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.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

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Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

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"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

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She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

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Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

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"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

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