The connection between the hymen and virginity — or “purity” — is a long-standing myth. I recently had the opportunity to help debunk the myths of the hymen for an article on Giddy.
Here are some of my favorite parts from this article.
The Many Misunderstandings of the Hymen
The hymen is not a sign of purity
Scientifically speaking, an intact hymen can’t be a sign of sexual purity.
“The hymen is not like a seal on a drink. Hymens come in various shapes and sizes,” said Wendy Goodall McDonald, M.D., a board-certified OB-GYN and a clinical instructor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “Some are wider and some are more narrow. Some will ‘break’ with first penetrative intercourse and some won’t. Some will break before or outside of intercourse.
“The state of the hymen is not evidence of sexual activity or lack thereof,” she added.
The hymen is a membranous tissue at the opening of the vagina, and it can break or tear from activities other than sex, such as:
- Riding a bicycle
- Exercising at a high intensity
- Riding a horse
- Using a tampon
- Pushing during a constipated bowel movement
“A woman who tears her hymen when she is not sexually active does not mean she is no longer ‘pure,'” explained Thais Aliabadi, M.D., a board-certified OB-GYN and founder of Trimly, a personalized weight-loss practice based in Los Angeles.
Where does the purity belief come from?
In many cultures, the hymen is thought to be a “seal” on the vagina. If the seal is intact, it’s believed the person has not experienced vaginal penetration and is a “pure virgin,” Goodall McDonald said.
“Some cultures would even go as far as to gather around the bedroom of newlyweds waiting for bloody sheets to be hung outside,” she explained. “The idea behind this was [if] the person was a virgin, their hymen would break and bleed with [the] first act of intercourse and prove their purity.”
This test of virginity dates back to the middle ages, according to Aliabadi.
“When a man had sexual intercourse with a woman and she bled, it meant the woman was pure and their child would be born from marriage, ultimately allowing the child to inherit property from his father,” she said.
The hymen doesn’t always break or tear when you have penetrative intercourse for the first time, Aliabadi said.
You cannot tell whether a person has had sex, or detect their sexual activity, based on how their hymen looks, Goodall McDonald stressed.
Some cultures seem to believe the hymen is a thick barrier that completely covers the vagina, which is not true. Rather, the hymen is a tissue that surrounds the opening of the vagina and allows blood and discharge to flow out, Aliabadi explained.
In fact, if your hymen was a solid sheet of tissue that completely covered your vagina, you would have an “imperforate hymen,” which would be detected during puberty and treated with a minor surgical procedure to open the blockage.
Some hymens never break
Fifty percent of sexually active teenagers have intact hymens, VanRooyen said.
“Some hymens are very stretchy and won’t break, even during intercourse,” Goodall McDonald explained. “Not every woman breaks or tears her hymen during sexual intercourse, either.”
Nor do hymens “pop.”
Some cultures equate the loss of virginity with “breaking your hymen,” and some people use slang like “popping your cherry.” These phrases lead many people to believe that when the hymen does break, it pops, which is not true.
“The term ‘pop’ comes from the myth that once a woman has sexual intercourse for the first time, she will bleed,” Aliabadi explained. “However, this is not always the case. Some women who break or tear their hymen may have little to no bleeding at all.”
Read the complete article from Giddy.
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When she isn’t debunking harmful myths or supporting healthy weight loss, Dr. Aliabadi is a renowned Beverly Hills-based OB/GYN and master gynecological surgeon.
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