In general, a pelvic exam or a vaginal exam cannot reveal with absolute certainty that a woman is a virgin or has been sexually active. It is always better to have an honest discussion with your gynecologist about your sexual history. This makes it easier for them to look for the early signs of pregnancy and test you for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as gonorrhea and genital herpes. You can also discuss proper methods of birth control with them.
Every person is unique. Many people believe in the concept of virginity and hold it sacred. Though being a virgin or being a responsible sexually active person is a personal choice, an intact hymen has been used as proof of virginity in the past. The truth is that the hymen is a flexible piece of mucosal tissue that may be thick, thin or even absent in some women. In some women, using a tampon, vigorous cycling, exercises and masturbatory activities may cause the hymen to rupture.
The appearance of a hymen often changes with age. There is no hard and fast rule here. Therefore, a gynecologist can’t tell if you are a virgin by doing a physical exam because of the variation in different hymens and the absence of a hymen isn’t an indicator of sexual activity.
- According to the United Nations, virginity tests are often performed by inspecting the hymen for tears or the size of its opening or inserting fingers into the vagina.
- However, the World Health Organization states that there is no evidence that the test can prove that a woman has had vaginal intercourse or not.
- The hymen can stretch or tear during many intense physical activities, such as cycling, swimming and horseback riding.
- Some hymens stretch more than others and will never split or bleed. It is impossible to tell by looking at a hymen whether you have had sexual intercourse or not.
A pelvic exam can be done even if you have never had sexual intercourse because the opening to your vagina is large enough to allow for the exam. Most of the time, a doctor can't tell if a girl has had sex just from a pelvic exam (and doctors don't usually give teen girls pelvic exams unless there's a sign of a problem). However, let the doctor know if you have had sex anyway. Having unprotected sex puts you at risk for STDs as well as unplanned pregnancy.
How does the hymen change?
The hymen is a stretchy collar of tissue at the entrance to your vagina. It is protected by your labia. Hymens can be of many different shapes and sizes. They may have a ring shape, half-moon shape or squiggly edges with notches all of these are normal. The size of the opening in your hymen also varies in size and shape. Your hymen changes throughout your life.
- Before puberty, your hymen is thin and may be sensitive.
- During puberty, increased hormones (estrogen) cause your hymen and other vaginal tissues to become thicker and more stretchy.
- During pregnancy, increased hormones cause vaginal tissues to become even more stretchy to allow for childbirth.
- Childbirth may also change the shape of your hymen and your vaginal tissues.
- With menopause and aging, your hymen and other vaginal tissues become thinner again (as estrogen decreases).
What is hymenoplasty?
Hymenoplasty or hymen restoration is a procedure that repairs a ripped or torn hymen. The hymen is a ring-like skin membrane partially covering the opening of the vagina. The biological function of the hymen is still under debate. However, its social function is widely known for its virginity status when intact.
- Hymenoplasty entails suturing of the ripped hymen together. Sometimes, tissue from the sides of the vagina is used.
- It is an outpatient surgery that is done under local anesthesia and takes less than one hour.
- It is important to understand that hymenoplasty is not a permanent procedure.
- Because it is not meant to last long, it is ideal to have the procedure performed a month or two before intercourse.
- However, if you suffer from any chronic medical conditions, you should bring it to the notice of your plastic surgeon who can devise the procedure accordingly.
The whole idea about the absence of part of the hymen means you are not a virgin is erroneous. It is your choice to retain your virginity or experience sexual intimacy with another person without pressure or impairment (such as from drugs or alcohol). Virginity cannot be lost or taken by someone else. This is important to understand because you are in charge of your body and of your sexuality.
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Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care: "Is My Daughter Still a Virgin? Can You, Please, Check It, Doctor?" https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5958548/
International Society for Sexual Medicine: "What Is Virginity Testing? Why Is It Used, and What Are Its Potential Effects?" https://www.issm.info/sexual-health-qa/what-is-virginity-testing-why-is-it-used-and-what-are-its-potential-effects/