I was 15 years old when I sat across from my mom at our kitchen table, fidgeted with my nails, and said I’d like to go on birth control.
I shouldn’t have been as nervous as I was — from when I was 12 years old, my mom always told me that when I was ready, I could go onto birth control. But I knew this was different; I had a boyfriend, and we’d been dating for a bit. She had started asking me about sex more seriously than she did when I was younger.
She was visibly shaken, but she agreed to take me to the doctor. At 16, I didn’t know that it was common to go see a gynecologist for pelvic exams and birth control. Our family doctor, a GP, always did my mom’s pelvic exams. I thought gynecologists were just for pregnant people.
So, we made an appointment, and I went to go see the doctor who had known me since I was seven.
If I was nervous to ask about going on birth control, I was terrified at the prospect of a pelvic exam. It wasn’t that I hadn’t had one before; years before, I had gone to another doctor for an exam after a particularly long period. It was that I already knew that pelvic exams were uncomfortable. Plus, I didn’t want to talk to my doctor about sex.
I had told my mom that I wasn’t having sex yet — a lie — but that I wanted to be prepared for the future.
At the doctor, I undressed, put on a paper gown, and sat on a table. My doctor brought in a new person — an intern I hadn’t previously met. “She needs the exam practice, and many patients are more comfortable with a woman doing the exam.” Still, he stood over her shoulder, watching as she did the exam. It’s been 11 years and I’m still not sure if him watching made me more uncomfortable than him doing the exam would.
As the intern completed the exam, my doctor called down, “Is she still closed?”
I froze. I had lied to my mom; had been having sex regularly for a few months. I had bled — a lot — after my first time. I stopped breathing, looked down at the intern, and waited for her response. For a moment, I think she froze, too.
As I sat up on the table, I felt a swell of panic filling my body. I felt dirty and judged. Grateful that the intern thought to say “yes.” He wrote my prescription. I left.
It has been 11 years, nearly to the day, since my doctor asked that intern to confirm my virginity.
Eleven years since I started having sex.
Eleven years since a medical provider made me feel dirty, bad, wrong.
Eleven years since I learned that doctors are not always to be trusted.
I’m a sex educator now. I teach college students and other young adults about their bodies, communication, pleasure, trauma, and recovery. It is ingrained in me that virginity is immeasurable, intangible, unreal.
But I still panic when I go to the gynecologist, my body swelling with nausea on the drive. I immediately forget my questions (even though I’ve written them down, as I advise my students) when I enter the exam room.
I know that virginity tests are bogus, but my doctor didn’t. Neither does TI, apparently. Maybe, neither did you.
To TI, my childhood doctor, and anyone who believes in virginity tests:
I get it. You’re afraid of your child having sex. Maybe you think it reflects something back on you and your parenting. Maybe you just “won’t have that behavior” in your house. Maybe your parents were afraid of you having sex.
I get it. But you should know: One day, your child will probably have sex. And if you spent years policing them about their purity, you will be haunting them.
You see, sex doesn’t make you impure. It doesn’t make you kin to a wad of chewed-up gum. Sex doesn’t turn you into a squeezed tube of toothpaste, all pointless and wasted.
Sex is sex.
When you worry about your children having sex, do you worry about all of them? Do you worry that your children who were born with penises will be used up, cast aside, less valuable for their sexual activity? Or is it just the children who were born with vaginas? The ones who you believe are sealed up and protected; a purity seal keeping out the dirt from the world? The ones who you believe will be returned if someone gets home and finds that seal missing?
Who do you worry about?
When I am a parent, I want my children to grow up and know that they are worthy. That they are lovable. That they are not used up, cast aside, wasted, once they’ve had sex.
When I am a parent, I want my children to feel safe going to the doctor.
When I am a parent, I want my children to know that I want what is best for them. I want them to know that what is best for them is listening to their intuition, setting boundaries, knowing their worth.
My children will only be dirty when they’ve played in mud. They will only be broken temporarily. They will only be wasted when they’ve drunk too much.
Because when children believe that they are dirty or wrong, they grow into adults who believe it, too.
You might mean well, but you’re misinformed. Virginity isn’t real or measurable. You can’t see it during an exam. And when you pretend to, you’re chipping away at your child’s self-worth. No parent should want their child to feel that they are unworthy. No doctor should traumatize their patients.
When your child comes to you about sex, you may feel uncomfortable. They probably do, too. Instead of running away, listen. Instead of placing judgment, ask for their perspective.
And instead of virginity policing, do your actual job.