A hymen is pretty much par for the course for people born with vaginas. And yet, a lot of us vagina owning people know next to nothing about it. Let me be clear: you think you know, but chances are that most of what you think you know probably isn’t totally truthful. The hymen is a bit of an enigma, shrouded in myths about virginity and crude phrases like “popping the cherry.” It’s been used to shame women, praise women, and scare women out of using tampons. But it’s important that we separate fact from fiction here. For example, did you know that the hymen doesn’t really break? Or that your v-card status isn’t determined by the state of your hymen whatsoever?
No? Well, you’ve got a little catching up to do. But no worries, here’s everything you need to know about hymens.
What exactly is the hymen?
The hymen is a membrane that covers the vaginal opening. It doesn’t serve any specific function, it’s just there… chillin’. They can be thin and relatively stretchy or thick and somewhat inflexible; these variations and everything in-between are perfectly normal.
Take a look at these different hymen shapes.
As you can see, there are various types of openings that interrupt the hymen’s barrier. This will help explain the next question you might have.
Wait, hymens already have openings?
Yes, that’s the case for most pubescent folks with vaginas. I think a lot of us get into this mindset that a hymen is this solid, practically impenetrable barrier that can only be “broken” through sex or with tampons. But for the most part, thanks to anything from hormones, aging, or even falling really hard crotch first that one time you were riding a bike when you were eight-years-old (more on that later), your hymen has a pretty good chance of already being ruptured to some extent.
Er, why is “broken” in quotes? Doesn’t the hymen break?
We talk about breaking the hymen as if it’s a bubble that pops and disappears into nothingness. That’s just not the case. Instead of seeing the hymen as something that breaks, we should see the hymen as something that stretches. The hymen stretches this way and that way and over time. Some hymens are very hard to see after a while and might even be virtually invisible; others are still very clearly present even after some sort of penetration.
Is everyone born with an intact hymen?
Nope, some aren’t.
So how does someone’s hymen usually break/stretch?
There are loads of different things that can cause the hymen to stretch, including a few that I already mentioned. The biggies can be broken down into these categories:
- Vaginal penetration (fingers, tampons, sex toys, genitals, etc)
- Minor injury, like a rough fall (especially if it was crotch first)
- Exercise or playing sports
- Aging and hormonal maturation
Is there always blood involved when the hymen “breaks” for the first time? Does it always hurt?
It really depends. For some, bleeding might occur, for others it won’t. Some might feel pain when their hymen breaks (especially if it is caused by penetration) and others won’t feel much of anything.
But I thought that a broken hymen always makes you bleed! That’s how you can tell when someone has had sex for the first time.
This is important: The state of your hymen has nothing to do with whether or not you’re a virgin. You can’t look at someone’s hymen, or lack thereof, and determine whether or not they’ve had sex. Also, as mentioned earlier, plenty of people have stretched hymens YEARS before have penetrative sex. So the state of your hymen can’t and should never be some sort of barometer for one’s v-card.
So with that said, it’s important to know that the presence of blood in the bed after having penis-in-vagina sex for the first time, doesn’t necessarily mean that the hymen has been ruptured or not. Sure, some people will bleed after having sex for the first time due to the hymen stretching. Other people won’t bleed at all. And some will bleed for other reasons, like a lack of lubrication and excessive chaffing, which can irritate and break the skin inside the vagina.
To make a long explanation short, broken hymens and blood on white bed sheets is not some determining factor of virginity. Plenty of cultures over human history–even today–subscribe to that belief, but it’s a belief that is shrouded in falsehoods and myths about basic human biology. Don’t fall for it.
So the state of your hymen has nothing to do with whether or not you’re a virgin?
Nothing at all.
Is there such a thing as a hymen that isn’t normal?
The only type of hymen that is abnormal is an imperforate hymen. This type of hymen just doesn’t want to stretch, which can make it impossible or very difficult for menstrual fluid to pass. One might have to get surgery to sort it out.
This might sound weird, but can the hymen grow back?
If your hymen stretches, no, it can’t go back to some intact version of it’s former self.
But, that hasn’t stopped some folks from going to a plastic surgeon and undergoing a hymenoplasty.
A hymenoplasty is a procedure in which the hymen is surgically reconstructed. Yeah, really. The appeal? To appear to be “virginal” most likely. Yeah…your hymen really isn’t important enough for all of that. Hard pass.
Did any of these facts surprise you? What misconceptions did you hvae about hymens? Tell us in the comments!