When Brelyn Freeman was 13, she signed a contract. “I, Brelyn Mya Freeman, commit to the following … abstain from fornication (rubbing and petting) but I will keep myself until I am united in marriage to the young man that God is preparing for me.” Her parents added their signatures to the bottom.
That marriage came to pass on Oct. 10 in a Maryland ceremony for 3,500 people, which was broadcast on Periscope and followed by a “private VIP meet and greet.” At the wedding, Freeman presented her father with a “certificate of purity,” attesting to her virginity. On Instagram, Freeman wrote that her doctor had signed the document after verifying that her hymen was still intact.
Setting aside the nauseating implications of a father who feels such ownership over his daughter’s sexuality that he witnesses such a contract—and who’s so concerned with the structure of his daughter’s vagina that he owns a record of its integrity—it’s worth wondering what kind of doctor would actually sign a certificate of purity. The hymen is not, as a Psychology Today article put it, “a layer of Saran Wrap over a bowl of last night’s leftovers.” It is a thin fringe of tissue around the opening of the vagina that can stretch or tear but doesn’t go “pop.” Someone who’s never had penetrative intercourse can still have a transection through her hymen; someone who’s had penetrative sex might show no changes in her hymen at all.
I asked a representative from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists if the organization supports the rubber-stamping of virginity certificates, and she directed me to Washington, D.C.-based pediatric gynecologist Rachel Kastl-Casey. In her dealings with adolescents, Kastl-Casey has fielded plenty of hymen-related questions, mainly from parents who are concerned about whether certain medical exams or procedures will interrupt the hymen, which would affect their child’s future premarital hymen exam. She says gynecologists who work with patients old enough to marry will see some of them ask for hymeneal virginity tests. Most are from other countries or subscribe to religions that prize virginity as a wedding must-have.
But Kastl-Casey would never sign a certificate like the one Freeman’s doctor did, mainly because there’s no way to actually confirm virginity. “It’s not necessarily a scientific exam,” she says. “What you find on exam is not going to 100 percent correlate with what has happened in the past. … It can’t be proven.”
This is the first Kastl-Casey’s heard of an actual virginity certificate in the U.S. In other countries, hymeneal exams are used to prove or disprove rape, verify that a woman won’t pass HIV to her partner, and get a job in the Indonesian police force. The myth of the hymen as a virginity litmus test has endured thorough debunkings and legal barriers all over the world. That it persists in some corners of the U.S. medical system shouldn’t be a shock, but it’s a shame.