Even though the hymen is a small part of the body, it can be a big part of some people’s thoughts and feelings toward sex. You might have heard a lot of things about this body part from different people. You can keep reading to find out some facts – and separate the fiction – about the hymen.
What are some some myths about the hymen?
Before talking about what the hymen is, we first have to talk about what it isn’t.
A hymen us not…
- A barrier completely covering the opening to the vagina. If that were true, there would be no way for discharge or menstrual (period) blood to come out of the vagina. Very rarely, someone can be born with a hymen completely covering the vagina. A simple surgery can fix this.
- A physical sign of virginity. Every hymen can look different, so you can’t tell if someone’s hymen looks the way it does because they were born that way, or if something happened to it. Also, some people’s definitions of virginity have nothing to do with vaginal sex.
- Deep inside the vagina. It’s actually at the vaginal opening; if you have a vagina, you’ll be able to see your hymen (if you have one) by holding a mirror in front of your genitals and spreading your labia.
So what is it, actually?
Even though the hymen can sound really complicated, it’s physically just a simple body part.
The hymen, or vaginal corona, is a piece of membrane that goes around part of the opening to the vagina. Just like every other body part, every hymen can look different. They can…
- Be thin or thick
- Be loosely draped around the vaginal opening or more stiff
- Cover a lot of the opening or very little
- Not exist. Some people just don’t have them!
Many only have one hole leading to the vagina (like a doughnut), but some can look like they have multiple holes (like a piece of swiss cheese). The most common kind of hymen is shaped like a half-moon around the opening of the vagina.
Just like every other body part, when a person experiences some event (like sex), their hymen might change. However, because there are so many differences between people, bodies, and events, it won’t be the same for all people.
Can the hymen get torn or stretched?
It’s possible for the hymen to tear or stretch, but it depends on the person. For people who are born with no hymen, or with hymens that only cover a small area, their hymens might not ever tear or stretch.
For other people, their natural hymens might cover a larger area. So when inserting tampons, menstrual cups, dildos, fingers, penises, etc., their hymens might stretch over time to make it easier. Or, in some cases their hymens might tear from an injury, impacts during sports, or rough vaginal sex. Like other body parts, a hymen will repair any tears to stop the bleeding.
Does the hymen bleed the first time you have sex?
Some people’s hymens bleed and some don’t the first time they have penetrative vaginal sex. Generally, the hymen will start thinning naturally after puberty. For some people, it might stretch further from things like exercise, tampon use, or masturbation. For many of these people, by the time they have vaginal sex, the hymen will not tear any further, so they will not bleed. Some other people might have enough membrane left to tear and bleed the first time they have vaginal sex.
However, it’s also possible to bleed for a different reason. Some people can get nervous putting a penis or dildo in their vagina for the first time. If they’re nervous, their vaginas might not expand and lubricate enough, so the friction of something moving inside could cause bleeding. So sometimes, bleeding during first-time sex is actually because of lack of lubrication, not the hymen.
How can I reduce the chances of the hymen tearing and bleeding during sex?
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the chances of bleeding while having sex:
- Doing more foreplay and other activities that make you more turned on and lubricated
- Taking things slowly
- Making sure you’re physically and emotionally comfortable
- Stretching out your hymen with fingers or a small dildo over a period of time, like every day for a month. This can help to work your way up to penetrative sex
It’s also important to remember that some STIs or other infections, like yeast infections, can cause bleeding during sex. If you or your partner have ever been exposed to possible STIs, it’s a good idea to get tested.
Can you tell if someone’s a virgin by checking their hymen?
This is a common myth, and it’s been around since ancient times. According to the myth, a virgin has an unbroken hymen; someone who’s had sex has no hymen, or a “broken” one.
As we mentioned earlier, the hymen doesn’t actually cover the entire opening of the vagina, and it’s likely to wear away over time – although some can stretch or tear. Some people’s hymens will change after they start having sex, and some people’s won’t. But a hymen doesn’t completely disappear after sex. If a person had one before having sex, they’ll still have it afterward.
Because there are so many differences between people’s bodies and how their bodies can change (or don’t change), you can’t be sure if someone’s a virgin by checking their hymen.
Another problem is that there is no actual definition for virginity. Some people might believe that they’re virgins until they have penetrative sex. Some other people might say oral sex or fingering counts as “losing” your virginity. Some people don’t believe in virginity at all. So even if someone is trying to check for signs of vaginal penetration, it still doesn’t cover all the other things people might do.
My Corona/Hymen – Scarleteen
“My Corona: The Anatomy Formerly Known as the Hymen & the Myths That Surround It” includes pictures of hymens/coronas
Types of hymens – Center for Young Women’s Health
An overview of some common hymen types.
The purpose of the hymen – Go Ask Alice
What the hymen does and what can happen to it.
20 Questions about Virginity – Scarleteen
Scarleteen asks 20 questions about virginity to expert Hanne Blank.