This article was brought to you by Dr. Sesay, you can checkout her other work here.
There has been ALOT of talk on TikTok over the last few weeks about health care professionals telling people they cannot have pelvic exams/pap smears if they are ‘Virgins'.
We are here to help clarify things, so you can advocate for yourself. But first up, we have a bone to pick about the word 'Virginity' being used - especially in clinical settings..
What is 'Virginity'?
What even is Virginity? What does it even mean to “lose it”? Is it after having sex? What qualifies as sex - penis in vaginal intercourse? What about LGBTQ+ sex?
A lot of individuals link Virginity with the hymen, which is a thin stretchy membrane that sits along the entrance of the vagina. People believe that when this tears/breaks, that Virginity is taken away. This is not true at all...
The hymen can tear through different activities like horse riding, gymnastics, wearing tampons or menstrual cups and yes even internal pelvic exams. Hymen shapes vary and sometimes people are even born without them. But this has nothing to do with virginity because it’s a social construct. ‘Virginity’ has no medical or scientific definition it is simply cultural. Oh, and the word “hymen” is greek and translates to 'god of marriage'...
It really should not deny people the right to have access to necessary medical assessments or procedures, especially as some of these are potentially lifesaving such as cervical screening. It’s true that performing these examinations on someone who has never had any form of penetration before would likely be painful and/or uncomfortable and may also be more difficult to perform.
However, this is something that can be explained to the patient sensitively to give them the autonomy and choice to decide whether or not they want to have it done - provided the clinician/examiner has the appropriate training to do this.
Gone are the days of paternalistic medicine, options can be offered and we really shouldn’t be obstructing or denying patients assessments unless they are deemed medically unsafe for the patient.
They must always be entitled to informed consent. If they decide to have the procedure done and it’s painful, they also have the right to request to stop at any point. Ultimately, patients should have the right to make decisions. (Provided they have capacity and are able to give consent – we are talking about adults here).
It’s also important to mention that in some cases, the performing clinician may not have the confidence/expertise or may not feel comfortable doing these procedures on patients who have never had any form of penetration. This is something that can also be explained to the patient so a referral to the appropriate specialist can be made where possible.
@sophiasgaler is doing some research on this very topic so if you’ve experienced anything like this and you’re in the U.K. please reach out to her.