Sexy as Health: Virginity and the hymen

What is a hymen?

Well, let’s start with what you may think it is. The most common misconceptions are: it covers the vaginal opening, all virgins have one that is intact and it breaks the first time a woman has sex.

If you knew these things aren’t true, you’re one of the few Americans who knows what a hymen is. Unfortunately, most people believe those qualities previously listed to be biological truths. In fact, it’s all over American culture. I even remember learning these misconceptions in middle school health class. 

Now, what is a hymen?

Let’s go through each of the misconceptions. The first being “it covers the vaginal opening.” Well, no actually, according to Nolan Feeney’s “Living Myths about Virginity,” the hymen is an elastic fold of mucous tissue that partially covers the vaginal opening and can, but doesn’t always, tear if stretched. If the hymen sealed a woman’s vaginal opening like the unpopped cap of a mason jar, where would our periods go? Some of these myths go against just common sense, but they can be found everywhere and even in seemingly reliable articles.

The next misconception is that “all virgins have one that is intact.” Now I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure virgins can run, ride bikes, do splits, and use tampons, which are all things that, according to “Living Myths about Virginity,” these things can stretch or tear a hymen. Women aren’t sexual objects, so why do so many people believe we come with a built-in virginity seal? We don’t.

Unfortunately, a lot of women live in a patriarchal society that does view and value them as sexual objects. This is why women around the world have had to do things like prove their virginity to government officials just to get a job according to Human Rights Watch, or to avoid jail, according to IRIN News. This virginity testing even dates back centuries, to when newly wed couples were expected to hand over bloody sheets to prove the loss of virginity on the wedding night. According to Medieval Virginity Testing and Virginity Restoration, women would go as far as carrying a vile of animal blood to bed on their wedding night just to ensure there were bloody sheets.

Luckily, things aren’t carry-a-vile-of-blood-to-bed bad anymore, but a lot of people still expect a woman to bleed her first time having sex. For starters, no one’s cherry is getting popped. That’s not how the hymen works, and that’s not how virginity works either. In fact, according to a study on the differences in hymenal morphology between adolescent girls with and without a history of consensual sexual intercourse, more than half of sexually active teenagers have an intact hymen. The myth that every woman bleeds her first time has made losing your virginity sound scary. All these stories of tearing open and bleeding everywhere, are often over exaggerated.

So if a hymen is just some vaginal tissue and isn’t a virginity detector, what is it for? Well, there are a few speculations and science is mostly unsure, but one thing that is biologically true is it has nothing to do with your virginity. 

Virginity is just social construct built to shame people for sex; women for having it and men for not. And who ever said you had to have vaginal (penis-vagina) sex to lose your virginity? Virginity is subjective, and your hymen has nothing to do with it.

So if you’re a woman and a virgin, just know sex doesn’t have to be painful your first time and you might not bleed. If you’re a man taking a woman’s virginity, don’t accuse her of lying if she doesn’t bleed, most of us don’t.


Curious to read my sources? Take a look: (ordered by appearance in article)