47

Amnesty International wants the Egyptian military to stop the practice of rounding up all the female protesters to investigate if their hymens are unbroken as a virginity check:

An Amnesty International researcher said accounts gathered from women who were subjected to the tests showed they were done to check whether their hymens were broken.

However I recall some feminist on TV claiming that it's not possible to check if a girl is a virgin that way. Is a hymen check or some other method reliable for determining if a girl is still a virgin?

In this case only vaginal penetration by the male reproductive organ counts as losing ones virginity.

  • 23
    Are you a virgin if you're a female that's only had anal sex? – user2466 Jun 3 '11 at 6:39
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    @boehj Only vaginal penetration by the male reproductive organ counts in the context of this question. – Kit Sunde Jun 3 '11 at 6:48
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    Even Muslim Imams know it's not a good indicator of virginity: youtube.com/watch?v=4g_QwiYxvkY – Borror0 Jun 3 '11 at 13:51
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    Do you care about the sensitivity of the test or about the specificity? – Christian Jun 4 '11 at 17:31
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    @AndrewGrimm, Maybe it was better if you asked a separate question asking "if ordinary sporting activities can damage hymens" instead of offering a bounty on this, since it seems this was what you're skeptical about. – George Chalhoub Apr 23 '15 at 12:19
37

Checking the hymen is not a reliable way of establishing virginity. The hymen can be broken by a number of non-sexual activities one of which is horse-riding.

This is by Dr. Mrs Radha Narayanan, Radiologist

Hymen can be broken even with horseriding...

Here is from a website:

The hymen is also not an indicator of virginity. The tissues of the vulva are generally very thin and delicate prior to puberty, so many girls and teens tear or dilate their hymen while participating in sports like bicycling, horseback riding, gymnastics or while inserting tampons. A girl may not even know this has occurred, since there may be little or no blood or pain involved when this happens.

Here's more from Dr. Madhumita Avinash Paul:

The hymen is made of connective tissue membrane and is located in the entrance of the vagina. It usually has a round or elongated hole in the middle through which the menstrual blood flows. It might be perforated by sexual intercourse, but there are various other non-sexual activities might cause the hymen to rupture as well. These include exercises that might rupture the hymen like: riding a bicycle, horseback riding, and gymnastics, etc.

  • 5
    +1 Re: tampon use. The sexual health physician from ShineSA that delivered one of the courses I studied as part of my health practitioner registration process here in Australia said that tampon use could break the hymen. I don't have papers to cite though. – user2466 Jun 3 '11 at 7:55
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    Neither of those sources seem particularly reliable, it's look more like SEO content mills. – Kit Sunde Jun 3 '11 at 17:40
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    Are radiologists particularly suited to talk about hymen, or is any medical practitioner equally qualified to talk about them? – Andrew Grimm Jun 4 '11 at 4:51
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    in Islamic practice however, it is considered proof of virginity, and that's all that counts. – jwenting Jun 4 '11 at 19:06
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    @Andrew @boehj I would hope so. I learned this stuff in high school sex-ed. In Texas no less ! – Rusty Jun 5 '11 at 5:00
28
+100

According to Manual of Forensic Emergency Medicine by Ralph Riviello at page 118:

There are many enduring myths and misconceptions about the hymen. It is essential to note that first coitus does not result in any hymenal injury in a significant percentage of patients. Tampon use, sports, and prior pelvic examination do not cause hymen injury

The book cites "Hymenal findings in adolescent women: Impact of tampon use and consensual sexual activity" Journal of Pediatrics vol. 125, pages 153-160 as the source of this information.

The article specifically states:

the presence of these complete clefts was not related to participation in sports

The article further finds:

81% of examined females who reported not being virgins had completely cleaved hymens. (This means that it can not be determined that someone is a virgin, because even if she is not the hymen could still be intact.)

