Column

Attention, T.I.: There’s No Such Thing as Virginity

The rapper’s comments about his daughter’s hymen show that America is still obsessed over a purity standard that’s totally imaginary

Credit: Prince Williams/Getty Images

TThis week, rapper T.I. admitted on a podcast that he takes his 18-year-old daughter to get an annual “hymen check.” On Ladies Like Us, he told the hosts about bringing his daughter to the gynecologist every year, making her sign away her medical privacy, and ignoring the doctor’s advice about not fixating on the hymen as an absolute indicator of virginity. (Not all women have hymens, hymens can break from athletic activity, and sometimes they don’t break at all.)

“So I say, ‘Look, Doc, she don’t ride no horses, she don’t ride no bike, she don’t play no sports. Just check the hymen, please, and give me back my results expeditiously,’” T.I. said.

This feels as good a time as any to remind Americans of an important fact: There is no such thing as virginity. Seriously.

There is no medical definition of virginity, there is no physical marker on men or women’s bodies that demonstrate virginity (not even hymens), and sex means something a lot broader than heterosexual intercourse. People are sexually intimate in all sorts of ways, and are we to believe that all gay people are actually virgins if they’re not having penis-in-vagina sex? So why all the fuss over something imaginary?

Ten years ago, I wrote a book, The Purity Myth, about the mostly-male obsession with virginity in the United States, and how it’s used to control women. This is especially true when it comes to daughters; the idea that fathers are the keepers and protectors of their daughter’s “purity” may seem antiquated, but it’s still widespread.

The truth is that virginity doesn’t exist, and we should be long over it by now.

From religious “purity balls” where girls dress up in gowns and literally pledge their virginity to their fathers, to supposedly harmless cultural jokes about dads locking away their teen girls, the United States is still very much enthralled with the idea of women’s virginity. (So much so that sex educators still need to explain that no, using a tampon does not mean you’ve had sex.)

That obsession even impacts legislation and the way that women are treated by the court system. For example, up until 2008 in Maryland, it wasn’t considered rape if a woman initially agreed to sex but later withdrew consent and a partner kept going anyway. Why? Because of old legislation that claimed nothing after initial penetration was rape because a woman was “deflowered” and “the damage was done.” 2008 sounds like a long time ago? North Carolina just got rid of a similar law... last week.

Why continue pretending that virginity is anything other than a social construct? The only possible reason is to continue controlling and judging women for their sexuality. (And to hold on to the idea that the only kind of “real” sex is hetereosexual penis-in-vagina intercourse.) T.I.’s comments themselves make that clear: He also said in the interview that he knew his 15-year-old son was having sex — and that he was fine with it.

The truth is that virginity doesn’t exist, and we should be long over it by now. You can still celebrate sexual initiation and experience without an old-school identifier. And if men want to have meaningful relationships with their daughters, and to teach them about morality and goodness, they should leave sexuality out of it.

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.

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