You Can't Test for Virginity

Tammyluvgurl
asks:
Hello I'm 13 and don't plan on having sex but my mother says that when I'm 16-18 she is going to get me checked to see if I'm still a virgin because I'm religious and we believe in no sex till marriage. Even though I don't plan on having sex, does masturbation affect the test the doctors going to take? And how do they take this test? Because I don't want to masturbate and find out the doctor says I'm not a virgin. Is there even a way for the doctors to test it (because my mom could be bluffing)? P.S. me and my moms relationship is good so she would trust me if I told her I didn't have sex plus if I did she would be understanding.
Sam W replies:

First off, let's get one thing very clear: having sex or masturbating does not cause any changes to your body. (We have written about this before, and will likely have to keep reiterating it until I retire/the internet explodes/the sun goes out and all life on earth is destroyed.) There is no test that a partner, parent, doctor, priest, or whoever can perform to determine whether or not you're sexually active. The only way somebody gets that information is by you telling them. So, go forth and masturbate without fear!

I don't mean to sound harsh, and I definitely don't mean to aim any of that harshness at you. You're thirteen, just starting to explore your body and your sexuality, and you're encountering the fact that there is still so much misinformation out in the world where sex is concerned. I'm so glad you feel comfortable coming to a space like Scarleteen to ask your questions.

But man oh man, I am tired of adults doing to teens what your mom is doing to you. If I could, I would rent a plane and write the words "stop misinforming teenagers about sex please and thank you" in the sky.

Because your mom is lying to you when she tells you she can have you tested to see if you're a virgin. Maybe she's not lying deliberately, but that's what it shakes out to. Not that she's necessarily lying about taking you for that test (as she might truly believe that's an option), but she's still not being truthful. And it's not a fun thing to learn that the adults in our lives might mislead us, but it's something we all encounter eventually.

The question you asked reflects something we see a lot in the work we do. Parents or other adults in teenagers' lives will give them information around sex that is either flat-out wrong or deeply flawed. From what I can gather, this comes from a few places. Some people don't mean to spread incorrect information, they're just repeating something that they heard or were told about sex that they've assumed was true but never actually verified. Others are doing more deliberate misleading because they believe it will result in teenagers behaving in a way that they, the person doing the misinforming, believe to be morally correct. Indeed, the U.S has poured a lot of resources into a sex ed curriculum that does exactly that. Many people believe that it is good and right to discourage teenagers from having sex of any kind. And so they spin the most intimidating, scary version of sex possible in order to do that (my absolute least favorite being the "if you have sex, you are like a chewed up piece of candy/used piece of tape/plucked flower and no one will want you" line.)

Or, as is happening in your case, they threaten a specific outcome with the aim of controlling your sexual decisions. Your mom, for religious reasons, does not think it's good for you to have sex as a teenager, so she's told you that she's going to have you checked just to make sure you're not doing that.

Allow me to briefly address any adults who may be reading. Adults of the world, let me be frank with you: these kind of scare tactics do. Not. Work. Reliable data does not suggest that presenting the worst case picture of sex, lying, and trying to scare teens into behaving "correctly" does anything other than spread falsehoods and create teenagers who are scared and ignorant of their own bodies and sexuality. And even if lying did somehow magically prevent them from having sex, we still owe it to teenagers to tell them the truth and respect the fact that they are beings with brains, hearts, and wills of their own who deserve the right to make their own, fully informed, choices. And that's before we even get to the questionable idea that teenage sex is somehow inherently bad or harmful, but that is a rant for another day.

Getting back to your specific situation, I also want to touch on something in your postscript that stood out to me. You say your mom trusts you. Yet she says that she's going to have your virginity checked. That's not something that a parent who trusts you does. If she trusts you to make good choices, or to live according to your values, then she would not be making statements like that. She would have faith in you to make the choices that you felt were best, and offer you support or advice when you asked for it. When there's a trusting and respectful bond between parents and kids, the parent does not feel the need to make threats about forced virginity checks. The fact that you mention that you think she might be bluffing tells me that maybe this is part of a larger pattern of how she tries to influence you and your choices.

You also mention that you think she would be understanding if you did have sex. Given how you describe her behavior, I am not sure that's true. The obvious caveat is that you know your mom better than I do, so have a better sense of how she reacts to certain things. But someone whose primary concern around your sex life is your virginity (and the preservation of it) does not strike me as someone who would react positively to you having sex as a teenager or having premarital sex, period. That's a non-issue right now, since sex is not something you're looking for. But it's something to keep in mind for the future.

I think something that will be helpful for you is to learn how to identify resources that are accurate about sex for when you have more questions. You've found us, which is great, and I've also included a link below that will guide you through identifying what sources are trustworthy and which are not. That way, when your mom (or anyone else) tells you something about sex or bodies that you think might not be true, you have places that you can check for a reliable answer.

I also want to encourage you to start thinking about your own feelings and values when it comes to sex. When you come from an upbringing that has strict rules around sexual behavior, you often don't have room to explore what you, and you alone, believe about sex. Now is the time when you get to start forming those beliefs for yourself. You may decide that you don't agree with everything you've been taught, or you may decide that nope, that same set of beliefs still feels right to you. But when the people around you have their own motives about what they tell you about sex, it helps to build a foundation about what you believe that's yours and not theirs.

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