Tearing membranes and bloodstained sheets on the wedding night – that’s what most people think of when they hear the word ‘hymen’. By now, many people know that this is far from the complete picture. But what is the hymen and what does it do? This article tells you everything you need to know!
What is the hymen?
The hymen is a flexible fold around the entrance to the vagina. It’s a rim of connective tissue that looks different in every body. That means each person’s hymen can have a very different shape. Sometimes it’s very flexible, sometimes very rigid, it can be thick or thin, and it can be smooth or grooved. It has no function in the body and some people do not even have a hymen.
What does the hymen look like?
Truthfully, the hymen is not a membrane at all and does not close off the vaginal opening as many people think. It’s a small ridge with an opening in the middle and looks a bit like a hair band, as shown in the image below.
This ridge can have many different shapes. Occasionally, the hymen does close off the vagina. This can lead to health issues, as it allows menstrual blood to accumulate behind the hymen and cause infections. Medical intervention is required to correct it. This involves a doctor making an incision in the hymen, which is a small and simple procedure.
When are you a “virgin”?
Most people define virginity as ‘never having had sex’. But what exactly is sex? Some people consider kissing or giving someone a hand job as being sex. And what if you’ve already had oral sex or anal sex, but not penetrative sex? Does that count, or not? That’s why virginity is impossible to define. It means something different for everyone. We could even say that there is no such thing as virginity at all.
What happens to the hymen during penetrative sex?
If we’re talking about having penetrative sex for the first time, the answer is simple: not much. The hymen is flexible and simply stretches along with the penis. However, some blood may be released if the hymen is thick or stiff and if the penis causes small tears through movement. This can be a little sensitive, but if you feel a lot of pain, you should stop for a moment. Blood loss can also occur if the woman is not aroused enough, and if the penis damages the vaginal wall a little due to friction. That’s why you should always make sure that you’re aroused enough before you proceed to penetration and use some lubricant for extra comfort.
Did you know that… more than 50% of people with a vagina do not bleed during or after their first time having penetrative sex?
Myths about the hymen
- The hymen is a membrane that closes off the vagina. The hymen is not a membrane but a fold in the mucous membrane with an opening in the middle. It does not close off the vagina, so it can’t be pierced or torn during first-time penetration.
- You will bleed when you are penetrated for the first time. This is not necessarily the case. Over 50% of people with a vagina don’t bleed at all. Some blood may be released if the hymen is thick or stiff and if the penis causes small tears through movement.
- A doctor can determine whether someone is a virgin. Since the hymen can have many different shapes and is sometimes not even present at all, it’s impossible for a doctor to tell whether someone is a virgin or not.
- Men can feel whether a someone is a virgin. For the same reason as above, it’s impossible for a man to feel whether someone is a virgin. By the way, it’s also a myth that someone who’s never had penetrative sex has a tighter vagina. Vaginal tightness is determined by the strength of the pelvic floor muscles.
- Bleeding during penetration looks different from any other blood loss. Nope, it looks exactly like any other blood loss.
- The hymen can be damaged by using a tampon or by exercising intensively. A tampon is too small to cause tears in the hymen, and exercise has no effect on the hymen.
In many cultures and religions, virginity is an important part of a woman’s and her family’s reputation. A woman must be a virgin until the wedding night, otherwise she’s not ‘pure’. It is often believed in these cultures that a virgin bleeds when she has sex for the first time. Blood on the sheets after the wedding night is therefore seen as proof of a woman’s purity. Not bleeding during this “deflowering” can have major consequences. The honour of the woman and her family is damaged, and she may even be punished or disowned. Ironically, the fear of not bleeding causes many women to bleed because they’re not sufficiently aroused and the friction from the penis causes (minor) damage to the vaginal wall.
“In many cultures and religions, virginity is an important part of a woman’s and her family’s reputation.”
Because of the fear of not bleeding on the wedding night, many girls and women undergo hymenoplasty. During this procedure, the hymen is sutured so that it tears during sex and the person in question will lose some blood. If a person does not have a hymen, an artificial membrane is placed in the vagina. This operation can also be done in the Netherlands, although the majority of Dutch doctors are against it. From a medical point of view, there’s no advantage to doing this.
Did you think that the hymen would tear during first-time penetration?