debunking the hymen myth

technically it's a cherry...but virginity isn't so technical

The hymen has been the source of popular debate since the 16th and 17th century. How did a thin mucous membrane near the entrance of the vagina become such a hot topic? Blood-stained sheets have long been considered traditional proof of the virgin bride, whose hymen is first broken on her wedding night. Doctors from as far back as the Middle Ages have long recognized that the hymen can tear easily (as it often does during exercise or the insertion of a tampon), yet this delicate membrane continues to be used as the physical standard by which to “prove” virginity.

During the Middle Ages, soon-to-be-married women, under pressure to substantiate their purity through “chastity tests,” consulted medical handbooks for guidance on how to fake their virginity (by using animal blood, for example). Today, it is now a scientifically recognized fact that women can break their hymen before ever becoming sexually active. And here’s another fun fact: gURLs who have had sex don’t always break their hymen and sometimes, it even grows back. (I can’t decide if that’s awesome or kind of creepy.)

The cultural tropes of intact hymens and popped cherries has, in part, led to the idea of gURLs becoming “damaged goods” when they lose their virginity before marriage — which is really sexist since guys don’t have to deal with the same stigma. Even in this day and age, the myths about the hymen persist and continue to compel some young women to fake or “repair” their virginity, even those who have never actually had sex!

For example, hymenoplasty, or the surgical restoration of the hymen, has become a common cosmetic surgery procedure, though its target consumer market bears little resemblance to the Heidi Montags of the world. Instead, hymenoplasty is most frequently used by Muslim gURLs in Western countries, who are often expected to prove their virginity to their husbands and in-laws by shedding blood on the wedding bed or obtaining a signed statement from a gynecologist. These gURLs are facing some major repercussions if they’re exposed as non-virgins or can’t hand over proof of their purity. They could be left at the altar, ostracized by their communities, or even beaten and killed. To save their reputations, future marriages, and potentially, their lives, they pay to undergo these procedures. But we shouldn’t just write off Muslim gURLs as tradition-clinging fundamentalists who are out-of-sync with modern times. Remember that these ideas about female “purity” are shared by plenty of Christians, and in America, a lot of people still think that a woman’s honor is directly related to how close together she keeps her legs!

Using the hymen as physical evidence of a gURL’s chastity is one way to make provable a concept of virginity, which is really up to subjective interpretation. A doctor’s opinion has no more clout than your opinion or mine, since defining virginity depends on defining sex itself (and we all know how complicated that is). My advice: don’t stress yourself out over the state of your hymen.  A gURL’s value isn’t measured by what’s between her legs.


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Posted in: Down There, Health, Sex & Relationships, Hooking Up, Virginity
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