What is the Hymen Myth - Learn about virginity and the hymen
It can be very difficult to talk about both consenting and nonconsenting sexual experiences.
Virginity, and what it means, and what it has to do with hymens is often misunderstood and there is a lot of incorrect information out there. It is important we all know the real facts. This is especially so for anyone who has been sexually abused or assaulted or had any type of sexual contact that they were not OK with.
We hope to set the story straight with Just the Facts.
Just the Facts:
The hymen is a stretchy collar of tissue that has nothing to do with virginity.
The hymen is NOT like a piece of Glad Wrap at the entrance of your vagina.
You can NOT tell if someone is a virgin or not by looking at their hymen.
You can NOT break or damage your hymen doing activities like gymnastics or riding a horse.
It is NOT common for tampon use to affect your hymen.
There have been many myths about the hymen around for thousands of years. Even medical people believed them. But we now know it was all wrong!
The hymen is set just inside the vaginal entrance and is well protected by the two layers of lips of the vulva, the labia major and the labia minora. It is stretchy (view the diagram below).
Will I bleed the first time I have sex
Just the Facts:
It is common for you not to bleed the first time you have sex.
There are many things which influence whether bleeding happens or not. All hymens are stretchy but some are more stretchy than others.
When bleeding does occur with first-time sex, it might not even be coming from the hymen. Tiny splits can happen in other parts of the vaginal entrance.
You cannot tell if someone is a virgin or not based on whether they bleed the first time they have sex.
You cannot tell if someone is a virgin or not by looking at their hymen.
The hymen is a stretchy collar of tissue just inside your vaginal entrance (the passage to your womb). The hormone (chemical) oestrogen changes the appearance of your hymen over your lifetime. After puberty (when you develop breasts and get periods), the hymen becomes more stretchy – a bit like a hair scrunchy. Just like our noses are all slightly different, our hymens are all slightly different too.
Some hymens may develop a small tear when stretched. The hymenal tissue is well supplied with blood, so will bleed. Most people heal very quickly and there is no sign of damage within a few days. This is the same story for other little splits that might happen anywhere at the vaginal entrance.
Virginity is a quality an individual (male or female) has and may choose to change by deciding, freely and without coercion or impairment, to experience sexual intimacy with another person of their choice.
So only YOU choose to change it – no one else!!
You can’t lose your virginity or have it taken away from you!
There are lots of situations where sexual contact might have happened BUT we did not get to make a decision – like we might have been too drunk or too young or too pressured or someone abused or assaulted us……..none of this is sex!
Therefore, virginity is not a physical thing but a quality that we carry either in our heart or our head that cannot be lost or taken, but rather a quality that we can choose to change.
Learning the facts about hymens and virginity helps everybody.
So what does this all mean for anyone who has been sexually abused?
Someone who has been sexually abused may believe that their virginity has been stolen or taken away from them. Their family might think this too!
Do you think that someone who has been abused has chosen for that to happen? No.
Do you think they are still a virgin? Yes.
You are still a virgin until the time you choose to have sex with someone.
Your future sexual partners won’t know what has happened to you unless you choose to tell them.
You won’t feel any different down below to anyone else if you have been abused.
People who have been abused have had the control taken away from them. This information about the truth about virginity gives the power and control back to them to make decisions about sex that they want to make.
A lot of traditional views on virginity are based on religious and cultural beliefs that have nothing to do with the facts.
In some cultures, a show of blood after the wedding night, “virginity tests”, hymen examinations and even hymen reconstruction were and are still practiced.
However, medical knowledge has progressed a long way since then and it is important that we reframe our beliefs on virginity based on what we now know. For some of us, this means challenging our religious and cultural beliefs.
Your body belongs to you, you have control over it and it is up to you to decide who you want to have sex with and when.
Over the course of history, there is very little written about male virginity.
We have always known that we can't tell by looking at male genitals if they are virgin or not. In fact, just like females, you cannot tell if a male is a virgin, unless you ask him.
Just the Facts about the hymen and female sexual anatomy
JUST THE FACTS is brought to you by the Sexually Transmitted Infections Education Foundation (STIEF) - an initiative funded by the Ministry of Health through collective District Health Boards to educate New Zealanders about STIs.