- A hymen is a thin piece of tissue that is attached to the vaginal wall. Usually it looks like a fringe of tissue around the vaginal opening, not an intact piece of tissue draped across it (unless a it is an imperforate hymen, which needs medical attention).f
- Every woman’s hymen looks different. Just like ear lobes, noses, and labia, a hymen differs in size, color, and shape. It may resemble the petal of a rose, a carnation, a jigsaw piece, or a half a moon. In most cases, it is elastic and stretchy.h
- Giving birth vaginally changes the hymen’s appearance by smoothing or stretching it out and making it less visible.b
- In older, postmenopausal women who haven’t given birth vaginally or haven’t had regular penetrative sex, the hymen may close up again. Sometimes if an older woman wants to resume an active sex life, she may seek help from a gynecologist to reopen the hymen.b
The hymen is right at the opening of the vagina
- A hymen is also known as a cherry, virgin veil, vaginal corona, virginal membrane, or maidenhead.b
- They hymen is located 1–2 cm. inside the vaginal opening, not deep inside the vagina.h
- In some cultures, shortly after their wedding, new husbands were expected to produce bloody sheets to prove they’d married virgins and that they had successfully consummated the marriage by “breaking” the hymen.c
- Newborn hymens tend to be prominent and thick. But after time, most hymnal tissue thins and the opening widens.c
- In 1 in 200 women, the hymen’s single opening is so small that fingers or tampons have a difficult time entering, or they may not be able to enter at all. A simple surgery that snips the excess tissue is all that is needed.b
- The term “hymen” is from the Proto-Indo European *syu-men, from the root *syu- (“to bind, sew”). While not directly related to the Greek god of marriage, Hymen, it has the same root and is related in folk etymology. This god is the “joiner,” literally “the one who sews” (two together).e
- In early Greek medicine, the word “hymen” occurs frequently. Aristotle mentions the hymen of the heart, a hymen of the intestines, a hymen of the brain. For Aristotle and the Greeks, the hymen was nothing more or less than a membrane.f
- One researcher notes that the hymen is what’s left over when you “dig a hole.”a
- The term “pop your cherry” is slang for the breaking of the hymen.a
- While some hymens are very fragile and can disintegrate easily, other hymens are so resilient that they are still strong and quite evident during prenatal gynecological exams or even after childbirth.a
- In 2002, physicians noted that the hymen of a Taiwanese woman would grow back even after several hymenectomies.a
- The hymen usually does not completely cover the vaginal opening, in order to allow menstrual blood to leave the body.h
“Joan of Arc Red” is an artificial hymen
- The Japanese product “Joan of Arc Red” is the largest selling fake hymen in China. According to a customer service rep, many customers are prostitutes who want to charge more money or new graduates who buy them before marriage. The directions say to achieve a better effect, a woman should appear “shy” and “in pain.”d
- One study revealed that only 43% of women bleed during initial intercourse. Bleeding does indicate “breaking” of the hymen. The “first bleed” could be caused by tense vaginal muscles, inadequate lubrication, rushed entry, or vaginal abrasions.c
- In some Australian tribes, an older woman would “break” the hymen of a bride a week before marriage. If the hymen was already separated from the vaginal walls, a woman was subject to public humiliation, torture, and sometimes death.h
- The hymen has historically been associated with a woman’s virginity. However, the hymen can stretch in cases completely unrelated to intercourse. It can change while playing sports, inserting a tampon, masturbating, or for no reason. Additionally, because a hymen is often elastic, it may not change at all.f
- A separated hymen is not an indication of virginity and it cannot prove loss of virginity. The concept of virginity is historically a vague concept based on perception and myth. Different people have different ideas about which sexual acts constitute a “loss of virginity.”f
- When the hymen is separated, either during initial intercourse or at some other time, there may be slight bleeding or pain, both of which are very normal. Some women experience no discomfort or bleeding at all.c
- A woman can become pregnant even if the hymen is intact and no penis entered her body. If sperm came into contact with the labia or vaginal area, they could move through the opening of the vagina and possibly lead to pregnancy.b
- One researcher noted that the hymen is like a “door frame mounted in a doorway” that marks where “external” genitalia stops and “internal” genitalia starts. Nothing can go in or out of that doorway without passing through the doorframe. Nothing can enter or exit the vagina without going through the hymen.a
- Scientists believe that most women have a hymen. Only about 0.03% of women are born without a visible hymen. Because the hymen is left over from the development of the vagina, the absence of a hymen just means the formation of the vagina was more complete than usual.a
