Virginity Tests: The Fetishization of Chaste

Her lips thicken with a hasty smile — “She is fine. Nothing to worry about.”

Overcome with tears of joy, a sigh of tormented relief escapes my mother — the illusion of nurture.

And I lie down, disillusioned;

I, who am muddied, and impure

have been stripped of my dignity once more.

_

A virginity test is the practice of determining whether a person — often, exclusively, a female — is a virgin or not. The nature of such a test depends on two variables: the subjective analysis of the inspector, as well as the obsolete and objectifying standards of chastity. Despite the lack of any reinforcing evidence to prove its accuracy or validity as a test, it is, nonetheless, rampant, and fortifying the toxic and patriarchal regulations placed on young women.

Due to its nature as a sexually illiterate and medically incompetent examination, one may assume that it exclusively occurs in developing, backward countries. This, however, is a naive stance to take; the vow of celibacy as a method to control women is found in numerous societies, regardless of their socioeconomic backbone. That was the truth I learned — unvarnished and untainted — when I was forced to undergo a virginity test at the age of seventeen.

I was living in one of the richest cities in the world — although this was juxtaposed against the microcosm of my socioeconomic downfalls and financial instability; still, I lived in relative comfort as an Arab woman in an Arab, Muslim country. My ideals, however, differed to my peers; I was more liberal — perhaps, too liberal — denouncing my religion, and focusing on a purely philosophical outlook on life, and, often, this led me to a cultural and ideological crisis. Thus, early on, I divorced traditional social and cultural norms that Arab women ever so often had to abide by; and, one of the many things I had divorced were the regional concepts of “purity” and “honour.” Thus, I had been sexually active from the age of sixteen, in a society that was renowned for its ingrained concepts of virginity and chastity as an ethical and moral agent. The emphasis on purity — more highlighted in women, rather than men — was embedded not only in the cultural fabric, but also the social, economic, religious, and legal underpinnings of the region; in essence, my worth was directly proportional to my sexual identity.

The day my mother suspected I was sexually active, my worth dropped. My mother — who would pride herself in being open-minded, cultured, and intelligent — forcibly took me to the nearest medical clinic to test my virginity. She, who often refused to hospitalize me because ‘legally, it is not her job’, booked a gynecologist appointment against my will. I, a woman, was objectified by another woman.

I did not consent to have my hymen checked.

My mother told the medical examiner that she worried about my hymen because she had recently discovered that I used tampons, and, thus, wanted a physical debriefing. The doctor gestured that I lie down on the medical bed and asked me to spread my legs. She examined me; wanting a closer look, she began to prod at my vagina, and move it around, as though I was a cadaver; I realized this was not her first time testing a woman’s virginity.

“Nothing to worry about. Just a bit of tear; you ought to stop using these tampons. They are no good for Muslim girls,” she said, in a comatose monotone.

Instantaneously, I realized, I was just a torn hymen.

I felt a deep-rooted sense of betrayal: the society I was raised in, the culture that enshrouded me, the woman who raised me, and the doctor who checked me. I realized the totalitarian nature of my culture — its crude, deep-rooted sexism and violence against women. I was never taught the concept of physical consent by my mother — something that caused many unpleasant experiences and unwanted advances — but, the day I was forced to undergo a virginity test was the day I realized that I do not even have the right not to consent — because I am a woman.

I am a woman — and my honor lies in my vagina.