On Wednesday, the rapper T.I. horrified the world when he revealed that when his 18-year-old daughter Deyjah goes to her annual gynecologist check-up, he has the doctor “check her hymen is still intact.”
“We’ll go and sit down and the doctor comes and talk, and the doctor’s maintaining a high level of professionalism,” the 39-year-old rapper told the podcast Ladies Like Us. “He’s like, ‘You know, sir, I have to, in order to share information’ — I’m like, ‘Deyjah, they want you to sign this so we can share information. Is there anything you would not want me to know? See, Doc? Ain’t no problem.'”
T.I. went on to acknowledge that while the hymen can be broken in many other ways than sex — such as, for instance, gymnastics or horseback riding — he pushed for the procedure nonetheless. “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.'” When asked whether he applied such standards to his 15-year-old son, T.I. said he did not, and that he in fact knew his son was sexually active and OK with it.
T.I.’s comments seemed almost lab-engineered to piss off people on the internet, and piss off people on the internet they did. Many pointed out the outrageous invasion of privacy of forcing your 18-year-old daughter — an adult, in the eyes of the law — to submit to hymen testing; others focused on the double standard of T.I. going to such degrees to ensure his daughter was not having sex, while simultaneously applauding his younger son for being sexually active.
But while T.I.’s comments were certainly solid outrage-bait, they also pointed out to a more disturbing reality: virginity testing is widespread around the globe, and has historically been used as justification to punish, torture, or even murder young women.
Virginity testing usually takes the form of a two-finger test, which involves a physician inserting two fingers into a woman’s vagina to check whether her hymen is intact. Although an intact hymen is by no means a reliable indicator of virginity, as T.I. himself pointed out, it is viewed as such in various cultures around the world, such as in India, Turkey, Egypt, and South Africa. Although the test is most frequently associated with determining a woman’s eligibility for marriage, it has been used for other purposes as well; in Indonesia, for instance, the test is used to determine female applicants’ suitability for the police force.
The penalty for “failing” a virginity test can be steep. In Afghanistan, for instance, where premarital sex is a crime, until 2018 the law stated that women and girls could be incarcerated for up to three months for failing virginity tests. In some extreme cases, young women who have failed virginity tests have taken their own lives or been murdered by their own family members for violating their family’s honor.
While most coverage of virginity testing is with reference to the practice in other countries, as T.I.’s comments underscore, it would be misleading to suggest that virginity testing is just something that happens outside the United States. Even though physicians have decried the test as unethical, as Marie Claire pointed out in a 2019 investigation there is no federal or state legislation banning it, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has not issued any official guidelines with reference to the practice because it is neither medically indicated nor a valid medical procedure. “A ‘virginity exam’ does not exist,” Maura Quinlan, M.D., an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University and legislative chair for the Illinois section of ACOG, tells Rolling Stone. “It’s a myth that any type of medical exam can prove if a woman is a virgin.”
But in the United States, it does seem to happen fairly regularly behind closed doors: according to a 2016 survey of 288 physicians, 10% responded that they had been asked by a parent or a family member to perform the two-finger test on a patient, and 34% said they had performed it themselves (though many physicians interviewed by Marie Claire said they had lied to parents about the results, for fear of endangering the patient.)
Because of the dubious science behind virginity testing, as well as the obvious ethical implications of forcing women to undergo such an invasive practice, human rights organizations have called for a worldwide end to the practice. In 2018, the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) co-authored a statement calling to end virginity testing around the world, writing that the practice was “a violation of the human rights of girls and women, and can be detrimental to women’s and girls’ physical, psychological and social well-being.” Yet in the absence of codified rules or guidelines surrounding the practice, or legislation banning it, there’s little to stop men like T.I. from demanding their daughters undergo such humiliation in the name of preserving outdated, scientifically inaccurate beliefs about female purity.
This story has been updated with comment from Maura Quinlan, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University and legislative chair for the Illinois section of ACOG.