A virginity test is the practice and process of determining whether a female person is a virgin, i.e., whether she has never engaged in sexual intercourse. The test involves an inspection of a female's hymen, on the assumption that her hymen can only be torn as a result of sexual intercourse.
Virginity testing is very controversial, both because of its implications for tested girls and women and because it is viewed as unethical.
Two-finger test (TFT)
The process of virginity testing varies by region. In areas where medical doctors are readily available, such as Turkey before the country banned the practice, the tests will often be given in a doctor's office. However, in countries where doctors are not available, testers will often be older women, or whoever can be trusted to search for a hymen. This is common among African tribes that perform the test.
Another form of virginity tests involves testing for laxity of vaginal muscles with fingers (the "two-finger test"). A doctor performs the test by inserting a finger into the female's vagina to check the level of vaginal laxity, which is used to determine if she is "habituated to sexual intercourse". However, the usefulness of these criteria has been questioned by medical authorities and opponents of virginity testing because vaginal laxity and the absence of a hymen can both be caused by other factors, and the "two-finger test" is based on subjective observation. In virginity tests, the presence of a hymen is often used to determine if a woman is a virgin.
Among the Bantu of South Africa, virginity testing or even the suturing of the labia majora (called infibulation) has been commonplace. Traditionally, Kenuzi girls (of the Sudan) are married before puberty by adult men who inspect them manually for virginity.
Some cultures require proof of a bride's virginity prior to her marriage. This has traditionally been tested by the presence of an intact hymen, which was verified by either a physical examination (usually by a physician, who would provide a certificate of virginity) or by a "proof of blood", which refers to vaginal bleeding that results from the tearing of the hymen. The physical examination would normally be undertaken before the marriage ceremony, while the "proof by blood" involves an inspection for signs of bleeding as part of the consummation of marriage, after the ceremony.
Requiring a female to undergo a virginity test is widely seen as harmful, especially when it is performed on behalf of a government. The practice is seen as sexist, perpetuating the notion that sexual intercourse outside of marriage is acceptable for men, but not for women, and suggesting that women's sexual activity should be subject to public knowledge and criticism, while men's should not.
On 23 March 2011, Amnesty International protested to the Egyptian government over alleged forced virginity testing of women protesters. Egypt admitted its military forces had performed virginity tests on women detained during the 2011 Egyptian revolution. It said the tests were carried out in order to refute claims that the women had been raped while in detention. Amnesty International described the virginity tests as "nothing less than torture." Virginity tests done by the military on detainees were banned in Egypt on 27 December 2011,[not in citation given] but in March 2012, the physician who carried out the tests was acquitted of all charges. Samira Ibrahim is the Egyptian woman who filed suit against the government, initiating public discussion of the Egyptian government's use of the testing. She said in response to the physician's acquittal, “A woman’s body should not be used as a tool for intimidation, and nobody should have their dignity violated.” Although it is not possible to determine whether a vagina was penetrated prior to marriage, many spouses tend to engage in virginity tests based on the fact the hymen did not bleed after the first intercourse, leading to countless social problems in many middle-eastern countries.
Virginity testing was also used on women entering Britain on a so-called fiancee visa. This practice was exposed by The Guardian in 1979 and the policy was quickly changed. In January 1979, a woman was required by British immigration officers to undergo a virginity test when she arrived in London claiming that she was there to marry. Such a visit did not require a visa, but as proof of her bona fides, she was required to submit to the test.
Examinations to test for previous sexual activity are commonly performed in India on rape victims. The Supreme Court of India has held that the two-finger test on a rape victim violates her right to privacy, and asked the Indian government to provide better medical procedures to confirm sexual assault. Human Rights Watch had strongly criticized the test as "degrading and unscientific” and a second assault on traumatized women, and raised concerns about Indian courts bringing views of rape victims' general moral character into their rulings.
In August 2013, it was announced in Prabumulih district, South Sumatra, Indonesia, by education chief Muhammad Rasyid that female teens attending high school there would be given mandatory annual virginity tests, beginning in 2014. The stated intent is to reduce promiscuity in the district.
Virginity testing is not a reliable indicator of a female having actually engaged in sexual intercourse because the tearing of the hymen may have been the result of an involuntary sex act, such as rape, or other event. Many researchers note that the presence of an intact hymen is not a reliable indicator of whether a female has been vaginally penetrated.
The hymen, named for Hymen, the Greek god of marriage, is a ring of fleshy tissue that sits just inside the vaginal opening. Normal variations include everything from thin and stretchy to thick and somewhat rigid; it may also be completely absent. Whichever allows for the passage of menstrual fluid; the only variation that may require medical intervention is the imperforate hymen, which either completely prevents the passage of menstrual fluid or slows it significantly. In either case, surgical intervention may be needed to allow menstrual fluid to pass or intercourse to take place at all. It is a misconception that the hymen always tears during first intercourse or that intercourse is required to rupture the hymen. In 2009, the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education proposed that the term "hymen" be changed to "vaginal corona."
In May 2013, The Supreme Court of India held that the two-finger test on a rape victim violates her right to privacy, and asked the government to provide better medical procedures to confirm sexual assault. In 2003, the Supreme Court of India called TFT "hypothetical" and "opinionative". Most countries have scrapped it as archaic, unscientific and invasive of privacy and dignity. Quebec's College des Medicins has banned members from conducting virginity tests after some were found to be doing this, as well as providing virginity certificates.
Reasons for testing
Prevention of disease and pregnancy
Preventing the spread of HIV and teenage pregnancy are examples of reasons given by proponents of virginity testing. In 2004, a Zimbabwean village chief, Naboth Makoni, stated that he would adopt a plan to enforce virginity tests as a way of protecting his people against HIV. He explained that he focuses on girls because he believes they are easier to control than boys. In South Africa, where virginity testing is banned, the Zulu tribe believes that the practice prevents the spread of HIV and teenage pregnancy. A woman interviewed by the Washington Post stated that "[Virginity testing] is important so that young girls become scared of boys. Because what happens is first the boy strips you of your virginity, and the next thing you know is you are pregnant and you have HIV."
Depending on whether the girl in question is declared a virgin, the aftermath of the test can be joy or danger. In Zulu culture, there is a tradition in which girls of a certain age can perform a dance for the king. However, only virgins are allowed to participate. If a girl is tested and declared a virgin, she brings honor to her family. If a girl is found not to be a virgin, her father may have to pay a fine for ‘tainting’ the community and the girl may be shunned from the ‘certified’ virgins. Because of the ramifications that being considered impure have for the girls and their families, virginity testing has the potential to be a life-changing event.
The United Kingdom had a policy to use virginity testing on women who said they were immigrating to marry their fiancees who were already living in the country. The British government believed that if the women were virgins, they were more likely to be telling the truth about their reason for immigrating to the country. The policy ended in 1979.
- University of California at Santa Barbara's SexInfo – The Hymen. Retrieved 4 March 2009.
- Amnesty International
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