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Transvaginal ultrasounds are performed to examine female reproductive organs to find the cause for conditions such as pelvic pain, unexplained bleeding or cysts. (Credit: Mart Production, Pexels)

Some healthcare professionals in the United Kingdom are barring women from receiving gynecological exams such as transvaginal ultrasounds.

Why? Because the women are not sexually active.

VICE World News spoke to women all over the U.K. who claim healthcare professionals employed this reasoning to deny them transvaginal ultrasounds — a pelvic exam which inserts a probe two to three inches into the vaginal canal to examine female reproductive organs to find the cause for conditions such as pelvic pain, unexplained bleeding or cysts.

One woman, who opted to remain anonymous, told VICE she visited a clinic to check for polycystic ovaries in April 2022, but the sonographer denied her an ultrasound because she was a virgin. According to the woman, the sonographer said “she felt uncomfortable using the probe on me” for religious reasons, then proceeded to talk about “how sex is between a man and a woman.”

According to the guidance from the British Medical Ultrasound Society, “if a patient has not had penetrative sex, they are still entitled to be offered, and to accept, a TVUS [transvaginal ultrasound] in the same way that cervical screening is offered to all eligible patients.” 

Another woman named Julie told VICE she had been referred for a TVUS to figure out why she was going up to six months without periods. 

“‘No, not your virginity,’” the doctor told her, refusing to perform the ultrasound.

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It took Julie five years — eventually going private to receive the exam — to find out she was going through early menopause. She believes that had she received the exam when she wanted it, she may have had time to freeze her eggs.

VICE originally published its investigative report in December, citing the cases of five women. In an update this week, it said hundreds of women have since reached out to share similar stories. 

The magazine also found that the concept of virginity is being used to single out women who are lesbians, as many healthcare professionals are defining a woman who is “sexually active” as a woman who has engaged in penetrative sex. 

A woman who chose to go by the pseudonym Lily told VICE that she was referred to Havens, a service that conducts medical assessments following rape and sexual assault. When filling out a form at the clinic, she ticked a box saying she only has same-sex partners.

During her physical examination, she recalled that the doctor “called me a virgin so many times, it was strange.” She said the “uncomfortable” experience dwindled her trust in seeking care for reproductive or sexual issues. 

Concerns over “breaking” the hymen during gynecological exams — fueled by a myth that the hymen is an indicator of sexual activity — is a leading cause for doctors denying women the exam, which goes against ultrasound guidelines in Britain.

Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, told VICE: “Every woman deserves to have control over their own sexual and reproductive health, and no healthcare professional should perpetuate harmful myths regarding virginity.”

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