[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 examination room during medical appointments because we need to protect them and have access to all of their medical information. But when our children are older, their medical information is theirs.
That’s why a celebrity story this week outraged us.
In a podcast interview Ladies like us with Nazanin and Nadia, TI shared this week that he accompanies his 18-year-old daughter to the gynecologist every year to make sure her hymen is intact. It looks like the podcast episode has been pulled, but according to BuzzFeed News TI said his daughter’s doctor told him that under HIPAA regulations he was not allowed to disclose this type of information.
“He’s like ‘You know sir, I have to do this to share information’ – I’m like ‘… they want you to sign this so that we can share information. Is there something that you wouldn’t want me to know? See, Doc? That’s okay, “he said.
The doctor informed him that many non-sexual activities, such as cycling and horseback riding, can prevent the hymen from being intact. TI replied that her daughter was not doing these activities and asked the doctor to “Just check the hymen, please, and return my results to me quickly.”
The Internet is outraged, and rightly so.
There is so much wrong with this story, and it’s a strong reminder that there is still so much work to be done for gender equality.
1. Virginity tests are inhuman and traumatic
The virginity test is the physical evaluation of the pelvic anatomy to determine if the patient has had penetrative sex. The hymen, a thin piece of tissue near the opening of the vagina, is inspected. The theory was (was, is not – see point two) that whether the tissue was “broken” or not intact, the person had had sex.
But virginity testing is a violation of human rights. In 2018, the World Health Organization released a statement denouncing the practice of virginity testing. They claim that it is “detrimental to the physical, psychological and social well-being of women and girls … The examination can be painful, humiliating and traumatic”.
Pelvic exams are tough enough. Assessing your hymen, especially if done under emotional duress, can be indescribably traumatic both physically and emotionally.
2. Virginity tests are not precise
The presence or absence of a hymen does not indicate whether or not someone has had sex. Not only can many activities make a hymen non-intact, but intercourse does not always result in a non-intact hymen. In addition to causing trauma, this examination is unnecessary.
3. The virginity test is misogynistic and heteronormative
When we are trying to determine if something is misogynistic, we can apply a little test: what if we try this with men?
Let’s try here:
What about male virginity tests? “Oh, well, we couldn’t test the male genitals because that wouldn’t reveal anything that would allow us to accurately determine if they were virgins.”
Law. Go back to article number two above – neither is female virginity testing.
WHO says “virginity testing reinforces stereotypical notions of female sexuality and gender inequality.”
Plus, sex is more than just penetration, and the only person who can tell whether or not she considers herself a virgin is that person. What if a woman has sex with a woman? Penile penetration does not occur, but those involved may or may not consider themselves virgins.
Using penetration to describe sex ignores the experiences of the LGBTQ + community. It is inaccurate, outdated and discriminatory. Ah, and also? This is none of our business.
Assessing someone’s virginity has nothing to do with the patient, and everything to do with who wants the information. It is not the responsibility of our children to bear the burden of our lack of comfort around human sexuality.
4. Despite the signed consent form, the gynecologist is wrong.
Dear Doctor, do you remember all that “do no harm” oath you consented to? Consider yourself in violation. The virginity test is a traumatic and unnecessary procedure, and carrying it out harms the patient. WHO says: “Because these procedures are unnecessary and potentially dangerous, it is unethical for physicians or other health care providers to undertake them. Such procedures should never be performed.
A healthcare professional should not perform unnecessary and dangerous surgery.
A healthcare professional should not perform unnecessary and dangerous tests.
It is no different.
5. Was the consent form appropriate?
The Joint Commission is the leading hospital accrediting organization in the United States, responsible for ensuring that patients receive safe, evidence-based, quality care. Here’s what they have to say about the proper way to obtain informed consent:
“Agreement or authorization accompanied by a full notice of the care, treatment or service that is the subject of the consent.” A patient should be informed of the nature, risks and alternatives of a medical procedure or treatment before the physician or other professional health service begins such a course. After receiving this information, the patient consents or refuses such procedure or treatment.
Translation: The doctor should have said, “This is how this test will go; here are the risks; here are the other options you have. “
I wasn’t in the room, so maybe it happened. I can tell you that in my professional opinion, the fact that her father would have been sitting next to her telling her to sign it, makes the consent seem invalid.
6. It wasn’t a cool daddy move, TI
Adolescence is arguably the most trying phase of life. Teens are bombarded with massive changes in their body, mind and hormones, social pressures and relentless media messages. They need an adult they can turn to to help them sort things out, even when, especially when, it’s messy, scary and confusing.
TI’s desire to micromanage her daughter’s sexuality could have lasting effects on how she connects with her own body and how she connects with her father. What if she is presented with a scenario that she needs advice with? Will she feel comfortable asking her father for advice after this?
Look, the thought of my kids having sex one day certainly upsets me. This morning my kindergarten child asked me which country is closest to the North Pole and if Santa Claus makes or buys batteries for all toys. There’s a big part of me that wants to preserve this childish innocence forever.
But I can not.
They will, God willing, grow. And I will have two choices.
I can instill fear and mistrust, or I can show them that I’m there for them, even when it makes me uncomfortable.
Let’s agree to do a better job of showing our children that we are with them as they face the dangers of growing up.