Only 11% of tampon users and 5% of pad only users who reported being virgins had completely cleaved hymens. (The authors did not find this to be a statistically significant difference but "Can tampon use cause hymen changes in girls who have not had sexual intercourse? A review of the literature" Forensic Science International vol. 94 pages 147-153 explains that depending upon criteria, this could be a significant difference).

Overall, one can see from this data that there is about a 19% chance that a young woman can have an intact hymen despite not being a virgin; and a 5-11% chance of having a cleaved hymen despite being a virgin.

The review article above similarly says 16% chance of an intact hymen despite not being a virgin; and 10% chance of having a cleaved hymen despite being a virgin. It explains that the possible reasons for hymen cleft beside intercourse are: congenital irregularity; penetrative injury as a child; insertion of tampons; insertion of objects (such as vibrator); or digital penetration by either self or a partner.

The review concludes:

Discretion is indicated when physicians are required to testify, remembering that both the sexually active and the never-sexually-active groups of adolescent girls include some with hymen clefts.

So, no, examining a hymen is not a reliable way to determine virginity.


Going back to the issue of sports, since a bounty has been placed with a request for more information on this topic:

In Child Abuse: Medical Diagnosis and Management (2001), Reese and Ludwig editors, quoting from pages 235-236:

The hymenal membrane is recessed in the vestibule, protecting it from direct trauma; hence the implausibility of injury to the membrane from athletic activity such as bicycling, horseback riding, or gymnastics. The common misconception that the athletic activities cause injury to the hymen has no scientific support

  • 2
    What an excellent source to use in this context! I'm struggling to understand what the conclusion of the review is trying to communicate. Is it saying it's reliable enough to perform the test, but the inaccuracies need to be highlighted - or - is it saying that it's unreliable and that the examiner should communicate why? – Kit Sunde Apr 24 '15 at 19:20
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    @KitSunde The main point of the review article, which is approaching the issue from a legal point of view (physicians being called upon to testify in cases of alleged sexual assault) is that the physician can not rule out the possibility that a hymen cleft was there naturally (from birth), or caused by injury, or caused by the girl/woman inserting a tampon, vibrator, finger or other object. – DavePhD Apr 24 '15 at 19:35
19

In addition to the other answers, it's actually also possible to get your hymen surgically restored.

Hymenorrhaphy or hymen reconstruction surgery is the surgical restoration of the hymen.

The normal aim is to cause bleeding during post-nuptial intercourse, which in some cultures is a considered proof of virginity.

18

I was actually reading about this the other day as Boing Boing provided this excellent link to Scarleteen. It is an interview with Hanne Blank the author of Virgin: The Untouched History.

Scarleteen: Does it need to be "broken?"

HB: No. The hymen will sometimes be abraded or torn during intercourse because it is being stretched further than it has been before, but not always. Some hymens are stretchier and/or more durable than others, and they may not have any problems at all with stretching to accommodate things like tampons, fingers, or a penis. Others are less stretchy and more fragile and they may tear at the slightest touch. And some are in between.

The big reason that a hymen doesn't have to be "broken" is that unless it happens to be an imperforate hymen (see above) it already has a hole in it. Hymens exist because the vaginal opening forms. Nothing needs to be "broken" in order to create that opening -- it was already there before the woman was even born.

Scarleteen: What does the hymen have to do with virginity?

HB: Not much, necessarily. As I've said, hymens may or may not be affected in any way by sexual activity.

  • 2
    Does the book cite any scientific studies to back up its claims? – Anko Apr 26 '15 at 12:57
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    Yes. Chapter 3 deals with hymens. Source for congenital absence of a hymen: "Hymens in Newborn Female Infants" by C. Jenny, M. L. Kuhns, and F Arakawa. Pediatrics 80 (1987). Source for comparative study of published research: Heger, et all, "Appearance of the Genitalia in Girls Selected for Nonabuse", which is the source for frequencies of hymenal presentations. – Yamikuronue Apr 27 '15 at 2:01
  • There are a handful more for the chapter but those are probably the two most related to this question. I have the book, so mention me if you want more info from it :) – Yamikuronue Apr 27 '15 at 2:02

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