Myths of Virginity and Hymens: A Response to T.I.’s Revelations

Laura Stewart-Liberty reflects on the worrying claims made by musician T.I. concerning his own daughter’s virginity.

Last week, musician T.I. faced widespread online criticism after revealing that he takes his 18-year-old daughter, Deyjah Imani Harris, on ‘yearly trips to the gynaecologist to check her hymen’, to ensure she is still a ‘virgin’. Overwhelmingly, T.I.’s words have been condemned as biologically inaccurate, with several publications quick to step in and point out that the hymen can be broken or stretched in many different ways. Indeed, the NHS website states that ‘the hymen is a ring of thin skin that covers part of the opening of the vagina. It does not cover the vagina completely. Every girl is born with a hymen, but it can break when using tampons, playing sport or doing other activities, including having sex.’

However, during the Twitter storm which followed T.I.’s grim revelation, some were able to offer a more nuanced explanation of the hymen. Firstly, as with noses or ears, the human hymen varies enormously in appearance, and in how much of the vaginal opening it covers. Also the hymen serves a biological infection-preventing purpose during the first few years of life, but in adulthood is completely obsolete. Jennifer Gunter compares the hymen to ‘baby teeth’, and explains that 50% of sexually active teens ‘do not have a disrupted hymen’. In other words, half of all young people with vaginas have not had their hymen ‘broken’ through vaginal intercourse. So, contrary to beliefs held by T.I. and many others, the presence of a hymen has little to do with sexual intercourse, and everything to do with genetically occurring characteristics of women.  

That the Twitter response to T.I.’s admission may have led to much needed open conversations about what the hymen is and what it’s there for is certainly a cause for celebration. However, it strikes me as odd that such a significant portion of the media attention has surrounded T.I.’s biological misconceptions. Beyond the myths surrounding the hymen and ‘virginity’, we need to consider why he wants to exert this deeply humiliating, invasive, sexual control over his adult daughter. What does it say about our society, or perhaps a certain part of society in the USA, that he felt comfortable, or even proud, to make these statements so publicly? In the university bubble, where feminism is widespread, and virginity is largely considered an outdated patriarchal myth, it can sometimes be easy to forget that these patriarchal beliefs are still held by many. 

Although really, T.I.’s words can come as little surprise. After all, this is the man that brought us lyrics such as “No more, you won’t get no dick if there’s a bush down there. Girl I should see nothing but pussy when I look down there,” in his song ‘No Mediocre’. Don’t know about you but I’m sensing a strong subtext of… misogyny. Harris was born in this millennium, but despite all of feminism’s advances in the last century,  she is still subject to her father’s deeply rooted patriarchal whims. 

Whilst we can be glad that this incident has opened up constructive discussions on the myth of virginity, more needs to be done to prevent these oppressive ideas perpetuating in future generations. In the UK, thankfully we benefit from unthreatened and easily accessible sexual health care, however, our education system is lacking. Gendered talk of virginity, and misconceptions about the hymen remain rife in schools, so it’s inadequate that (in my experience) none of the myths surrounding virginity or the hymen are addressed or debunked in biology classes, nor do they feature in the PSHE reforms that will come into effect next year. In our schools and beyond, we need to break the taboos surrounding the female body, women’s sexuality, and virginity, to ensure that patriarchal systems, upheld by the likes of T.I., come to an end. 

Artwork by Laura Stewart-Liberty.

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