Child abuse pediatrician corrects falsehoods about virginity with a vital anatomy lesson
Facebook / Veve Bee

It's incredible how many myths about the female body persist, despite all of us living in the information age. Young and old, educated or not, we're all susceptible to misinformation — especially when the same false info gets shared widely without question or correction.

Exhibit A: The female hymen.

Rapper T.I. made headlines recently with his horrific description of accompanying his 18-year-old daughter to the gynecologist to have her hymen checked. According to him and countless others like him, the hymen is a sign of virginity — a gateway of sorts that indicates whether or not a woman has had sex (or otherwise been vaginally penetrated). Popular belief has it that the hymen is a thin layer of tissue in the vagina that "breaks" the first time a woman has sex, so an "intact" hymen is proof of virginity.

The problem is that's a bunch of anatomically incorrect hogwash.


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Dr. Verena Brown, MD a pediatrician who specializes in treating child abuse victims, took to Facebook to set the record straight in a now viral post that's been shared nearly 50,000 times. Her post includes a diagram of female anatomy from the Children's Hospital of Minnesota and explains in detail what the hymen — and the concept of virginity — are and aren't.

Bee wrote:

"With the recent celebrity attention to hymens, I have been meaning to write some thoughts on the matter. For the past 10 years, I have been working as a child abuse pediatrician, taking care of hundreds of girls who have been victims of sexual assault. Those of us in this line of work know a lot about hymens, the female anatomy, and so-called virginity.

So here's my PSA:

Virginity is NOT a physical entity. It is a social construct, a tool by which women have been kept powerless and shamed for centuries.

'But what about the hymen?' you ask. Doesn't it 'pop' or 'break open' when a woman has sex for the first time?

Nope.

Look at the diagram above. The hymen is simply a thin bit of tissue, a vestigial remnant that sits at the entrance of the vagina. It is absolutely useless (unless you are a guinea pig. Their hymens do regrow for protection and recede when the female is in heat. To quote Todd Akin, female guinea pigs can actually 'shut the whole thing down.' But humans aren't guinea pigs).

Here are some facts about the hymen:

1. The hymen has no purpose. Zero. None. Nada. Contrary to popular belief, it does not serve to help infant girls from getting fecal matter into their vaginas. It does not protect from infections either.
2. Hymens look like hair scrunchies, and much like hair scrunchies, they are stretchy. They stretch to fit a penis and other objects. They really stretch to fit a baby.
3. The hymen is ALWAYS open. Baby girls are born with holes. On rare occasions, girls are born without openings. This is a medical condition called an imperforate hymen, and it requires surgery to fix. There are other variations on hymen morphology as well, such as septated hymens (with extra bands of tissue across the opening), but since the vast majority of women fit into the typical category, I will keep to that here.
4. If hymens weren't open, girls would not be able to have periods. That's why imperforate hymens need surgery to make an opening.
5. Studies show that women who were pregnant and women who have never had sex have identical looking hymens.
6. Only 50% of women bleed at first intercourse. (Beware of technique issues too).
7. If injury does occur to the genitalia from sexual activity (or otherwise), it does not mean that anything got "broken open". The vulva has many parts to it that can be injured (see diagram), not just the hymen. Also, the vulvar tissue is the same as what is inside your mouth. If you bite the inside of your mouth, it may swell or even bleed. But a couple of days later, it will be completely healed. A woman's vulva, and hymen, does the same.

RELATED: FYI, Hymens Don't Break — Here's Some Real Talk About That 'Pop Your Cherry' Myth

So why is the myth of virginity one worth busting? Well first of all, it's a bunch of BS, and women need to know the truth about our bodies. Secondly, women around the world are still subjected to virginity testing and other intrusive and dangerous practices to prove, ensure, or "reinstate" the mythical virginity. Third of all, this: (trigger warning)

A 13 year-old girl sits on my examination table. Her uncle started raping her when she was 7 years old. I tell her that she looks healthy, and that she is going to be okay. She asks me, 'Am I still a virgin?'

I say yes, and I tell her why.

Because she looks just like any other girl her age. In 95% of cases, the hymen heals completely after an assault.

And because virginity is not a physical state.

It's not something that can ever be taken from you.

It's a concept, a mental and emotional decision you make to give of yourself when you are ready, and not when someone decides to be violent with your body.

And because being raped is not the same thing as having sex. Having sex WITH someone can only happen with consent. Otherwise, it's just violence from one person to another, period.

She cries, her whole body shaking, with tears of relief. Then she dries her tears and smiles for a new beginning.

So let's stop the shame and humiliation. Enough is enough."

Bee added a few notes once her post started making the rounds:

"This post is for information only. It's not meant to be medical advice. Please see your doctor for any concerns about your body.

Also, I have used the terms 'women' and 'girls' in the post, but certainly it would apply to anyone with this type of anatomy, as the topic above would pertain to them as well.

I have seen many folks mention the different appearances of hymens, especially septates and cribiform morphologies. These variations are important to acknowledge. This post is dealing with the most common appearance amongst people with vaginas. This is not meant to take away from the experiences of others. Perhaps I will write more about these morphologies in a new post at some point. Once again, if you have a question about your body, please consult your doctor."

Hopefully this information will help everyone shed outdated and anatomically incorrect notions about hymens, virginity, and women's bodies in general. And it should go without saying that no one should be "checking" anyone's hymen unless a doctor sees a clear and present medical concern. That's abuse, plain and simple.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."