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Hymen = Virgin Membrane

Hymen and Law, Page 1. Go to Page 2


Eduard Ritter von Hofmann, a pioneer of modern forensic pathology: "No errors occur so frequently in any medicolegal examination as in those that relate to the condition of the hymen."
Eduard Ritter von Hofmann, a pioneer of modern forensic pathology:
"No errors occur so frequently in any medicolegal examination as in those that relate to the condition of the hymen."


What do doctors know about hymens?
How doctors, midwives, nurses and other medical practitioners can verify virginity?

Andreas Vesalius, the founder of modern human anatomy, in the 16th century, was the first to use ‘hymen’ specifically for the membrane of the vaginal opening. Vesalius belonged to a family of physicians, and represented the fifth generation in that profession (cf. Andreas Vesalius, a Bio-bibliographic Study by I Norwich, Surgeon, Edenvale Hospital, Transvaal in S. A. Medical Journal. 29 April 1967). In his vast writings, only tree instances of mentioning the hymen can be found.
The first time in: Epistola rationem modumque propinandi radicis Chynae decocti, quo nuper inuictissimus Carolus V. Imperator usus est, A pertractans. Basel: Johannes Oporinus, October 1546.

Andreas Vesalius Letter on the China Root, 1546
Epistola rationem modumque propinandi radicis Chynae decocti, quo nuper inuictissimus Carolus V. Imperator usus est, pertractans. Basel: Johannes Oporinus, October 1546.

Vesalius wrote: "When I had returned from my visit to France I was invited by the physician of the Countess of Egmont to attend the autopsy of an eighteen-year-old girl of noble birth who, because of an enduring paleness of complexion and difficulty in breathing – although otherwise of agreeable ppearance – was thought by her uncle to have been poisoned. Since the dissection had been undertaken by a thoroughly unskilled barber I could not keep my hand from the work, although except for two crude dissections lasting three days, which I had seen at school in Paris, I had never been present at one. From constriction of the thorax by a corset the girl had been accustomed to wear so that her waist might appear long and willowy, I judged that the complaint lay in a compression of the torso around the hypochondria and lungs. Although she had suffered from an ailment of the lungs, yet the astonishing compression of the organs in the hypochondria appeared to us to be the cause of her ailment, even though we found nothing that would indicate strangulation of the uterus except some swelling of the ovaries. After the attendant woman had left to shed their corsets as quickly as possible and the rest of the spectators had departed, in company with the physician I dissected the girl's uterus for the sake of her hymen. The hymen, however, was not entirely whole but had not quite disappeared, as I have found is usually the case in female cadavers in which one can barely the place where it had been. It looked as if the girl had ripped the hymen with her fingers either for some frivolous reason or according to Rhaze's prescription against strangulation of the uterus without the intervention of a man." (explanation here)
Two more instances of mentioning the hymen by Vesalius can be found in 'De Humani Corporis Fabrica', 1543,
republished in 1555, according to I Norwich 'the first major work of science in the modern manner and it lays the foundations of the modern disciplines of human and comparative anatomy. Vesalius wrote: "I found a hymen in [a hunchback girl of seventeen], as well as in the nun at least thirty-six years old...”
Source: Andreas Vesalius of Brussels, 1514-1564 by Charles Donald O'Malley

***
How it is five centuries after Vesalius?

All babies should be routinely examined immediately after delivery and the newborn record should document congenital anomalies and anatomical variants, including the type of hymen, what is necessary taking into account high incidence of the imperforate hymen (in some populations more than 1 in a thousand of newborns) that requires a small surgical intervention as soon as possible after birth to enable undisturbed development of the genital tract. Obstetricians, midwives and any other birth attendants are most often the only ones who see the intact hymens in a population defined by delivering women's patient selection.

Child and adolescent gynecologists, sometimes pediatricians or just family doctors, nurses / general practitioners / school doctors are the second group who can see the hymen while examining their female patients up to 18 years of age [International Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted by the UN General Assembly on 20 November 1989: a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years] for variety of genital ailments. The patient record should document the type of hymen and its wholeness before and after examination. No need to mention how important is to respect patient's privacy and dignity as well as to maintain security of medical records. The same applies to gynecologists, dermatologists and venerologists who see juvenile and adult patients. Each medical practitioner may have a strong opinion about frequency of different types of hymens and incidence of hymenal injuries among patient sub-groups seen (age, ethinicty, religion, virginity presumably preserved or lost) but the bias (due to patient selection and the sensitive nature of sexual behaviour) is so bad that such a clinical "epidemiology"proves nothing else but anecdotal evidence.

Forensic medicine specialists is the third group who can see the hymen and the first one to produce objective information for use in the legal system. In case of rape, incest or any other sexual crime revealed, the victim's hymen examination professionality sometimes can be a matter of life and death. As indicated here, the type I error (false positives) or type II error (false negatives) rates of non-professional examination of the hymen can be astonishingly high and haphazardly support false denials and false allegations. Additional and not uncommonly decisive evidence may be obtained from forensic examination of medical records kept in outpatient clinics and hospitals attended by the alleged victim of the sexual crime. The outdated definitions of rape focused (and in many legal systems still do) on vaginal penetration or even sexual intercourse and the integrity of the hymen was and still is critical in the diagnosis of female sexual abuse. New definitions of rape: "the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim"(FBI 2012) and "a physical invasion of a sexual nature committed on a person under circumstances which are coercive" (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda 1998) reflect the progressive and genuine respect for moral, psychological, and physical integrity of each human person.