ALBANY, N.Y. — State lawmakers are considering banning doctors from performing so-called virginity testing, after widespread backlash followed rapper T.I.’s recent disclosure that he takes his daughter to see a gynecologist every year to ensure that her hymen is still intact.
His comments last month sparked a national conversation around a procedure that scientists have long denounced as bogus and unsupported by evidence, as well as a violation of a woman’s rights.
The remarks also struck a nerve with some New York legislators.
“It made me angry and I was just very upset,” said Assemblywoman Michaelle C. Solages, a Democrat who introduced a bill last week to prohibit the practice. “To use your platform to say that you did this is just misogynistic and it sets the women’s movement back.”
The legislation would prohibit medical practitioners from performing virginity examinations, and would subject them to penalties for professional misconduct if they breach the ban. Virginity tests performed outside of a medical setting would be considered sexual assault under the proposal.
The bill has already garnered three co-sponsors in the Assembly, and Sen. Roxanne J. Persaud, a Democrat, introduced a companion bill in the state Senate.
“The invasive procedure of a virginity examination violates the sanctity and purity of a female,” Persaud said of the exams, commonly known as purity tests or virginity tests. “Whether a child or adult, this breaches not only moral grounds, but also the privacy entitled to a female and their doctor.”
The hymen, a thin membrane that partly covers the entrance to the vagina, can be torn or stretched during sexual intercourse, physical activity, tampon use or medical procedures.
Hymen exams are sometimes used in some countries as a requirement for marriage, but not every girl is born with a hymen and the presence or absence of a hymen does not indicate virginity, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Last year, the World Health Organization declared virginity testing as unethical and recommended that it should be banned.
The controversy began when T.I., whose legal name is Clifford Joseph Harris Jr., told the hosts of the podcast “Ladies Like Us” in early November that he made “yearly trips” to the gynecologist with his daughter, Deyjah, who is 18 and in her first year of college.
“Right after the birthday we celebrate,” the award-winning rapper said during the interview. “Usually like the day after the party she’s enjoying her gifts. I put a sticky note on the door: ‘Gyno. Tomorrow. 9:30.’”
The Atlanta rapper, who is 39, said that the doctor has told him that a woman’s hymen can be broken through other activities besides sex, like biking or horseback riding.
“So I say, ‘Look doc, she don’t ride no horses, she don’t ride no bike, she don’t play no sports. Man, just check the hymen please and give me back my results expeditiously,’” he said in the interview.
In a subsequent interview with Jada Pinkett Smith last week, T.I. said that his comments had been sensationalized and misconstrued, and added that the conversation in the podcast had taken place in a joking manner.
He said he apologized to his daughter for airing details of her private life, clarifying that his daughter never objected to the tests and that he was never present in the exam room.
Joined by his wife, he told Smith, “I’m not there to protect necessarily virginity. I just know that is a big move. Once you make that move, there are things that happen that follow.”
But some experts said the proposed ban amounted to legislative intrusion and could effectively legitimize a procedure that isn’t medically accepted and can’t confirm virginity in the first place.
“I saw it and am appalled and disappointed,” said Dr. Maura Quinlan, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University. “You can’t tell if someone is a virgin, so how can you ban something that is not possible?”
There are no laws now that ban such testing in the United States. A 2016 survey of 288 doctors found that 1 in 10 had treated patients who requested virginity tests in the previous 12 months.
Jill Montag, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, said that while the agency does not comment on pending legislation, it was nonetheless “disturbing to think girls and women are being subjected to this practice in the United States. The exam is medically unnecessary and can cause trauma to the patient.”
Melissa DeRosa, the top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and chair of the New York state Council on Women and Girls said, “While we would have to review the specific language, this practice, as described, is disturbing, has no real medical value and should not be an option in this state, nor any state.”
Mike Murphy, a spokesman for the Senate majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, said that Senate Democrats are “looking forward to discussing this legislation as a conference and then moving forward. We want to ensure that people are protected and this practice is deeply troubling.”
Solages, who represents parts of Long Island, said the rapper’s comments were a reminder that virginity testing is not exclusive to other countries.
“So when I heard that someone was using their power of purview to ensure that their daughter is a virgin, it made me realize that we have to be implementing laws to stop this,” she said.