Jen Gunter, Twitter’s favourite resident gynecologist, wants to teach you about the hymen.
Specifically, the Winnipeg native wants to teach the rapper and actor T.I. about the hymen, since he proudly announced on a podcast on Nov. 5 that he chaperones his 18-year-old daughter to the gynecologist every year to “check her hymen” and make sure it’s “still intact.”
In other words — in a manner that might send Margaret Atwood passionately careening toward her writer’s room — T.I. monitors his daughter’s hymen to confirm, every year, that she’s still a virgin.
This is where Gunter comes in, with her superpower of dispelling the many health and wellness myths that crop up all over the internet. “Let me educate you all about the hymen,” the Canadian doctor began.
She then launched into one of her famous online biology lessons — for free! — noting that the hymen is nothing more than a “left over [sic] collection of cells” present in a number of other mammals, including dogs, cats and camels, and that it isn’t a reliable signifier of anything else … it’s just a membrane.
“The hymen is no virginity indicator,” Gunter wrote. “50 per cent of sexually active teens do not have a disrupted hymen.”
Not only that, Gunter noted, but two out of three women also don’t bleed after their first sexual encounter, and for those who do, it’s usually spotting as a result of sexual trauma, not from a broken hymen.
This stands in opposition to a belief many people hold, which is that an intact hymen can double as a paternity test.
The idea is that a man could tell if a “wedding night baby” was his if, after having sex with his wife, she bled. The thought is that her hymen would have just broken, which means she couldn’t possibly have had sex with anyone before him … but Gunter says this just isn’t true.
As for the hymen’s actual purpose? “The hymen is more rigid at birth and provides more covering for the first three years to keep urine and feces out of the infant vagina, which lacks estrogen,” and is “very sensitive to irritants.” Once that function is completed, Gunter wrote, the hymen has no other biological purpose. It’s “like baby teeth,” with a “narrow developmental window.” When it’s no longer needed, it is discarded.
“The hymen means nothing physically and hymen exams are medically not a thing and are unnecessary,” Gunter continued. “And support a disgusting patriarchal trope.”
As it stands, virginity testing — which is still practiced around the world — has been widely denounced in the medical world, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has already called it “a violation of the human rights of girls and women.”
“‘Virginity testing’ has no scientific or clinical basis,” a page on sexual and reproductive health reads, on WHO’s official website. “There is no examination that can prove a girl or woman has had sex — and the appearance of a girl’s or woman’s hymen cannot prove whether they have had sexual intercourse, or are sexually active or not.”
In a recent talk for Walrus magazine, Gunter covered the history of hymens, noting the word itself is derived from the Greek language, and that the Greek god of marriage also happens to be called Hymen.
This, she said, implies something about the way we think about hymens: not only that they must be a symbol of virginity, but that they’re also a telling sign of a person’s suitability for marriage.
Before departing her attentive Twitter audience, Gunter released one last bit of wisdom. “If women were supposed to stay ‘virginal’ and keep sex for marriage or sex for reproduction, why have a fully functioning clitoris (only purpose is pleasure) before reproduction is possible?” she wrote.