The Vaginal Tightness Myth Is Damaging & Dangerous

Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.
The following is an edited excerpt from Losing It: Sex Education For The 21st Century by Sophia Smith Galer
Sarah Walser was in the middle of one of her clinical rotations at Penn State University when she had to look twice at the note pinned up in her clinic hallway. It read: "All rooms should have: two extra virginal, two virginal, eight regular, two long." If you’re like me (Italian and always hungry), you might hear that and quizzically wonder why a hospital would be so interested in keeping olive oil stocked in their consultation rooms. But the note wasn’t talking about extra virgin olive oil — it was talking about extra virgin speculums.
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A year later I sat down with Walser over Zoom. "I think they often mean pediatric," she tells me. "And it’s weird, because during the different appointments, a lot of the time, we use a smaller speculum for post-menopausal women. They have more atrophy, so it’s more painful to insert things because there’s less elastic tissue, which oestrogen provides." As soon as she started looking into it more, she quickly found other examples where the word "virgin" was being used in medical literature. "I didn’t realize how widespread the term was and in different textbooks and also inventory lists for medical supply companies. They would refer to the small one as the 'virgin' one."
Nearly a year after Walser wrote her essay, another young doctor in London named Millie, tweeted a picture of PELIspec wrapping, a manufacturer of vaginal speculums. Again, the product was labeled "virgin" in size. "What’s wrong with the standard 'extra small?'" she sensibly asked. Over 2,000 likes later, Williams Medical Tweeted in response, "Williams purchased the PELIspec brand in 2019 and inherited the sizing conventions. The classification attributed to this size speculum is an historic [sic] name and used industry-wide in and outside the UK. We acknowledge the challenge and are taking steps to make an appropriate change." A few days later, they had changed their virgin speculum to "extra small (previously known as virgin)" on their website.
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The desire to penetrate a tight vagina has encouraged women to create and recreate their own anatomy to cater for the male experience. That such myths around the penis and male virginity don't exist is telling.

