Tag Archives: virginity

The Real Purpose of the Hymen

Debbie says:

Since I heard Dr. Jen Gunter speak in September, I’ve been wanting to write about her, but I haven’t had a chance to read The Vagina Bible, so I didn’t have a good topic … until I found this fabulous 7-minute YouTube video in which she talks about the hymen: truths, myths, evolution, and humor.

If you don’t know Dr. Gunter’s work, she’s a relentless crusader for facts about women’s health, and she crusades in a delightful no-bullshit tone which is remarkably appealing. Her goal in this talk is to debunk both the the belief that an intact hymen leads to bloody sex which demonstrates virginity. She disposes of that quickly and efficiently.

The hymen has few blood vessels. I know; I’ve operated on them. And they often don’t bleed even when cut with a scalpel.

Watch the video to see her eviscerate the evolutionary theories that connect the existence of hymens to the institution of marriage. She added some details to my knowledge, but basically so far, she’s on familiar ground for me. Then she gets into what I didn’t know.

“if the hymen were, biologically speaking, all about marriage, … why do cats have hymens? Why do dogs have hymens?” (Also, she tells us, horses, camels, buffalo, and elephants.)

I did not know dogs and cats had hymens. I had somehow assumed that, like menstrual cycles, hymens were pretty uniquely homo sapiens. It turns out, however, that the human hymen is a rigid organ until we are about 3 (presumably this varies for different species), and after that it becomes more elastic, and gets out of the way. “This,” Dr. Jen says, “is because the hymen has served its purpose  protecting the infant vagina from urine and feces.” Once the person is continent, the hymen becomes like baby teeth, no longer needed.

Because she’s Dr. Gunter, she can’t leave us without tying her science into where the patriarchal myths come from:

So what about those bloody sheets? … If sex is twist-a-nipple-and-stick-it-in, or if it’s rape, then you get vulvar and vaginal lacerations. Sexual incompetence and sexual violence is what brings bloody sheets, not a disrupted hymen. …

I would like to remind everybody that virginity is a social construct, and please keep biology out of it.”




Virginity and Body Autonomy: Two Women’s Stories

Debbie says:

Virginity, as Hanne Blank so thoroughly convinced me years ago, is a concept so ambiguous that it is almost meaningless. But nonetheless, it’s of deep importance to millions of people, two of whom have written about it this week, and the two posts resonate beautifully with each other.

NOTE:  Both of these posts are exclusively heteronormative; I apologize, and I hope folks for whom the heterosexual aspects don’t work will appreciate the underlying message.

Anna Fitzpatrick wrote a letter to her younger self: “Dear Anxious Virgin, Your Time Will Cum.”

Your parents are cool with letting your older sister date. Your high school has a strong sex-ed program where you’re learning that it’s okay to want sex. Your health teachers educate you about contraceptive methods. The teen magazines you consume voraciously are all run by third-wavers who challenge the word “slut.” Your friends talk openly about their experiences. You agree with these things on a political level. You are sex positive, you budding feminist you. You believe people should do what they want with their bodies. And yet, this ironically makes you feel guiltier that you aren’t doing what you want with yours.

Ashley Simpo wrote a more generalized, but still very personal piece: The Thing About Your Daughter’s Virginity.

No one tells their daughters that sex is sex and love is love and each can be enjoyed without requiring the other. No one tells their daughter that when a boy wants to have sex with her, she should consider one thing and one thing only — if she wants to have sex with him.

Instead we teach our daughters that despite having wet panties and perked nipples and all the necessary emotions and “equipment” needed to engage sexually, that they should hold off — not because perhaps she doesn’t have the time to deal with the physical realities of sexual activity (i.e. remembering to take a pill, having your naughty-bits rubbed raw on occasion, having to maintain a new standard of personal hygiene, keeping up with your menstrual cycles and knowing what questions to ask a potential sex partner) but because the boy won’t respect her, or Jesus won’t like it or she may end up pregnant or itchy or dead or sad.

The two pieces, one about a white girl growing up in Canada and one about an African-American girl growing up in East Oakland, can almost be read in counterpoint. Fitzpatrick’s experience of believing she should want sex but not being ready for it balances Simpo’s experience of wanting sex against the advice of people around her. Here’s Fitzpatrick:

You invite him over. You initiate the makeout. You bring him to the bedroom. You start undressing first. “This is it,” you think, “this is when you finally get it over with.” (The fact that you think of sex as “getting it over with” should tell you all you need to know.) And then you lie on your back and he starts to enter you and even though he is very nice and even though you thought you wanted this, you start to PANIC and hyperventilate and he gets up and gets you a glass of water before even getting dressed (bless him) and you are considerate enough to wait until he leaves before you start spewing your guts out while hunched over the toilet, feeling the opposite of sexy.

And here’s Simpo:

No one ever told me that my body belonged to me and that I could do with it what I pleased.

And so within the act of feeling liberated and stirred after my first few sexual encounters, I also felt dirty, disrespectful, deceitful and disappointing. No one tells young girls to do what they want with their bodies because they know that at some point young girls are going to want to have sex. And God forbid a girl should open her legs and explore her sexuality….

No one tells their daughters that sex is sex and love is love and each can be enjoyed without requiring the other. No one tells their daughter that when a boy wants to have sex with her, she should consider one thing and one thing only — if she wants to have sex with him.

What makes the connection between these two pieces so strong is that Simpo’s recommended advice works as well for girls like Fitzpatrick as it does for girls like herself. If both of them had taken the same advice–consider only whether you want to have sex with him–they would almost certainly have made different choices, but both of them could have made the choice with more confidence, less self-blame, and less baggage.

“Your body belongs to you and you can do what you please.”

Wouldn’t that message change the world?

Thanks to Lizzy for the pointer to the Simpo article.