychological and social well-being… The examination can be painful, humiliating and traumatic.”
Pelvic exams are difficult enough as it is. The assessment of one’s hymen, especially if done under emotional duress, can be indescribably traumatic physically and emotionally.
2. Virginity testing is not accurate
The presence or lack of a hymen does not indicate whether or not someone has had sex. Not only can many activities cause a hymen to be non-intact, intercourse does not always result in a non-intact hymen. In addition to causing trauma, this examination is useless.
3. Virginity testing is misogynistic and heteronormative
When trying to determine if something is misogynistic, we can apply a little test: What would happen if we tried this with men?
Let’s try it here:
What about male virginity testing? “Oh, well, we couldn’t test male genitalia because it wouldn’t reveal anything that would accurately allow us to determine if they were a virgin.”
Right. Return to item number two above—neither does female virginity testing.
The WHO states, “‘Virginity testing’ reinforces stereotyped notions of female sexuality and gender inequality.”
Also, sex is so much more than penetration, and the only person who can state whether or not they consider themselves to be a virgin is that person. What if a woman has sex with a woman? Penile penetration doesn’t happen, but the people involved may or may not consider themselves virgins.
To use penetration to describe sex discounts the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s inaccurate, outdated and discriminatory. Oh, and also? It is none of our business.
Assessing someone’s virginity has nothing to do with the patient, and everything to do with the person wanting the information. It is not our children’s responsibility to carry the burden of our lack of comfort around human sexuality.
4. Despite the consent form that was signed, the gynecologist is in the wrong.
Dear doctor, remember that whole “do no harm” oath you agreed to? Consider yourself in violation. Virginity testing is a traumatic and useless procedure, and conducting it harms the patient. The WHO states, “Given that these procedures are unnecessary and potentially harmful, it is unethical for doctors or other health providers to undertake them. Such procedures must never be carried out.”
A medical professional should not perform unnecessary and dangerous surgery.
A medical professional should not perform unnecessary and dangerous testing.
This is no different.
5. Was the consent form appropriate?
The Joint Commission is the leading hospital accreditation organization in the United States, charged with ensuring patients receive safe, evidence-based, quality care. Here’s what they have to say about the appropriate way to obtain informed consent:
“Agreement or permission accompanied by full notice about the care, treatment, or service that is the subject of the consent. A patient must be apprised of the nature, risks, and alternatives of a medical procedure or treatment before the physician or other health care professional begins any such course. After receiving this information, the patient then either consents to or refuses such a procedure or treatment.”
Translation: The doctor would have had to say, “Here is how this exam will go; here are the risks; here are the other options you have.”
I was not in the room, so maybe this happened. I can tell you that in my professional opinion, the fact that her father was allegedly sitting next to her telling her to sign it, makes the consent seem invalid.
6. This was not a cool dad move, T.I.
The teenage years are arguably the most trying phase of life to get through. Teenagers are bombarded by massive changes in their bodies, minds and hormones, social pressures and relentless media messaging. They need an adult they can turn to to help them sort it all out, even when—especially when—it’s messy, scary and confusing.
T.I.’s desire to micromanage his daughter’s sexuality could have lasting effects on how she connects with her own body and how she connects with her father. What happens if she is presented with a scenario that she needs guidance with? Will she feel comfortable asking her dad for advice after this?
Look, the idea of my kids having sex one day certainly throws me. This morning my kindergartner was asking me what country is closest to the North Pole and whether Santa makes or buys batteries for all the toys. There is a big part of me that wants to preserve this childlike innocence forever.
But I can’t.
They are, God willing, going to grow up. And I will have two choices.
I can instill fear and distrust, or I can show them that I am there for them—even when it makes me uncomfortable.
Let’s agree to do a better job showing our children that we are with them as they navigate the perils of growing up.