What is a Hymen?
The hymen, or "maidenhead," is a thin, fleshy membrane in some girls and young women that is located at the opening to the vagina. Normally a hymen has a central perforation, which can be round or elongated, and through it menstrual blood will flow.
For a long time, it was believed that an intact hymen was evidence of a girl's virginity, as the hymen posed a physical barrier to sexual intercourse.
Sex and the Hymen
An intact hymen can be stretched and split by an erect penis during sexual intercourse. Consequently, a woman who is a virgin may feel momentary discomfort and/or bleed. Should the pain or bleeding persist, a consultation with a doctor is in order. On the other hand, there may be no blood or pain involved at all when the hymen is torn.
In addition to penis-vagina intercourse, sexual methods of "deflowering" a girl (another euphemism for rupturing the hymen) include:
- Inserting a finger deeply or roughly into the vagina
- Masturbation with a phallic-shaped vibrator, dildo or other such tool
Does the Hymen Matter?
In some regressive, male-oriented cultures, maintaining a girl’s virginity until her honeymoon night is considered a critical virtue and confirmation of her value and "purity." Fanfare in those cultures may accompany the display of "proof" after her honeymoon. In some countries, the blood-stained sheet is still hung proudly outdoors following the wedding night.
Today in America, the hymen has lost its value as a shield of virginity as more young women and men are sexually active before marriage. Aside from members of fundamentalist religions, having a hymen actually may be seen as a burden, and "losing it" is simply a rite of passage.
Fact: Some Girls Who are Still Virgins Have no Hymen at All
Although the presence of a hymen indicates virginity, the absence of a hymen is not proof that a girl is not a virgin, i.e. someone who has already had intercourse.
Young women who do have a hymen can "break (or pop) their cherry" in a number of different ways, sometimes without even knowing it. Some of the non-sexual ways in which a hymen will tear are:
- Through an accident or injury
- Horseback riding, bicycling, high jumping, or gymnastics
- Insertion of finger or instrument by a doctor during pelvic exam
- Tampon insertion
- Overzealous douching
Women who worry that having their hymen torn during intercourse will be painful and create a bad wedding-night memory can ask a gynecologist to open the hymen for them.
Restoring the Hymen
In some backward cultures, the absence of blood after first intercourse still casts questions on a bride's virginity. To protect themselves from violence and even death, affluent engaged women in these places may arrange for hymenorraphy, which is a surgical procedure to repair the hymen by suturing it together. It is also known as hymenoplasty.
Typical hymen repair surgery can cost several thousand dollars. Instead of taking such a drastic and expensive measure, a newlywed can make the new "first" act of love convincing by inserting into the vagina a gelatin capsule that contains a blood-like substance immediately prior to intercourse.
Who was Hymen?
According to sources, the hymen is named after the Greek god Hymenaeus. Son of Bacchus and Venus, Hymenaeus earned his reputation as the god of marriage and weddings.