A hymen may be commonly defined as a thin membrane or tissue that usually or often covers some or all of the opening to the vagina.
There are many myths about the hymen including that it “pops” or always tears or breaks and bleeds the first time people have penis-in-vagina sex, and that an intact hymen is a symbol that someone has not had penis-in-vagina sex.
There are several types of hymens and some people who have a vagina are not born with a hymen. A totally closed hymen has its own issues such as inability to allow menstrual flow. The presence of a hymen is not a test for virginity, but women in some cultures are subjected to these tests and face consequences for “failing” them.
Some hymens expand and don’t disappear during penis-in-vagina sex, and some hymens break without sexual activity. The purpose of the hymen is still unknown.
Foreplay and lubrication offer prevention of painful intercourse if someone is worried about “popping,” “tearing” or “breaking” their hymen the first time they have penis-in-vagina intercourse (see the Lubrication (Lube) and Foreplay Topics), but always consult a medical professional with any concerns as pain may be a sign of other issues.
The sourced articles below should provide more information on the hymen.
- What Is A Hymen?
“Contrary to what many believe, except in rare cases, the hymen is not an impenetrable seal. If this were the case, there would be no portal for menstrual flow or healthy, normal vaginal discharge to leave the body. … In some cases, a hymen may not be present at all, as approximately 1 in 1,000 women are born without one.”
Cherokee Women’s Health Specialists, cherokeewomenshealth.com, accessed 5/25/2022
- Congenital Anomalies Of The Hymen
“- Imperforate Hymen … When no hymenal opening is present, a membrane covers the area of the hymen and this is called an imperforate hymen. An imperforate hymen needs to be surgically corrected. …
– Microperforate Hymen … is essentially an imperforate hymen with a very small hole within it. The hole may be large enough for mucus and/or blood to come through the hymeneal opening, but instead of having a regular menstrual period lasting 4-7 days, the woman may have a period which lasts longer due to the fact that the blood cannot come out at a normal rate. …
– Septate Hymen … refers to a band of extra hymeneal tissue running vertically in the area of the normal hymen. A hymeneal septum may interfere with a woman’s ability to insert a tampon or she may find that she can insert the tampon but once it expands with blood, she cannot remove the tampon. …”
Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, brighamandwomens.org, accessed 5/25/2022
- What Is The Treatment For Hymen Variants?
“Treatment of a hymen variant (imperforate, microperforate, septate or cribiform hymens) is a minor outpatient procedure, called a hymenectomy – during which the gynecologist removes the excess tissue, leaving a vaginal opening that is the appropriate size. Once the extra tissue is removed, it does not grow back.”
Nationwide Children’s Hospital, nationwidechildrens.org, accessed 5/25/2022
- Newborn Appearance Questions
“Vaginal Tags. The hymen can be swollen due to maternal estrogen. It can have smooth ½ inch (12 mm) projections of pink tissue. These normal vaginal (hymenal) tags occur in 10 percent of newborn girls. They slowly shrink over 2 to 4 weeks.”
Seattle Children’s Hospital, seattlechildrens.org, updated 5/25/2022
- The Sex Myth That’s Centuries Old
“Indeed, research has found that renaming the hymen might actually work in changing perceptions. In 2009, the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education decided to transform their ‘virginity membrane’ word, mödomshinna, into ‘vaginal corona’, slidkrans. They started using it everywhere: pamphlets from sexual health services, newspapers, Sweden’s official language planning body and in all the association’s future communications. … A language shift doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s a start.”
Sophia Smith Galer, adapted from her book “Losing It: Sex Education for the 21st Century,” bbc.com, 4/19/2022
- What Is A Hymen? 9 Facts About Hymens And The Concept Of Virginity
“Although they vary in shape and size, hymen location is pretty consistent — you’ll find it ‘just inward of the vagina,’ Dr. Shepherd said, or about one to two centimeters inside your vaginal opening. And if you’re wondering ‘how deep is the hymen?’ — it isn’t. Though this thin piece of tissue may mark the start of the vaginal canal, it doesn’t extend inside of it.”
Cheryl Wischhover and Liv Mcconnell, teenvogue.com, 3/29/2022
- What Is A Hymen And How Does It ‘Break’?
“One of the most common misconceptions is that an intact hymen confirms a person’s virginity. ‘There is no way to tell if someone has had sex by looking at their hymen,’ Dr. Gosine says. ‘Hymens come in all shapes and sizes and you cannot tell if what you see is just normal for them.’ The hymen doesn’t always break during penetrative vaginal sex, either.”
Rozalynn S. Frazier, C.P.T. and Amy Marturana Winderl, C.P.T.; Medically reviewed by Mary Jane Minkin, MD, self.com, 2/25/2022
- Hymen Repair Surgery And Virginity Testing To Be Banned In UK
“The WHO says virginity testing is practised in at least 20 countries. It involves an intrusive vaginal examination to check if the hymen is intact. Aleena, whose name we have changed, said she was raped and then, as a teenager, faced years of pressure from her family to get the procedure.”