As well as the myths propagated around the hymen, tightness too has been associated with virginity since time immemorial. This is why the hymen examination or blood-on-the-wedding-night test aren’t the only virginity tests in existence; there is also the two-finger test, where fingers are inserted to ascertain the laxity of the vaginal wall. In the WHO’s interagency statement on Eliminating Virginity Testing, they write: "[T]he vagina is a dynamic muscular canal that varies widely in size and shape, depending on individual, pubertal, or developmental stage, physical position and various hormonal factors such as sexual arousal and stress." 
There is no basis for such a test or even the belief that the diameter of a woman’s vaginal canal may reveal anything about her former sexual behavior; yet this myth can be found across aesthetic, homeopathic, and even medico-legal environments throughout the globe. It is also perpetuated in pornography, where ‘tight pussy’ has become a popular clickbait title for videos.
Perhaps it’s also some of the nomenclature that’s been misleading; phrases such as ‘vaginal canal’ suggest that it is a tube, when really the muscular system is more like a sock with folds and ridges that allow it to expand and retract. Childbirth and ageing can cause natural changes, but nothing of the kind that a) is being described and b) generally could not be supported by pelvic floor therapy. If this is the first time you’re hearing that phrase — pelvic floor therapy — don’t worry. I hadn’t heard of it either, until I was eighteen years old, in excruciating pain nearly every night, and sitting in front of a GP. A lot of people don’t hear about it until they’re pregnant, and even then they may find little healthcare or awareness available about one of our most impressive muscle structures.
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The tightness myth preys on how little we know about the pelvic floor and sexual pleasure in women. It comforts the insecurities of the heterosexual male ego, because dismissing the myth acknowledges that a penis or many penises do not change a vagina. Lastly, it makes a lot of people a lot of money. So, let’s get started — and loosen things up.
Vaginal tissue is elastic by nature after puberty because of the production of oestrogen, but also because of the pelvic floor, the structure of muscles supporting our bladders, reproductive organs, and our rectums, which act like a hammock. This big muscular sling, when happy, is what helps us not to leak out of our orifices all the time and works with our abdominal and back muscles to maintain the right level of pressure inside our core.
Muscles can suffer trauma, especially during something as cataclysmic as childbirth, which is why in France all women are sent to see a pelvic floor specialist after they give birth. Some of us have overactive, ‘hypertonic’ pelvic floor muscles, which is when the muscles are so tense that they can’t relax, and can happen to us for a variety of reasons, including working out your core muscles too much or not peeing when you should because you’re afraid of using public toilets.
As women, what we might think of as ‘tightness’ during sex is determined by this pelvic floor. The muscles contract and relax depending on how you’re feeling. The more aroused you are, the more relaxed you are – the more stressed, anxious, or deeply unaroused you are, the tighter the muscle. 
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When men speak of "sexual tightness," they make it sound as if the vaginal walls create a cavity that dictates tightness as if it were a stiff sort of test tube, but it’s not; it’s the muscles around those walls that dictate tightness. If your partner likes it when you are in fact in a state of discomfort or pain, that is not what sex is supposed to be. The best sex often happens when we're so aroused that we're self-lubricating and our vagina is stretching without us even having to think about it, like breathing. So it’s with all of that in mind that we have to approach services that say they will tighten a woman’s vagina with due caution, especially when they are targeted at women who are not necessarily menopausal or healing after childbirth.
It’s out of this world that an online obsession with Kegel exercises exploded in the last few years, catapulted by a TikTok trend known as "GripTok" where young women follow Kegel choreography through a series of sounds and emojis. Kegel exercises contribute to healthy pelvic floor function, but only within reason. "Too many Kegels can worsen pelvic floor function," said Jennifer Lincoln, MD, an OB/GYN with millions of TikTok followers, who tried responding to a number of the videos. 
Dr. Lincoln is also troubled by the number of vaginal tightening products — suppositories and ‘yoni pearls’ — she sees online. "They’re from sketchy companies, they cause way worse problems," she says. "I ask, why do you think it needs to be tighter? You’re playing into the narrative and they’re profiting off making you feel a certain way. What bothers me so much is that it’s [often] other girls who are putting this stuff forward!"
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Yoni tightening products have emerged with the popularization of wellness culture. Yoni is Sanskrit for womb, and can be found referred to across a number of spiritual spaces around the world, including Hollywood wellness companies such as Goop. One yoni Facebook page advertises a "Magic Wand Vaginal Tightening Stick" that promises to "make you feel like a virgin again." It doesn’t list its ingredients, but I go to a different website that also sells yoni wands — Borneol, pearl powder, honeysuckle flower, and terminal tree. It advises that the wand should be used daily for thirty seconds and used up to thirty times, and promises it will tighten your yoni, improve its elasticity, and rid the yoni of bacterial vaginosis and odor. But wait — that’s not enough! It will also help balance the vagina’s pH, regulate your menstrual cycle, enhance sexual sensation, enhance lubrication, stimulate the female hormone to delay aging, and climate toxins. Apart from all of this being pure baloney and possibly leading to other problems, it perpetuates the idea that vaginas are inherently dirty and need cleaning, which isn’t true; they’re self-cleaning. 
Beyond yoni healing, there are plenty of advertisements for creams also promising to make you feel "like a virgin" again, including one that is literally called Virgin Again. The ingredients listed are all plants and crystal minerals. On Amazon, it says that the gel "is especially dedicated to those partners who lose their interest in each other without knowing the cause. This solution gives a complete youthfulness and brings back the vagina into its original shape and enhances lovemaking desire in women."
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Such creams form the greater part of what Amazon offers me when I search "vaginal tightening," but there’s more. I’m also advertized an intimate skin-lightening cream for the body, bikini, and sensitive areas that says it can be used on men, women, and teenagers, promising to return a "radiant youthful glow."

Erroneous beliefs around vaginal tightness also contribute to the second virginity test that exists, other than a hymen examination – the 'laxity' test, or 'two-finger' test.

