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Acts of violence: Virginity control and hymen (re)construction

02 May 2014
Volume 22 · Issue 5


Globally, midwives are often at the forefront of promoting and improving women's sexual and reproductive health. It is important to develop a gender perspective in midwifery education, one that addresses the fact that virginity control and hymen (re)constructions are unscientific and may cause great harm to women worldwide. This study aimed to investigate the experience and attitudes of an international group of midwives regarding virginity control and hymen (re)constructions. An online questionnaire was emailed to midwives who attended the International Confederation of Midwifery (ICM) Congress in Glasgow. The respondents (n=480) represented five continents. Ten percent of the midwives reported professional experience of requests concerning virginity examinations and hymen (re)constructions. The majority stated that these practices are unjustifiable, and amount to acts of violence against women, whereas a minority responded that these practices can be acceptable. Almost two-thirds stated that it is the responsibility of midwives to work against these practices.

The existing ideas about the hymen described as a breakable membrane that surrounds or partially covers the external vaginal opening lack scientific proof (Christianson and Eriksson, 2004; Christianson and Eriksson, 2011; Christianson and Eriksson, 2013). Smith (2012) claims that the hymen is an embryological remnant that ruptures during the later stage of embryo development, indicating that it normally does not exist after birth. Furthermore, it has been emphasised that growth makes the vaginal orifice elastic, implying that sexual intercourse seldom leaves any visible changes, and consequently it might not be possible to verify virginity (Pillai 2005; Hegazy and Al-Rukban, 2012). Therefore, it would be incorrect to link the hymen with virginity (Raveenthiran, 2009). Despite the fact that virginity is not possible to verify by an external genital examination (Van Moorst et al, 2012), these ideas about a ruptured hymen have paved the way for medical practices such as virginity examinations and hymen (re) constructions.

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