Rajdeep Sandhu, bbc.com, 1/25/2022
- What Are The Different Types Of Hymen?
“Usually, your hymen has one hole in it. The hole is big enough for blood to exit during menstruation and for tampon use. But there are other types of hymen, such as:
– Cribriform hymen: Your hymen has multiple small holes instead of one moderate-sized hole.
– Imperforate hymen: Your hymen completely covers the opening to your vagina.
– Microperforate hymen: The membrane almost completely covers the opening to your vagina, with just one small opening.
– Septate hymen: The membrane has an extra piece of tissue in the middle, creating two small and separate openings to your vagina.”
Cleveland Clinic, clevelandclinic.org, updated 1/13/2022
- The Cult Of Virginity Just Won’t Let Go
“In reality, some girls are born without a hymen, while others tear the membrane long before they have sex, most commonly by exercising or, today, by using tampons. Yet the demand for virginity testing—typically, a gynecological exam in which a doctor looks for the presence of a hymen—has proved surprisingly durable.”
Helen Lewis, theatlantic.com, 9/16/2021
- ‘Common Vaginal Myths’
“Vaginas bleed when you lose your virginity. (cherry pop)
False: ‘You may bleed your first time having intercourse, but it’s very normal if you don’t. Vaginas have a thin tissue that stretches across part of the opening. This is called a hymen. Sometimes when a person has vaginal sex for the first time, their hymen gets stretched open, which can cause pain or bleeding. But your hymen can also naturally stretch from things like sports, using a tampon, or putting fingers or other objects in your vagina. Whether you bleed the first time you have sex or not, it is completely normal!’”
The Birth Center, thebirthcenter.com, 7/9/2021
- Does It Hurt When The Hymen Breaks?
“If a person has a hymen, it may stretch or tear the first time they have penetrative sex. But it may not, especially if it has already worn down due to other activities. If the hymen does break or stretch, this can hurt, and it may cause minor bleeding. But many people have a pleasurable first experience with this type of sex. It all depends on the person and their body.”
Louise Morales-Brown; Medically reviewed by Carolyn Kay, MD, medicalnewstoday.com, 11/8/2020
- The Myth Of Hymen, The Greek God Of Marriage
“The myth of Hymen is closely related to marriage. It isn’t clear if the word “hymen”, which corresponds to the membrane present in the vaginal orifice of virgin women, comes from the name of this god or if the name of the god was created based on that word.”
Exploring Your Mind, exploringyourmind.com, 9/19/2020
- Why Didn’t My Vagina Bleed The First Time I Had Sex?
“Vaginas have a thin tissue that stretches across part of the opening. This is called a hymen. Sometimes when a person has vaginal sex for the first time, their hymen gets stretched open, which can cause pain or bleeding. But your hymen can also naturally stretch from things like sports, using a tampon, or putting fingers or other objects in your vagina. And many people are born with very little hymenal tissue to begin with, so it may seem like they don’t have a hymen at all. Whether you bleed the first time you have sex or not, you and your hymen are completely normal!”
Attia @ Planned Parenthood, plannedparenthood.org, 6/29/2020
- You Aren’t ‘Supposed’ To Bleed After Your First Time — But You Might. Here’s What To Expect
“While not everyone experiences pain the first time they have sex, it can be painful if you don’t take the proper precautions. … Masturbate: Getting familiar with your body before you have sex is a good idea. … Go gently and slowly … No matter what you’re being penetrated with, it’s a good idea to go gently. … Use lube …”
Sian Ferguson; Medically reviewed by Valinda Riggins Nwadike, MD, MPH, healthline.com, 4/27/2020
- Something That Stretches During Sex’: Replacing The Word Hymen With Vaginal Corona To Challenge Patriarchal Views On Virginity
Abstract: “Although there is no scientific proof of a breakable membrane in the vagina, virginity controls are causing great suffering to women worldwide, and hymen (re) constructions are carried out in many countries. The hymen is called mödomshinna ‘virginity membrane’ in Swedish, which can reinforce the idea of a breakable membrane. In their work against female sexual oppression the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education launched a new term, vaginal corona. The aim of our study is to evaluate this initiative. By conducting a survey directed at youths and health professionals at youth clinics in Stockholm, we were able to show that knowledge of the new word had spread and that changes in the oppressive cultural beliefs connected to virginity and female sexuality in part can be connected to the word. The study thus supports the claim that initiatives aimed at changing vocabulary can be effective in changing cultural concepts. Feminist language activism initiatives are thus usable as part of feminist political work to promote women’s sexual rights and gender equality.”
Karin Margareta Milles, Ida Melander, Jessica Holmdahl, and Kerstin Fugl-Meyer, researchgate.net, 4/2017