Erroneous beliefs around vaginal tightness also contribute to the second virginity test that exists, other than a hymen examination — the "laxity" test, or "two-finger" test. Zainab Husain, who works at the digital news organization Soch, is one of the activists who has recently successfully petitioned the Lahore High Court in Pakistan, to outlaw these virginity tests in rape examinations there.
"In Karachi, the biggest city in Pakistan, we have three medical-legal departments. We went to the biggest of the three — Jinnah Hospital — and we literally just turned up, we got in touch with the woman running it. She was really suspicious with us, she had a police officer with us in this huge fancy office and she questioned us. We said that we’d just graduated, which we had done, and I think if we had been older she wouldn’t have let us in. But we were twenty or twenty-one, really unassuming. She let us in to meet the medical-legal officers, the people who write a report when you’ve been raped or assaulted. There were only three MLOs [medico-legal officers], now there are four. According to Pakistani law a woman has to be seen by a woman officer; it’s illegal for her to be seen by a male. So, if you’ve been raped, you have to track one of these three officers in the seventy-two-hour time frame.
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"When we got to the MLOs room, it was disgusting. Stark contrast to the boss’s office. There was this huge sofa where everyone was sitting and reading. They didn’t even have an examination table. They didn’t have any place to store rape kits. When we interviewed them, they told us that they’d been taught at medical school that the laxity of the vagina would help them figure out if a woman was a virgin before she was raped. When we asked what connection her virginity had to do with her rape, they were just like, 'Of course, it has everything to do with it.' They said that 50% of the test was the two-finger virginity test, and 30% was a chemical test."
Husain and her colleague produced two videos to address the appalling conditions, not only of the examination space but also of the inspection that young women had to undergo if they had been attacked, which provoked a public outcry.
"What relevance does it have whether she was a virgin or not?" Husain asks me. "We got a group of activists and journalists and psychologists and lawyers who’ve somehow been working on this issue with rape victims. The lawyers drafted a great argument with the Lahore High Court to ban the two-finger test and the hymen test."
The court ruled the tests as unconstitutional, but now Husain wants to make sure that this law is implemented and that medico-legal officers are trained, as well as judges and lawyers. "We saw in court proceedings that judges ask medico-legal officers if the girl was a virgin or not — they know they’re going to be asked this, which incentivizes them to keep doing it."
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Meanwhile, that GripTok and Kegel trends have become so viral on TikTok, and that so many young women seem increasingly interested in tightening methods, speaks to how younger age demographics are becoming increasingly aware of the pressure of vaginal tightness without necessarily experiencing an improvement in understanding of vaginal health
How we unlearn the tightness and youthfulness myth is tricky, and unfortunately not helped by men on the internet. After Pornhub removed all of its unverified content in 2020 — which eradicated an enormous number of its dubious ‘18+’ teen videos — one internet user reacted by saying: "Pornhub literally took everything off their site. It’s all big fake tits and loose vaginas now." "Tight vagina" is not only how men label pornographic content they encounter online, it is also how women advertise themselves on platforms such as OnlyFans.
The desire to penetrate a tight vagina has encouraged heterosexual women to create and recreate their own anatomy to cater for the male experience. That such myths around the penis and male virginity don’t exist is telling. In the subreddit r/badwomensanatomy, a vibrant resource that mocks sexual misinformation on the internet, one user posts pictures of two sausages. The first is large, thick, like a chorizo. "The penis of a virgin," it says. "Penis is still large and healthy. It hasn’t been crushed inside dozens of vaginas and will one day make the right woman a very happy wife." Next to it is a long, thin Peperami. "The penis of a man who has had multiple sexual partners. Penis has shriveled down to less than 1/3 of its original size due to vaginal pressure and will no longer be able to pleasure any woman." The post has received thousands of upvotes. "This isn’t accurate," replies a user called frogglesmash, "repeated intercourse actually makes the penis larger, spongy, and incapable of erections. This is due to becoming waterlogged with vaginal fluid." The post was shared in an incel forum, whose members completely missed the irony of the post. But the female users kept liking and commenting. 
"Vaginal Pressure would be a great band name," replied one of them. I agree.
Losing It: Sex Education For The 21st Century by Sophia Smith Galer is published on 14th April 2022 by HarperCollins. 

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