The Hymen: Breaking Down Myths3 Min Read
It’s no secret that the concepts of “purity” and “virginity” — otherwise known as having sex for the first time — have had strong societal implications for most of human history. Sexism rears its ugly head in everything from slut-shaming, to female genital mutilation, how we teach sexual education, and more. This can have major implications, including which myths people perpetuate about bodies and sex.
Take the hymen. It’s a membrane located at the front of the vaginal canal, often partially closing the opening. But it often carries so much more weight than that.
Myth: If your hymen is intact, you are “pure”. If your hymen is not intact, you have had sex.
Key Facts on the Hymen
1. The hymen can tear during sex, but it also tears from other physical experiences, such as riding a bike, or participating in high-intensity athletics. In other words: Having an intact hymen is very often not indicative of sexual activity.
2. If it is torn or bruised, the hymen can heal itself.
3. The structure of a hymen differs from person to person, so you might not be able to see it even if it has never been torn. Your hormones also might have shrunken this region of the body.
4. Pain or bleeding during first-time sex is typically from lack of lubrication or vaginal readiness, not the hymen breaking.
Myths about the female body run deep in society and as a result, women's rights remain under threat. Many people believe that the origin of the hymen-virginity myth had nothing to do with anatomy and everything to do with controlling female sexuality.
For example, the rapper T.I. sparked outrage in 2019 when he admitted to going to the gynecologist with his daughter to make sure her hymen was intact.
“Not only have we had the conversation, we have yearly trips to the gynecologist to check her hymen. Yes, I go with her,” he was quoted as saying. “I will say, as of her 18th birthday, her hymen is still intact."
This is by no means an isolated case, and monitoring a woman’s sexual activity, even if done so incorrectly, is a violation of privacy. According to the World Health Organization, this experience can be both humiliating and traumatic.
Controversy Over The Hymenoplasty
So much pressure has been placed on this area, that it’s possible to elect to have a hymen reconstruction surgery… but that’s probably not something you need.
A hymenoplasty is a surgery meant to temporarily “fix” one’s hymen, whether to adhere to religious standards, avoid someone finding out that your hymen is not intact, or even as a “honeymoon gift” for a spouse, typically a husband (4).
This isn’t a commonly talked-about process. One study found that doctors who offer this service keep relatively quiet about the procedure — often for their patients’ safety, given that some women may experience trauma or abuse if family members or partners find out this procedure is ‘needed’. For example, the reconstruction could prevent what some describe as “cultural/familial ostracism and, in some instances, even life-threatening situations” (4).
While this procedure could temporarily help some people, It’s important to confront misogynistic and incorrect ideas of feminine sexual purity, whether they appear as sexist comments or internalized misogyny. Debunking purity and innocence ideals can create a ripple effect, helping those who need it in the long run.
- Nagoski, Emily. Come as you are: The surprising new science that will transform your sex life. Simon and Schuster, 2015.
- “Outrage as US Rapper TI Says He Has Daughter's Hymen Checked Annually.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 7 Nov. 2019, www.theguardian.com/music/2019/nov/07/ti-rapper-daughter-hymen-check-outrage.
- Partoune, A., et al. "Virginity testing and hymen examination." Revue Medicale de Liege 75.10 (2020): 670-675.
- Eserdağ, Suleyman, et al. "A new practical surgical technique for hymenoplasty: primary repair of hymen with vestibulo-introital tightening technique (VITT)." Aesthetic surgery journal (2020).