Against all medical advice, healthcare providers have routinely denied women healthcare on the basis of virginity.
According to a VICE World News investigation, over 200 women in the United Kingdom and other European countries have reported that Obstetrics and Gynecology healthcare providers have refused to perform internal examinations on them because they were not sexually active, or had not had penetrative sex.
This goes against British ultrasound guidelines, which explicitly state "the concept of virginity plays no part in clinical decision making."
"Traditionally, the notion of virginity was constructed around whether the hymen was intact and whether a sexual or intimate experience had taken place," the guidelines read. "Since some people assigned female at birth and some intersex people are born without a hymen and others tear theirs during every day activities, such as the use of tampons and taking part in strenuous hobbies and/or exercise, the hymen is an unreliable indicator for virginity."
Despite the consensus that virginity is an archaic social construct not rooted in biological reality, several women have reported healthcare providers refusing to investigate or treat their pain because of it.
One woman who spoke to VICE alleged that a sonographer told her she was “not allowed the probe because I was a virgin," then "started talking about religion, how sex is between a man and a woman, and she felt uncomfortable using the probe on me.”
Several reported being told that providers breaking their hymen would be "illegal," with one recalling that her doctor "began saying it would be illegal and classed as some sort of assault, which I thought odd as I was consenting."
The website for Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, the UK’s leading cervical cancer charity, explains that "cervical screening should not be forceful enough to ‘break’ any part of the anatomy.”
The misconceptions around virginity also harm LGBTQ+ women, as another patient told VICE that she went to her provider about pelvic pain, but was denied an ultrasound because she was deemed a virgin, despite describing herself as "sexually active and queer."
“They told me they wouldn’t do one because it wouldn’t matter anyway as I wasn’t planning a family," she said.
Dr. Ranee Thakar, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said that "it’s important that health professionals engage in supportive conversations that enable women to make informed decisions about their own care.”
“Healthcare professionals must not perpetuate harmful myths regarding ‘virginity’ when talking to women about their sexual and reproductive health care," she said, adding, “No woman should ever be denied access to healthcare on the grounds of ‘virginity’.”
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