Throughout my adolescence, the word ‘hymen’ has been repetitively mentioned during the school sex education lessons about the loss of virginity and the ‘first time’.
As a girl, I’ve been warned about the causes and consequences of the ‘breaking’ of the hymen, timeless symbol of virginity and innocence.
I’ve been taught that the hymen is a membrane which can be ‘broken’ by penetration. That once it’s broken, you’re no longer a virgin. That when it ‘breaks’, you could bleed and the ‘rupture’ can cause pain.
I’ve learned to be afraid of the hymen, to treat it like a fragile little door which, if opened too early, would have wedged the gates of hell.
People made me believe that the girl’s moral integrity was about the physical integrity of a fragile membrane placed just inside the vagina.
That the intact hymen was the dividing line between the good girls and those who give it away to the first guy they meet, deserving bad labels and harsh judgement.
They made me believe that an intact hymen was a valuable gift to be given, in due time, never too early, to the ‘right guy’. To the person who would have treated you well and would have started a committed relationship.
Now I’m 30 and I haven’t heard about this nearly useless thin tissue layer for at least 10 years. Now the hymen is no longer my problem. Dear girls, it won’t be yours either. Dear women, do you remember the hymen?
Hymen and virginity
Throughout history, different cultures, religions and philosophies constructed myths, symbologies and beliefs around the idea of virginity, treating it like something tangible, to be demonstrated through physical evidence like the hymen ‘breaking’ and the consequent bleeding.
The intact hymen has so become a symbol of female purity and innocence, and the virginity loss a fundamental rite of passage.
Water has flowed under the bridge, the feminist struggles have filled whole history books, the sexual revolution has run its course (but we’d need other 2 or 3 of that), but the hymen keeps appearing in many girls’ nightmares during an adolescence phase.
Even today, girls feel like they have to protect the entrance to their intimate world, and the membrane located just beyond it, until an ‘acceptable’ age, at which they feel entitled to allow someone to cross the threshold, giving him their own virginity, only after having convinced themselves about his reliability and his being deserving of it.
Let me make some points clear:
Having an intact hymen doesn’t mean being a virgin, whichever way you look at it.
Having an intact hymen can only mean a couple of things: not having introduced in the vaginal canal something long enough to break through it, or having a particularly flexible hymen capable of resisting several penetrations before being ‘broken’.
By definition, being a virgin means nothing more than not having experienced a complete sexual intercourse (with penetration and ejaculation). Period.
A definition which is furthermore rough and approximate, and not really representative of all the women, in which girls who experience their sexuality with other girls only, and without any penetration, can hardly recognise themselves. Or, to explain the concept with a popular question: how do lesbians lose their virginity?
Hymen and virginity aren’t gifts to be given to the first who crosses the finish line
Girls, if you want to be grateful and to reward the person you’ve chosen to explore your (your!) sexuality with, donating a thin layer of your body is not a romantic way to do it. The very most intimate part of your body is located several centimetres higher, is not physically penetrable, and is called brain.
The very most intimate part of your body is located several centimetres higher, is not physically penetrable, and is called brain.
The biggest gift you can make to your sexual partner, man or woman, is to give him/her free access to your mind, thoughts, fantasies and deepest desires. Sharing openly about what you really like or don’t like to try, is something requiring a big effort in terms of honesty and courage in the sexual field. And also something a lot of people never face over the course of their lives, precluding themselves from the possibility of experiencing pleasure at a really intimate, sincere and deeply fulfilling level.
The pain and the bleeding aren’t the rule
The repetition always identical of the notions of hymen and virginity has generated and spread the idea that the hymenal laceration is always naturally followed by the perception of physical pain and some bleeding.
The chance that the hymen ‘tears’ without any pain or bleeding (or at least a light and negligible one) exists and is the ‘standard’ for many girls.
And conversely, frequent episodes of vaginal pain and bleeding during the intercourse aren’t just an abnormal condition, but should be discussed with a gynaecologist in order to identify causes and remedies.
The habit of associating sex with pain (when it comes to female sexuality) and imagining that sex is more pleasurable for men than women, is nothing more than an obstacle, for many women, to give in to the pleasure. As well as the cause of the same pain experienced throughout the intercourse: anxiety and worry have repercussions on the physical level, acting as an obstacle to the vaginal muscles relaxation and to welcome the penetration and experience pleasure.
Girls’ shame, boys’ pride
The link between hymen and virginity, and the attention still paid to them, have just made the way girls approach to their own sexuality unnecessarily complicated, and have generated anxieties and doubts throughout the adolescence for both sexes.
If the hymen laceration and the consequent (potential) bleeding can produce anxiety, shame and fear for most of the girls, to the boys it represents a moment of pride and a badge of honour for having planted their flag on a hitherto unchartered territory.
