Sooner or later, at some point in adolescence, everyone must come to terms with that elusive and irrelevant female body part which is the hymen. And which, for many girls, put next to the words virginity, pain and blood, becomes a burden of doubts and worries capable of bothering the sleep and making the first approach to sexual exploration complicated (here I talk about how to get rid of this baggage).
The truth is that we could all live happier and carefree without knowing what the hymen is, where it is and what it’s for (nothing). But since the information provided are confusing, specious and misleading, we might as well try to clarify.
The only information needed to sleep easy are the following:
the hymen is not an insurmountable leak-proof barrier but an incomplete membrane with a perforation in the middle; it is not located deep inside the vagina; it doesn’t have the same shape and consistency for all girls; it’s not always present; it doesn’t always tear during the first intercourse; it doesn’t always cause pain or bleeding when it tears.
Everything written below is too much but should contribute to answering some questions. Read, understand and forget.
Mythological ramblings about hymen
Hymen is the term commonly used to refer to the vaginal corona.
It comes from the Greek hymén-énos and stands for skin, membrane.
But it’s also the name of the Greek god of marriage, Hymenaios. – Ah, now I know what all the fuss over the virginity, the wedding etc.. was about – Yup.
In Greek mythology, he is the son of Apollo and an unidentified Muse (there are several versions: confusion reigns also at a mythological level), as well as big friend and fellow traveller of Eros, God of Love (to stay on-topic). The iconography shows him as young, blonde and hairy with the head crowned by flowers, holding a torch and a nuptial veil, leading the procession to protect the wedding rite.
A wide-spread legend tells of a young Athenian of exceptional beauty, but really poor, who falls crazy in love with a noble and unreachable maiden. Prevented from living that impossible love story, he confines himself to following his beloved at a distance until he can have her as his bride, as a reward, after having heroically freed her from the clutches of a gang of pirates, who kills one by one, from whom she was captured together with other young ladies. The happiness the wedding had brought into Hymen’s life was so much that he started being invoked for good luck in the nuptial songs.
Sorry for the digression, but continuing to read you’ll know that this was the most interesting part.
What is the hymen?
The hymen is part of the vulva and consists of a mucous membrane, more or less thin, flexible and elastic, and more or less circular, which protects the vaginal opening.
Normally it’s an incomplete membrane that partially and imperfectly surrounds and covers the entrance to the vagina. It’s like a boundary line between vulva and vagina.
Where is the hymen located?
The hymen separates the vaginal canal from the vestibule (the vulva area between labia minora and vagina). Well, put it this way, I might as well not have it explained.
Practically it’s at the beginning of the vaginal canal, just inside the opening of the vagina (1-2 cm deep), close to the external part of the genitalia, recessed in between the labia minora. Ergo, not so deep inside like we often imagine. In fact, by virtue of its position, the hymen is usually visible by external inspection (but why on earth would you venture with a mirror looking for something that could even be absent?)
How does the hymen look like?
The hymen is composed of three layers: two mucosal surfaces, one external and one internal, and a thin connective tissue layer more or less fibrous.
And it’s bounded by two edges: the free edge is the hole edge, thin, serrated and often irregular; the adherent edge, external to the membrane and close to the labia minora, from which is separated by the nympho-hymenal groove, is the hymen’s thickest portion.
To its original state, before every kind of laceration, the hymen is (improperly) described as intact: here’s where the confusion starts. We think of it like a whole uniform barrier waiting to be shot down but, actually, it has one or more perforations in the middle (apart from exceptional cases). The perforations allow menstrual blood, as well as vaginal discharge, to flow out of the vagina ( – Oh, right, it gets out from there – Yup).
The membrane starts tearing on first intercourse. But also the use of internal tampons, the introduction of all sorts of objects into the vagina (creativity up to you), and the practice of extensive physical activities like sudden splits, rampant horseback rides or aggressive cycle rides can alter the morphology.
However, the tear is not traumatic, it doesn’t happen suddenly, at a single time instant like a bullet hole; the hymen doesn’t disappear once penetrated, but it just shows some changes. It’s not about a rupture, a fracture or anything similar, simply because the membrane is not a rigid barrier.
The hymen increasingly develops lesions through multiple sex intercourses. The membrane tends to retract and lose its original morphological aspect decreasing to some small flaps around the vaginal opening, called hymenal lobules. After the first birth, during fetal head descent, the hymen tears farther and the remaining isolated tags are renamed caruncolae myrtiformes.
In some cases, the hymen is so elastic that is capable of resisting to several penetrations with no structural alterations.
At this point, it should be clear that the whole discourse about virginity doesn’t make sense to exist. And that someone made fun of our defenceless minds of girls in their tender age saying a lot of crap.
One, no one and eight hymens: each to her own.
There isn’t a single hymen for every girl, but at least eight different shapes.
