Premarital exam: A medical exam a woman gets before marriage to prepare for sex.
Yep, it’s a thing. Nope, you haven’t time-traveled to 1958 (though the past few years in our country sure feel like it sometimes). This shit actually exists. Healthcare clinics are offering examinations for women before their wedding night, with the very dated and fucked up assumption that a woman hasn’t had sex before that night, nor should she.
Here, let me help you lift your jaw off the damn floor.
The University of Utah’s Department of Women Health and Gynecology actually offers these exams. Today. And although the University of Utah is highly populated by folks who follow the Mormon religion (which forbids sex before marriage), the University itself is not a religious institution. It’s a public college.
So why on earth is it promoting something as antiquated and backwards as premarital exams?
According to Dr. Jennifer Gunter—author of The Vagina Bible and an OB/GYN herself—the University of Utah has been offering these exams for quite some time. And up until recently, their website was actually much more fucked up than it currently is.
In a blog post from September 2019, Dr. Gunter recounts doing what I just had you do: Googling “premarital exam” and finding the University of Utah’s site. At that time, the term “premarital exam” wasn’t as buried in the site as it is now.
As of this writing, the headline reads “SEXUAL HEALTH VISIT (OFTEN REFERRED TO AS A PREMARITAL VISIT)”
But just a few months ago, it simply read: “GETTING READY FOR YOUR WEDDING NIGHT WITH A PREMARITAL EXAM.”
Because, yes, that’s what we all freaking do. Totally normal.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the website also tried to scare women away from using condoms because they incorrectly claimed (as Gunter pointed out in her blog post) that condoms increase your chances of getting a UTI from sex.
Oh, and if you are about to ignite into an inferno of righteous anger, hold off for a sec because it only gets worse. The University’s website also recommended that women who have never had sex use a “sterile dilator” to “stretch the walls of [their] vagina.” I kid you not.
Because we can’t just normalize the patriarchal idea that women must “save themselves” for sex, we also have to scare the shit out of them with the notion that their bodies will be broken by sex unless they take proper precautions.
As Dr. Gunter points out on her blog, the majority of women do not experience pain or bleeding the first time they have sex, especially with foreplay, a trusting consensual and communicative relationship, and some comfort and familiarity with one’s body and sexuality—none of which the institutions that promote premarital exams seem to be offering.
The good news is that once Dr. Gunter posted about all of this fuckery, the University of Utah revised their website. They changed the headline and deleted the crap about condoms causing UTIs and dilators being recommended to stretch your vaginal walls. They also tried to make it clear that this was a general sexual health exam, and not necessarily one tied to your marriage night.
“While the term ‘premarital exam’ is what some people have heard of, the visit itself is called a sexual health visit,” they write on the site.
Yet the words “premarital exam” are still all over the place on their site and there is an assumption throughout that your first time having sex obviously coincides with your marriage night. (*insert eyeroll*)
Take, for example, the first sentence on the site, in its current incarnation: “Getting ready for your first sexual experience can be nerve-wracking, especially if you have certain expectations around this first experience. A sexual health visit is a woman’s health exam (or premarital visit) that you can schedule with your doctor to prepare for sexual activity.”
As far as I’m concerned, they’re still pretty much offering premarital exams, with the assumption being that this is a totally normal thing—that you need to visit the doctor before you can have sex for the first time.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with seeing a doctor to discuss your sexual health before having sex. But the idea that this must coincide with your first sexual experience—that you somehow need a doctor’s blessing—is ridiculous and sets up a lot of false notions about sex and a woman’s ownership of her own body.
Why not offer sexual health counseling throughout a woman’s life, starting in childhood and continuing through her adult life?
Why aren’t there similar exams or counseling sessions for men?
Why are they assuming a woman’s first sexual experience is with a man anyway?
Since when did sex become a medical condition that needs evaluation and a “green light” from a medical professional?
Since when is a woman’s plan to have sex a problem that needs to be solved?
So. Many. Questions.
Interestingly, according to The Washington Post, the idea of a premarital exam wasn’t just concocted out of thin air by the folks at the University of Utah. It turns out there was a demand for it from the general student population, many of whom are Mormon and are forbidden from having sex before marriage.
In addition, the state of Utah itself doesn’t allow sex ed in public schools, so in many ways, the Utah population needs a place like a major University to step up and provide that gap in education to its students.
But, again, there is absolutely no need to call it a premarital exam. NONE. Even if that’s what a portion of the University’s population is asking for, there is no reason a public institution needs to co-op into that misogynistic jargon.
It only upholds the values that such misguided practices avow. As a health clinic employed by medical professionals, they should know better than to post misinformation about birth control and other false notions—like that you need to prep your vaginal walls before having sex for the first time.
GTFO with this bullshit.
Instead, let’s offer women and men inclusive, comprehensive sex education throughout their lives, with compassionate, non-judgmental care that is based on science, facts, and medical recommendations. PERIOD.