The unclear and hardly accessible location of the hymen, together with the general confusion about its function, helps to make things worse. A paradoxical situation can arise when a girl, after having tried to get rid of shame for declaring her virginity, is asked to explain, to the guy with whom has just experienced her first complete sexual intercourse, the reason why there was no bleeding.
Things get even worse, if possible, when the focus is transferred from the virginity to the experience in the sexual matter. From this point of view, the hymen still intact gets stigmatised as the direct expression of a lack of experience in the sexual field. In some cases, this leads girls to hurry up and cause a membrane breaking, and boys to prefer a partner supposed to be more expert with whom to experience the first intercourse (and then go to conquer an intact hymen to be exposed in his personal trophy case).
First time, last goal
The emphasis placed on the moment of female virginity loss has direct, dramatic, consequences on the way boys and girls imagine and experience the so feared, craved, dreamed and long-rumored ‘first time’.
To the eyes of adolescents who start exploring sexuality, the first intercourse seems to be the culmination of a grow path, the last box to check in the list of sexual experiences to try with the opposite gender partner.What is selfishly withheld is that it is rather the beginning of an exploration and experimentation path which will last all life long, and will change continuously with a not so predictable and constant flow. Is a partly individual and partly shared path which everyone faces with different approaches, paces and partners.
What is selfishly withheld is that it is rather the beginning of an exploration and experimentation path which will last all life long, and will change continuously with a not so predictable and constant flow. Is a partly individual and partly shared path which everyone faces with different approaches, paces and partners.
These are the motivations which should lead us choosing the ‘right person’ with whom live the first time. Not someone who deserves a portion of a membrane in reward, but someone who wants our good and who we’d like to share part of the path of sexual exploration with. With a single purpose: feeling good and making feel good.
In this regard, more than knowing how the hymen ‘breaking’ works, it would be more helpful to learn how our body works and to discover how it responds to different stimulations, throughout the direct knowledge of the parts involved in our sexual life (brain included).
Thinking about the first time with the only confused notions of hymen and virginity means directing all girl’s attention to physical pain and social judgement. And approaching the first intercourse hoping not to feel pain and to be treated gently and with full respect by the selected male partner. Ignoring and losing focus of the simple final purpose of feeling good and experiencing pleasure.
If it’s the first, it’s magical
The first time is not magical because we chose wisely the person worthy of our virginity. It’s magical because it’s the first. It doesn’t need to be overloaded with symbolic values and social, religious or cultural meaning.
The first time is a moment that will remain in men and women’s memories all life long. Although it won’t be (very likely, almost certainly) overwhelming and passionate like we pictured, planned and dreamed, it will be somehow magical.
The inexperience which goes with that fateful moment and the absence of a single objective way, the same for all, to face it, should be enough to provide that right amount of anxiety, agitation and butterflies in the stomach capable of turning everything mysterious, memorable and exciting.
The hymen laceration anxiety, the eventual bleeding and the worry of saying goodbye to virginity forever, shouldn’t cross the threshold of the room where this big act of courage, growth and exploration will take place.
What grown-ups don’t tell
The truth is that whether or not the hymen is still intact doesn’t mean anything. To anyone. And it doesn’t change a bit the kind of person you are or the kind of judgement people should pass on you.
And virginity is a precious commodity until you deem it so. Otherwise, it’s just a label used to identify a condition which is more mental than physical. A task for every girl in regards to herself.
Looking beyond the hymen
Revising the notion of virginity and freeing the hymen from symbolic values, should be the starting point to let young men and young women living their sexuality with freedom and curiosity.
A girl’s virginity should be considered from a personal and psychological point of view, rather than objective and physiological.
The loss of virginity should have to do with the beginning of the sexual experimentation, defined by every act related to the sexual exploration and the pursuit of sexual pleasure, for both sexes. Everyone would be finally free to decide when and how to lose the virginity, regardless of the fact of having experienced a full intercourse.
An intact or ‘broken’ hymen doesn’t make a girl more or less virgin than how she feels.
By releasing the hymen from the female virginity notion, we could reduce the level of anxiety, embarrass and uncertainty with which we approach sexuality during the adolescence.
Hymen and virginity couldn’t be used as parameters for defining women and measuring their social value, or for pleasing the male pride.
Looking beyond the hymen, there’s plenty of words and body parts which really deserve to be explored and which have nothing to do with pain but rather with pleasure, which most of the girls don’t hear about far beyond the first time. Orgasm and clitoris are just the starts.
Now read the quote below, relating it to my claptrap about the hymen: everything will appear more clear (and my article a bit useless and too wordy)
We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.
The words come from Walter Elias ‘Walt’ Disney and have nothing to do with sexuality, but I found them especially effective and enlightening in this context.
My only message to all the girls in adolescence age:
Don’t care about the hymen and be curious about your body. Don’t wait for someone else coming to explore it before you do.