The myth, the legend, the hymen

The hymen is probably the most misunderstood part of the female body. You may have had your first experience with your hymen when you were 12 and wanted to try tampons. You might have mentioned this venture to a friend who responded with something like, “My mom won’t let me use tampons because she wants me to stay a virgin.” You panicked!

Of course, you wanted to rid yourself of the diaper rash associated with pads, but you also didn’t want to lose your virginity to a piece of plastic.

Oh boy … ensue chaos.

The most common misconception when it comes to hymens is that it covers the entire entrance of the vagina, kind of like a tamper evident seal labeled, “Do not use if seal is broken.”  

The hymen is actually a thin membrane that surrounds the opening of the vagina, according to Planned Parenthood. Sometimes the hymen does cover a small piece of the vaginal opening, but it cannot cover it as a whole,  or else there would be nowhere for menstrual blood to go and women would explode. Picture Violet Beauregarde after she ate the magic gum …not cute.  

Contrary to popular belief, the hymen never actually breaks or tears, but rather stretches to accommodate fingers, tampons or a penis.

So why is the hymen so problematic?

Many people believe the hymen is a sign of virginity. This is simply not the case. The hymen can be stretched with tampon use, sports, masturbation and even yoga.

Yes, even yoga.  Downward dog suddenly has a whole new meaning. These misconceptions can also lead to some trouble surrounding sex.

Many people believe the first time a woman has penetrative sex there will be pain involved because they need to break through the hymen. This is not entirely true.

Sure, the first time a woman has sex might not be an earth shattering, orgasmic experience, but it shouldn’t hurt. So why do we care so much about the hymen? Well, we don’t. We care a whole lot about virginity though, specifically female virginity.

But what is virginity? If I may quote Cady Heron from the movie Mean Girls, “If the limit never approaches anything, the limit does not exist!” The limit does not exist. Virginity does not exist. The way I lost my virginity as a cisgender, heterosexual female, is going to be different than someone who is transgender, gay or asexual.

My point is, virginity is a social construct our society has created to regulate sex, and by tying the hymen to virginity, we are simply affirming it.  So I encourage you all, sexually active or not, to repeat after me: “The hymen is not indicative of the heteronormative social construct that is virginity.” I believe the song was, “Like a virgin, touched for the very first time,” not, “like a virgin, hymen broken for the very first time.”

Not as catchy.