One Chinese hospital called upon adult female virgins to donate their blood so that tests of the human papillomavirus (HPV) can be performed more effectively against control samples, China Daily reports. Despite the hospital’s adamancy that the tests are legitimate, reactions to the request have been mixed.
The request for 100 virgin women aged 18-24 first appeared on online bulletin board systems last week at Peking University and Beijing Normal University. Researchers at Peking University Cancer Hospital said the need for testing HPV against virgin blood was necessary because women who haven’t had sex face a far lower risk for contracting the disease, which stands out as the leading cause of cervical cancer. A serum antibody to HPV can come only from women who have never been infected, experts say, making virgins prime candidates.
"Male virgins are not needed, just females, how is this science?" wrote one user of Sina Weibo, a social media service akin to Twitter and a lively forum for popular opinion, according to Agence France-Presse.
Similar reactions have sprouted up around the Internet, to which the hospital has replied by calling the criticisms shortsighted and having essentially missed the point of the request.
"It's in line with international practice to collect female virgins' blood samples, which serve as negative control substances in HPV research,” spokeswoman Guan Jiuping told China Daily, “given that the risk of contracting HPV is low among women who have never had sex.”
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), with more than 40 types that can infect one’s genital area and mouth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 90 percent of cases go away by themselves; however, the disease is so common, nearly all sexually active men and women will contract at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives.
Testing for HPV is available to help screen women over 30 for cervical cancer. Men, children, and women under 30 should not receive these tests. And despite the disease’s often mild, temporary nature, no general test exists to check a person’s “HPV status.” Children should receive HPV vaccinations around the age of 11 or 12.
Roughly 79 million Americans are currently infected with the disease. In addition to being the leading cause of cervical cancer, which sees 12,000 new diagnoses each year in the United States, HPV can also cause vulvar cancers, penile cancers, anal cancers, and oropharyngeal (throat) cancers.
When asked how doctors would verify the virgin donors’ blood, hospital officials said they would take the doctors’ word for it. Opponents of the request have pointed to the unnecessary premium that the hospital is placing on virginity, as Chinese culture has often prized a woman’s virginal status before marriage. The market for artificial hymens and restorative surgeries to mimic virginity among women has grown in recent years, according to Agence France-Presse. Nevertheless, Guan said the criticisms do not have their place in the current situation.
"Too much attention to sensitive words like 'virgin' and 'sex' is not necessary in this context," she said, conceding that the hospital will seek to improve its communication of touchy issues in the future.