Taiwan calls for change to name for ‘hymen,’ which translates to ‘virginity membrane’ in Mandarin

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Taiwan’s Health Promotion Administration of the Ministry of Health and Welfare. Image: Google Maps
  • On Wednesday, March 30, civic groups in Taiwan met to discuss alternatives for the term “hymen” in Mandarin, which translates to “virginity membrane” (處女膜).
  • Several leaders of women’s rights groups met with legislators and health officials to discuss changes to Mandarin health terms that discriminate against women.
  • Another term discussed was “lochia,” which refers to the discharge that comes from the uterus after childbirth and translates to mean “bad excretion” (惡露) in Mandarin.
  • Both terms can be found anywhere from dictionaries to medical journals throughout Taiwan and China.
  • The hymen is the thin tissue located at the opening of the vagina. In many countries, including Taiwan and the U.S., it is not considered a foolproof way to determine whether a woman has had sex or not.
  • In reality, there are many ways to tear the hymen apart from vaginal intercourse, such as through horseback riding or periods.

On Wednesday, civic groups in Taiwan met to discuss alternatives for the term “hymen” in Mandarin, which literally translates to “virginity membrane” (處女膜).

In a March 30 conference with Taiwan’s Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Deputy Secretary-General Lin Tzu-yin and Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lin Shu-fen, along with other members of women’s rights groups leaders, discussed the need to change several Mandarin health terms that purportedly discriminate against women.

In addition to the word for “hymen,” they also brought up the term “lochia,” which is the normal vaginal discharge from the uterus following childbirth and literally translates to mean “bad excretion” (惡露) in Mandarin. Both terms can be found anywhere from dictionaries to medical journals throughout Taiwan and China.

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Advocates for changing the terms describe how this would not only allow for more neutral perceptions of women’s anatomy, but also challenge false associations between a woman’s hymen and her “virginity.”

The hymen is the thin tissue located at the opening of the vagina. In many countries, including Taiwan and the U.S., it is not considered a foolproof way to determine whether a woman has had sex before or not. The reality is that it can tear for a wide array of reasons other than vaginal intercourse, including horseback riding and periods.

The idea of the virginal hymen is so enduring, however, that a market for artificial hymens — the earliest reports of which showed them being sold in China —  and virginity products exists. Women can even undergo surgery to supposedly replace their hymen. 

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The Deputy Director of the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Health Promotion Administration Dr. Wei Shi-lun (魏璽倫) gave her strong approval of the proposal at the conference, and stated that the Ministry of Health will push for more neutral ways to describe body parts.

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