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New York may ban virginity tests

We’ll just file this one under “headlines you probably didn’t expect to show up in your timeline today.”

A rapper going by the name of T.I. appeared on a podcast recently and informed the host that he had been taking his now 18-year-old daughter to a gynecologist annually for many years for a “virginity test.” The uproar that followed was predictable, I suppose, particularly in today’s social and political climate. But instead of just denouncing the singer for his personal behavior, the legislature in the state of New York decided to go several steps further. Bills have been introduced in both chambers to make virginity tests performed by doctors illegal. (NY Times)

State lawmakers are considering barring doctors from performing so-called virginity testing, after widespread backlash followed the rapper T.I.’s recent disclosure that he takes his daughter to see a gynecologist every year to ensure that her hymen is still intact…

The legislation would prohibit medical practitioners from performing virginity examinations, and would subject them to penalties for professional misconduct if they breach the ban. Virginity tests performed outside of a medical setting would be considered sexual assault under the proposal.

The bill has already garnered three co-sponsors in the Assembly, and Senator Roxanne J. Persaud, a Democrat, introduced a companion bill in the State Senate.

I’m not sure how this wound up being a matter of law, but I’ll start by conceding that there are some problems with any sort of medical virginity testing. The Times covers most of them fairly well, but the main sticking points are all of a medical nature. The American Medical Association notes that some girls are born without hymens. (As many as ten percent.) Others can lose them at an early age through athletics or other physical activity. With all that in mind, such a test can’t really be considered conclusive, since girls or women in those situations would “fail” the test while still being actual virgins.

But is this a matter for the government to get into at any level? If anyone attempts to force an adult woman to go to an OB-GYN and take such a test against her will, they should surely be able to be arrested on some other charge. The question gets a little more tricky when talking about children. While it would never occur to me, I suppose I could understand if some parents had concerns over whether or not their daughter was sexually active without telling them. That could lead to a number of complications including unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.

While it’s an extremely uncomfortable topic, parents are permitted control of the medical care of their children in most situations. Would such testing fall under that category or is it a bridge too far?

All of this assumes that the girl objects to the test, of course. (For the record, the rapper claims that his daughter never objected to the annual exams.) And that brings up the big question in terms of government regulations. What about women who might want such a test? While I’ve never heard of anyone doing this personally, I suppose it’s possible that a young woman who is getting engaged in a very religious family might want to prove her “innocense” for her future husband before the wedding night. Or even if she wanted it for no particular reason at all beyond her own curiosity.

While I already covered the fact that the test can’t be 100% conclusive, what I’m not hearing is any claim that the procedure is in any way dangerous. And as the linked article above goes on to point out, this sort of testing is going on. A 2016 survey of doctors revealed that ten percent of them had been asked to conduct a virginity test in the previous year. That sounds like a lot of testing.

If you pass a law making a medical procedure illegal, that means you’re cutting off any women who might actually want one (for whatever reason) and the doctor who is willing to do it. Wouldn’t that simply force women to go out of state for such testing? (Wait a minute… are we talking about virginity tests or abortions here?)

This remains a bizarre and uncomfortable topic, but it also sounds like something the government should probably steer clear of unless it can be shown that women are being forced to go through this against their will. And if that’s the case, the solution isn’t a blanket ban on the procedure. It’s criminal charges for the person trying to force her to go through with it.