Although virginity is not a medical term and is instead socially constructed, it remains unknown what medical providers believe about the biological basis of virginity. This study explored providers’ and medical students’ beliefs about virginity and the potential impact of such beliefs on healthcare. This was a concurrent mixed-method survey study of 124 medical students and 216 healthcare providers (Registered Nurse, Physician Assistant, Nurse Practitioner, and Doctor of Medicine) at Penn State Health and The Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine. Participants rated their level of agreement with common misconceptions about virginity on a six-point Likert scale. Open-ended questions gave respondents the opportunity to define virginity and to describe terms like virgin and virginal in the context of sexual experience and the medical lexicon. We identified common themes in the qualitative data using thematic analysis. Frequencies of misconceptions and statistically significant demographic associations were identified in the quantitative data. Definitions of virginity were varied and vague, most with negative connotations. A majority of respondents said that virginity has no biological basis. Many participants identified downsides to use of terms like virgin, virginity, and virginal in medicine. The most prevalent misconceptions about virginity were related to the hymen. Seventeen percent of students and 26% of providers at least somewhat agreed that it was possible to determine whether a person has engaged in vaginal intercourse through a gynecological exam. Misconceptions about virginity persist in medicine and bias, even if unintended, may impact the quality-of-care people with vaginas receive. Language around sexual health should be specific, inclusive, clinically relevant, and free from judgment. Medical education must continue to work to eliminate the concept of a biological basis to virginity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2619-2638
Number of pages20
JournalArchives of Sexual Behavior
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'The Opaque Language of Sexuality: Medical Students’ and Providers’ Beliefs About Virginity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this