Many other mammals have hymens
- Other mammals have hymens, such as (but not limited to) llamas, guinea pigs, manatees, moles, toothed whales, chimps, elephants, rats, lemurs, and seals.a
- Researchers are not sure what the purpose of the hymen is and generally agree that it is simply a remnant of fetal development.h
- In guinea pigs, hymens dissolve when they are fertile, which allows them to mate. When they are not fertile, the hymen grows back and completely blocks the vagina.a
- The most common medical problem with the hymen is an imperforate hymen, or a hymen with no opening. Other anomalies are a microperforate or cribriform hymen (having just one very small opening or a number of tiny holes) or a septate hymen (one or more bands of tissue across the opening).a
- Hymenoplasty or “virginity surgery” is the surgical reconstruction of a woman’s hymen membrane. The operation is increasing in popularity in countries such as France, Germany, and the UK. Ironically, women may be “restoring” their hymens to a condition they may never had to begin with.g
- Hymenoplasty, or hymenorrhaphy, is an ambulatory surgery, which means women can go home 30 minutes later. Many women who have this procedure do it secretly, and many physicians note that the surgery is not so much for physical health but to avoid persecution or to help patients psychologically.g
- In Syria, an artificial hymen can be bought on the black market for $15 by girls who can’t afford hymen reconstruction surgery.d
- In 2009, a prominent religious leader in Cairo called for severe punishment for anyone caught selling artificial hymens. He labeled it an immoral and corrupt act.d
- A woman with an imperforate hymen (a hymen with no gap/opening) may develop haematocolpos. This means that a woman will still menstruate but the blood gradually builds up over several months. It fills the vagina, the womb, and possibly the Fallopian tubes.b
- After the hymen is “broken,” a circle of small pink “tags “ is left at the lower end of the vagina. These are known as hymenal tags, or carunculae myrtiformes. Usually they shrink over time.b
- Hymnal tags, or residual bits of the hymen once broken, may occasionally cause discomfort or pain during intercourse. If that is the case, a sex lubricant or a minor surgery to remove the tags can help.c
- Because each woman’s hymen is shaped differently, it is torn or abraded differently.h
- When a female is growing in the womb, her internal reproductive organs and vagina develop separately from her external reproductive organs (the labia, etc.). The hymen is what is left of the body wall that initially separated them.b
- During the Middle Ages, physicians believed that there was a “knot” of flesh inside the vagina that looked like a chick pea. This penis would smash this “knot” during first-time intercourse.f
- In the 10th century, Arab physician Avicenna was the first to hypothesize that there was a flap of skin inside the vaginal opening and that this was damaged by the penis during first intercourse. The hymen was finally confirmed in 1544 by the famous Flemish anatomist Andreas Vesalius during a dissection.a
- Anthropologists are not sure where the idea of virginity started. Some believe it started about the same time humans began to domesticate animals and plants during the Neolithic Era.a
The hymenization of virginity is a historical construct
- The hymen has played an important role in history: it has been associated with ensuring the paternity of children, an expression of holiness, a source of honor for families, a boundary between guilt and innocence, and a way of controlling a woman’s behavior. Its existence has often been a matter of life and death.a
- Physicians in the 16th and 17th centuries saw the presence or lack of a hymen as evidence of physical diseases, such as “womb-fury” (female hysteria). According to these doctors, if womb-fury was not cured, it would most certainly lead to death.a
- Although a hymen is not an adequate indicator of vaginal penetration, physicians can still find traces of sexual assault by examining it. It is critical for a woman to seek immediate medical attention after an incident of sexual abuse.h
-- Posted December 2, 2013
a Blank, Hanne. 2008. Virgin: The Untouched History. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.
b Boston Women’s Health Collective and Judy Norsigian. Our Bodies, Ourselves. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
c Castleman, Michael. “The Hymen: A Membrane Widely Misunderstood.” Psychology Today. March 1, 2011. Accessed: October 22, 2013.
d Gu, Bo. “Paying to Become ‘Like a Virgin’ in China.” NBC News. Accessed: October 22, 2013.
e “Hymen.” Online Etymology Dictionary. 2013. Accessed: October 22, 2013.
f Loughlin, Marie H. 1997. Hymeneutics: Interpreting Virginity on the Early Modern Stage. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press.
g Schweiger, Laura. “Virginity Surgery Is on the Rise Across Europe.” Arabia.MSN.com. March 7, 2007. Accessed: October 22, 2013.
h “Vaginal Corona.” Swedish Association for Sexuality Education. 2009. Accessed: November 29, 2013.