The Disposable Vaginal Speculum and Its Pediatric
Before I understood that these phrases referred to the disposable vaginal speculum inventory, I stared blankly for a short while. The thought that “extra virginal” or “virginal” could be used to describe a size made my cheeks burn with rage. I thought back to a few months ago during my clinical rotation when the preceptor held out one of the smallest specimens and said, How could the physiological status of a patient be expressed in the social construct of sexual purity? Virginity has no accepted definition in medicine or science. Furthermore, it implies that heteronormative penile-vaginal penetration is the only form of sex that truly counts.
Disposable Vaginal Speculum
But, until I made an internet search, I was unaware of how widespread this naming trend is in medicine. The term “virginal” is used to designate a small Disposable Vaginal Speculum in peer-reviewed scientific publications, and textbooks, many of which were released within the last ten years, as well as by medical supply firms. It was obvious that the terminology I used throughout my clinical rotation was not unique to a particular doctor or clinic but rather a system-wide custom. To my astonishment, the health sciences librarian and I were unable to find anything in the literature that described the origins or ongoing use of this naming technique. The scientific literature is devoid of any analysis or criticism of this harmful practice.
What I did find, however, were anonymous internet discussion boards where anxious women with vaginas asked the online community if a gynecological test could reveal their sexual experience. Those who were worried about being exposed as having “lost” their virginity and dealing with negative repercussions from their family were also included. For these people, a regular gynecological visit, a crucial component of basic care is laced with embarrassment, fear, and shame.
Unfortunately, patients’ worries about being judged on their virginity in a medical context are well-founded. Although there is no physiological foundation for virginity, it is nevertheless used to identify whether people with a vagina have had sex all over the world, including in the United States. 1,2 The World Health Organization reiterates that virginity is not a term used in medicine or science and strongly rejects the practice of virginity testing. 2 Vaginal laxities and hymen examination, including size and characteristics, are two characteristics frequently assessed during virginity testing. Both are incredibly subpar indications of sexual activity. 1 Hymenal features change significantly with age and between individuals. Similar to how the vaginal canal’s size and shape differ dramatically depending on the individual, age, hormones, sexual excitement, stress, and physical position. This is in line with my finding that many multiparous postmenopausal clinic patients need a “Disposable Vaginal Speculum,” as it is known. I was astonished to learn that many of my peers in the medical field were not aware of these findings when I discussed them with them. Virginity has no physiological basis. If all medical staff wear uniforms, how can we expect people to comprehend this information about their bodies?
Tight and Loose
The language surrounding sex and purity strengthens the link between physiology and virginity, further fusing social constructions with biology. The usage of terms like “tight” and “loose” to describe the sexual experience is a social construction that stems from the idea that a person’s value as a person with a vagina is determined by their chastity and worth inside the boundaries of marriage. In essence, the use of “virginal speculum” and “small speculum” interchangeably is a medicalization of this moral judgment. It implies that sexual encounters have left an irreversible mark on the body. Sexual purity is still a powerful tool for oppression and control because it is founded on arbitrary, out-of-date, and derogatory ideas about how women should act and behave. It has no place in healthcare, where the only concern should be the well-being of the patient.
Our perceived status and experience as medical practitioners and students provide us with an unrivaled capacity to define what knowledge is reliable. The fury I experienced while researching the disposable vaginal speculum stems from the influence medical terminology and health care professionals as its distributors have on how those with vaginas and the general public view the body. By using this terminology, the medical profession provides it with a false sense of legitimacy, infuses moral ideals of sexual purity into standard medical care, and instructs incoming medical students in maintaining these repressive social norms. We must expressly inform trainees and patients alike that virginity has no physiological basis by referring to specimens by their true sizes, as we do with other medical tools. No one should be subjected to social or moral criticism when receiving medical care, regardless of their sexual preferences.