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  • The Merge

Shattering the Hymen Myth: The Untold Healthcare Struggles of Unmarried Indian Women

Updated: Apr 15

The Untold Healthcare Struggles of Unmarried Indian Women

Navigating healthcare, as an unmarried woman in India, I faced a peculiar and deeply troubling challenge.

At the age of 22, I encountered an unsettling reality that underpins the prejudice entrenched in our healthcare system.

Suffering from a painful urinary tract infection (UTI), I sought medical help, only to be denied a basic check-up. The reason? I was unmarried.

This incident isn't an isolated case but a widespread issue affecting countless women who are denied essential health services due to societal norms surrounding virginity and marital status.

Virginity, culturally revered as a marker of purity, exerts a pervasive influence on the healthcare unmarried women receive. The preoccupation with the hymen as a symbol of virginity results in many healthcare providers hesitating to perform necessary gynaecological examinations.

The cultural obsession with the hymen as a marker of virginity has transcended personal boundaries, infiltrating medical practices and denying women their right to healthcare. The hymen, a thin piece of tissue surrounding the vaginal opening, has become a symbol of purity and honour in many societies.

This has led to a situation where unmarried women are often denied transvaginal sonography (TVS), a crucial diagnostic tool, for fear of rupturing this tissue, thereby "compromising" their virginity. This resistance is not just societal but, alarmingly, from the medical community itself, including female gynaecologists and radiologists.

The underlying assumption is that if a woman is unmarried, she must also be a virgin, and any medical procedure that could potentially alter the state of the hymen is viewed with scepticism and often outright refusal.

This reluctance, aimed at preserving hymen integrity, manifests a troubling trend where cultural taboos override medical ethics, denying basic health check-ups and basic treatments.

The discrimination spans beyond reproductive health, affecting unmarried women's access to general healthcare. The stigma of their sexual status hampers their ability to receive non-reproductive health care, including routine screenings and treatment for common infections. This moral policing in healthcare and the hymen myth leads to underdiagnosis and untreated conditions, betraying healthcare's unbiased care principle.

This notion is not only archaic but also medically unfounded. The state of the hymen is not a reliable indicator of sexual activity, as it can vary greatly due to several factors other than intercourse, such as physical activity or tampon use.

This prejudice has real and harmful consequences.

It delays diagnosis and treatment, leading to aggravated health issues and, in some cases, chronic conditions. Women are forced to navigate a healthcare system that prioritizes societal norms over medical ethics and patient welfare.

This not only violates their right to healthcare but also perpetuates the stigma around sexual health and women's bodies.

The stories shared by women across India resonate with my experience, illustrating a systemic issue that demands urgent attention. The narrative of denial and discrimination in healthcare settings highlights the need for a shift in both societal attitudes and medical practices.

There is a growing movement to challenge these practices, advocating for unbiased healthcare policies, educating providers on impartial care, and raising public awareness. Initiatives to foster open discussions on women's health and promote scientific, non-judgmental medical approaches are crucial for ensuring equitable care for all women.

Healthcare professionals must lead this change by adhering to medical ethics that prioritize patient care over cultural taboos.

Empowering women through sexual health education and advocacy is crucial. Women need to be informed about their rights to healthcare and the importance of regular check-ups, irrespective of their marital status. Creating safe spaces for women to seek medical help without fear of judgment or discrimination is essential in building a healthcare system that is truly equitable and compassionate.

The denial of essential health services to unmarried women based on the myth of virginity is a glaring example of how deeply entrenched societal norms can adversely affect women's health and rights.


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