A woman's purity certificate went viral. Time to talk about that whole 'virginity' thing.

The conversation about virginity doesn't seem to go away. So let's set the record straight.

Are you a virgin?

Sure, the question might seem simple at first glance...

Nope. Not so fast.


When we dig into what "virginity" really means, it gets a little more complicated.

Just like this photo that went viral. Check it out: Just a young woman in a wedding dress beaming as she stands next to her father on her big day.

Nope. Not so fast. Take a closer look...


Image via ABC News/YouTube.

They're both holding a "Certificate of Purity" from her doctor.

Now, I'm not here to knock the fact that Brelyn Bowman had a goal that was important to her that she achieved. But there is something messed up about the, um, measurement of that goal.

Here's the thing: It's impossible to "prove" someone is a virgin using a hymen test.

The basis for Bowman's test was whether her hymen — a membrane in the vaginal canal — was still intact. While the test worked for her, it has long been debunked as a useful tool to determine whether someone has engaged in sex.

There are two big issues here: First, not all hymens are created equal. Some people are born with hymens that are not intact. And, second, even if someone is born with it intact, the hymen can tear due to a variety of nonsexual activities, like horseback riding or gymnastics.


Quick! Someone tell her to get off that horse or it'll render all obsolete virginity tests useless! Photo by richard266/pixabay.

OK, so if the hymen test doesn't work. What does?

Wait! Back that horse up because we're putting it before the cart.

There's no set definition for virginity. People commonly say that a virgin is someone who has never had sex. But what counts as sex?

Does oral sex count? Anal intercourse? Conventionally, people have tended to believe that only penis-in-vagina intercourse counts. But then ... are gay people always virgins? What about people who engage in other sexual contact?

I wouldn't blame you if you're scratching your head right now because it all seems pretty complicated and confusing.

It's hard to parse it all because virginity isn't a biological state. It's a social construct.



Think about it: The valuation of virginity is only targeted toward women.

There's no test for people without vaginas.

That's because virginity and sexual purity emerged way back in ye olden times as a way to control women's behavior. And we see that in all the sexual double standards we have between men and women.

See what I mean? GIF from "How To Lose Your Virginity."

In spite of the fact that virginity can't be proven, it's still used as a way to measure a woman's so-called "purity."

Look at the phenomenon of purity balls: A girl's "sanctity" is promised to a male protector (father) until it's (presumably) handed off to a male spouse. (The possibility that the young woman won't be with a man or ever get married? IMPOSSIBLE.)


Fathers and daughters dance during a purity ball. Image via ABC News/YouTube.

There's nothing wrong with choosing to wait to have sex. But let's make sure we provide young people with fact-based information to help them make that decision.

Providing comprehensive sex education, which would explain that a hymen test isn't an accurate test of virginity, could be a great start. Comparing people who have multiple sexual partners to chewed gum doesn't provide the proper foundation to make a fully informed decision.

A Harvard study revealed that abstinence-only education does not make a student less likely to engage in premarital sex. They're just as likely to have it, but less likely to use contraception the first time. You know what actually helps students delay sex (and use contraception to boot)? Comprehensive sex ed education.

Behold, the power of accurate knowledge!

The whole notion that a woman's "purity" — and thus her value — is tied to whether she has had sex or not is just plain wrong.

As Jessica Valenti, author of "The Purity Myth," says:

The purity myth is the lie that women's sexuality has some bearing on who we are and how good we are. Because, really, I think that we all know that young women are so much more than whether or not they have sex.

We really should be teaching our daughters that our ability to be good people is based on their intelligence, their compassion, their kindness — not what they do with their bodies.

I'm not judging Bowman for her decision.

Instead, I'm aiming my judgment at a society that perpetuates misinformation about sex and our bodies.

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