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Ending the Historical Atrocity of Virginity Tests?

Ending the Historical Atrocity of Virginity Tests?


Since medieval times, many Muslim communities have regarded the hymen, the tiny piece of skin known as the vaginal membrane, as proof of virginity and a woman’s moral virtue. Even today in the United Kingdom, girls and young women are being charged between £150 and £300 (about $200 to $400) for “certification of their purity,” and up to £3,000 ($4074) for “hymen reconstruction operations.”

The Origins of Hymen Testing

In the Middle Ages female virginity was the only sure fire way to make sure a child who would inherit property from his father was the legitimate heir from a virgin bride. The intact hymen, or  virgo intacta, was also the only way to make sure kings didn’t catch nasty sexually transmitted diseases, making the intact state of the hymen was of great importance in the Middle Ages to the clergy, courts and crowns, as well as to future fathers.

What hymen inspection in the medieval period didn’t account for, according to an article in History Undressed, were hymen ruptures caused by strenuous activities. Now, the World Health Organization (WHO), aims to “eliminate virginity testing.” WHO makes it very clear that virginity testing, also referred to as “two-finger” examination, “is not a reliable indication of intercourse.” Their website says the practice is “a violation of the victim’s human rights and is associated with both immediate and long-term consequences that are detrimental to her physical, psychological and social well-being.” Why then, does this horrific examination and surgery still happen every day in the United Kingdom?

Britain’s Modern Multicultural Horror Show

In Kathleen Coyne Kelly’s book, Performing Virginity and Testing Chastity in the Middle Ages, the author looks at how virginity was viewed and defined during the medieval period in the United Kingdom, going beyond the medical and physiological. One medieval text states that signs of virginity included “shame, modesty, fear, a faultless gait and speech, casting eyes down before men and the acts of men.” It is shocking, therefore, that a recent Daily Mail article can still ask “why young brides in modern Britain are being subjected to horrors straight out of the Middle Ages” with some being charged for “certified proof of their purity?”.

You may be asking what happened to those stiff upper lipped conservative Brits? Well, while this social atrocity is happening right now in Britain, according to United Nations and Human Rights Watch, “virginity tests” are most common in North Africa and the Middle East, India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and South African cultures. This is not a modern British thing, but a cultural import from nations with medieval hangovers.

How is it that doctors can offer virginity tests and hymen reconstruction, both practices based on medieval cultural beliefs and assertions, in the United Kingdom in the 21st century? (velimir / Adobe Stock)

How is it that doctors can offer virginity tests and hymen reconstruction, both practices based on medieval cultural beliefs and assertions, in the United Kingdom in the 21 st century? (velimir / Adobe Stock)

The Emergency Hymen Repair Scam

According to a 2017 article by Duke University researcher Julia Linnea Kelto Lillis entitled Virgin Territory: Configuring Female Virginity in Early Christianity, early Christians and their neighbors in the Mediterranean world “held a variety of views on what female virginity was.” To some, virginity was “an anatomical state and sought to promote it as a moral and spiritual state.” Regarding hymenal intactness and gynecological virginity, “testing did not become common until very late antiquity.”

While hymen testing came to an end in the Christian world many centuries ago, many young Muslim brides are still terrorized by their new husbands on their wedding nights. After many Muslim men and women unite in sexual matrimony the man examines the bed sheets for signs of her blood, which to ignorant people “proves” she had preserved her sexual purity for him alone.

What this religious dogma has inspired is “a flourishing, hidden business with clinics, particularly in London, offering virginity certificates” for between £150 and £300 a pop (about $200 to $400). Perhaps even more disturbing, and to add to the harrowing experience lived by these young brides, the women are often “signed in” for emergency hymen work, for “cosmetic reasons,” costing £3,000 ($4074), according to the  Daily Mail.

When Cultures Collide… Stamping Out Barbaric Cultural Practices

In July last year, The BBC reported that UK campaigners were urging the government to outlaw “virginity repair” surgery because “many Muslim women risk being outcast, or in extreme cases killed, if their spouses or families discover they have had sex before marriage.” Halaleh Taheri, the Kurdish Iranian-born founder of Middle Eastern Women and Society Organization told BBC News of a Moroccan student in hiding in London after her father had taken her to a clinic for a “virginity test,” where they discovered her hymen was no longer intact. As a result, “her father hired someone to murder her.” This is just one example of the dangers facing women in the United Kingdom because of this medieval practice. 

The problem here arises when a regressive, fundamentalist culture is imposed on young women brought up in 21st century Britain. However, the Middle Eastern Women and Society Organization is now putting pressure on the UK Government to ban “virginity repair surgery,” claiming the whole ordeal is “unscientific, barbaric and a practice that should be stamped out for good.” What is perhaps most alarming in all this is, is that these dark operations occur in Harley Street in London which is a globally famous hub for private healthcare going as far back as the 1800s.

Speaking on “why” hymen mutilation is still allowed to happen daily in broad daylight in Britain, and why an entire industry supports the horrific act, the UK women’s health campaigner Nimco Ali has stated that the mutilation is presented “as cultural, so nobody questions it.” Taheri from the Middle Eastern Women and Society Organization has now gained the support of Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Nimco Ali. The latter told the  Daily Mail that “virginity tests suggest that a new bride is like a new car being driven out of the showroom.”

Top image: The practice of virginity tests is under the microscope as campaigners attempt to stamp out medieval cultural practices based on misinformation. Source: Other Edge / Adobe Stock

By Ashley Cowie



Without minimizing the seriousness of this issue among certain Muslim populations, I think it is a mistake to think it isn’t common in Western cultures as well.  Many controlling parents inflict this upon their daughters.  I have known more than one woman who was put through this growing up in the U.S.   We just don’t consider it part of our general culture, or talk about it..

There are a number of things which modern feminists often seem too busy (with identity politics) to discuss; genital mutilation and abortion based on the sex of the child being two such things.

This, of course, is not to say that these things are the fault of feminists. Rather, they are the ones who would most easily drive public opinion on these matters.

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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