Virginity testing (also referred to as virginity examination) is a gynaecological examination that is intended to correlate the status and appearance of the hymen in females with previous sexual contact to determine whether a female has had or is habituated to sexual intercourse. The exam is conducted by visual inspection of the hymenal region, and is often combined with a ‘two-finger test’, which involves the insertion of one or more fingers into the vagina to assess the size of the vaginal opening and to check the degree of vaginal penetrability.
Virginity examinations are practiced in many countries, and often forcibly, in a number of contexts, including in detention places; on women who allege rape; on women who are accused by authorities of prostitution; and as part of public or social policies to control sexuality. In other states, the practice is illegal.
The purpose of this medico-legal statement is to provide legal experts, adjudicators, healthcare professionals and policy makers, among others, with an understanding of the physical and psychological effects of forcibly conducting virginity examinations on femalesii and to assess whether, based on these effects, forcibly conducted virginity examinations constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or torture. This medico-legal statement also addresses the medical interpretation and relevance of such examinations and the ethical implications. This opinion considers an examination to be ‘forcibly conducted’ when it is “committed by force, or by threat of force or coercion, such as caused by fear of violence, duress, detention, psychological oppression or abuse of power, against such person incapable of giving genuine consent.”
The opinions expressed in this statement are based on international standards and the experiences of members of the Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) in documenting the physical and psychological effects of torture and ill-treatment.