In its typical forms, the most common, the hymen could be::
Annular or Circular
Is the most typical conformation, with a single opening (hymenal orifice), more or less central, in various sizes.
Semilunar or Falciform
The membrane is half-moon-shaped and the opening is shifted upwards, near the urethra.
The membrane is comprised of two side parts, or labia, separated from a narrow slit, vertical or horizontal.
Atypical forms, less frequent:
Fimbriated or Denticular
The free edge of the hymen shows an irregular border with indentations.
Cribriform of Fenestrated
The membrane is pierced by many small perforations irregularly spread on the surface (if there’s just one tiny hole it’s called microperforated).
The orifice is split in two by a narrow septum.
The membrane completely covers the vaginal opening and has no orifice at all.
With a cribriform hymen, which is pretty rare, sexual activity and the insertion of tampons can be problematic.
The imperforate hymen, other than causing problems to penetration, doesn’t allow the menstrual blood to flow out, causing hematocolpos (accumulation of blood in the vagina) and abdominal pain. It’s a congenital anomaly which requires a surgical intervention by cross-shaped incision of the membrane (hymenotomy).
In rare cases, hymen could be absent from birth or of a very small size. In this rudimentary state, it’s called complacent and is a form variation of the annular hymen. The orifice is almost as big as the whole vaginal opening and the membrane is a reduced-size ring so elastic and dilatable that tends to fold outwards, able to accommodate several penetrations without tearing.
With reference to the consistency, the hymen can be more or less flexible, thin or resistant. Generally, a fibrous, hypertrophic or rigid hymen, which is thick and resistant, may result in problematic and painful intercourse (dyspareunia).
What’s the purpose of the hymen?
The question is more than fair, but the answer is rather disappointing.
From a biological point of view, the hymen’s purpose is still unclear to anyone. An eternal mystery.
Some thesis speculate that it helps keep germs and dirt out of the vagina and to avoid infections during the genital development throughout puberty.
According to some scholars, the hymen has an evolutionary purpose working as a disincentive for casual sex which, by its very existence, leads women to prefer and look for a deep emotional commitment with a partner.
Hymen: Questions & Answers
Can the hymen break with masturbation?
It might happen if the hymen is not particularly flexible and if you insert dildos, vibrators or other objects into the vagina during masturbation. Generally, if you’re only using your fingers, you most likely won’t tear it.
Does it break wearing vaginal tampons?
It might be torn if the hymen is very rigid and not flexible.
How do I know if my hymen is broken?
Because of its location, the hymen is usually visible on self-inspection by using a mirror. Generally, knowing you have an intact or partially tear hymen at the beginning of the vagina doesn’t change anything.
Could I get pregnant if my hymen is intact?
Yes. The hymen isn’t a wall, a barrier, a stopper or an airtight door. It’s a partial and perforated membrane which allows the seminal fluid to enter into the vagina, as well as it allows menstruation to come out.
Can the hymen regenerate after a long abstinence from sex?
No (and why on earth should it?). Once torn, it remains so. But I don’t see how this can be a problem. There’s an aesthetic surgical intervention (hymenoplasty or hymenorrhaphy) to restore the hymen by pulling together and suturing its remnants. There’s also a weirdness, known as artificial virginity kit, to simulate an intact hymen: it comes from China and consists of a fake membrane to be inserted into the vagina, which oozes out a liquid like blood (‘just the right amount’ the website says) when penetrated. The kit contains two pieces of artificial hymen to allow you to rehearse before your performance!
Is it possible that the hymen doesn't allow me to penetrate?
Generally, the hymen is really flexible and is not a limit to the penetration. However, in exceptional cases, where there’s an anomaly, it can make the penetration complicated.
Why does she keep feeling pain even though is no longer a virgin? Is the hymen's fault?
Vaginal pain on intercourse may be caused by many factors. The speed of penetration, a missing or insufficient lubrication, a state of anxiety which doesn’t allow the vaginal muscles to relax, are all factors able to contribute to painful intercourse. In most cases, the hymen doesn’t cause relevant pain, and not after the first intercourse.
Are hymen and clitoris the same thing?
Absolutely not! Between the two, it’s far more useful to know what the clitoris is.
How do I know if a girl is a virgin and her hymen is intact?
I miss the reason why a boy should ask this question, but there are just a few ways to know it. A) Ask her.. but maybe she doesn’t know it either, or doesn’t want to tell you. B) Ask her to show it to you..even though probably neither of you have the foggiest idea about what to look for and which shape it has. My advice, however, is to change the question.
After the first time, she didn't bleed but she has told me she was a virgin. Do I have to trust her?
The hymen often tears partially during sex and doesn’t cause any bleeding. Sometimes it doesn’t even tear. That being said: what does this change?
Can a condom break because of the hymen?
The hymen is not a wall, is capable of stretching and usually very elastic. It’s an innocent and generally thin membrane, with no thorns, teeth, needles, nail or every other thing able to scratch, pinch or damage the condom.