A hymen is a small piece of skin that, inside the vagina of girls, covers the entrance of the vagina. It is a remnant from birth and the development of the vagina.
It is normal for a hymen to be torn from penetration of the vagina (including with fingers, penises, toys or tampons) for the first time, but it can also be stretched or split by a thousand other things: bike riding, horse riding, exercise or an accident. The chances of your hymen still being completely intact by your teenage years varies considerably.
Every young girl is born with a thin, flimsy hymen, but as oestrogen kicks in at adolescence, the hymen becomes thicker and more elastic (it contains oestrogen receptors).
It has the capacity to heal itself somewhat (as it is living, breathing blood-supplied skin), but once it is stretched open, it is pretty much gone for good. This being said, pregnant women have been found with intact hymens, making the idea of it being directly related to sexual activity somewhat of a false assumption.
Finding your hymen
If you want to know if your hymen still exists, you should in fact be able to see it if you get a hand mirror and a torch, or even better, take a photo so you can really inspect it. If your hymen exists, you will see it; if it doesn’t, you will only see the entrance to your vagina.
The mythical virgin
The hymen is a flap of flesh that supposedly proves a lady’s ‘virginity’ (also an arbitrary concept) if it exists, and ‘shows sexual activity’ if it doesn’t.
This is medically incorrect for the most part, because the hymen can very easily break for lots of reasons, some sexual – like masturbating – and some non-sexual, like doing gymnastics or riding a bike. If a doctor can’t find your hymen, it does not mean you have had penetrative sex with a man. It would be normal for it to no longer exist past puberty, and even more so past age 20, but if you don’t use your vagina much, it is entirely possible.
First sex and all that blood
The movies show the old-fashioned idea of the first sexual experience of the woman being one containing towels, a lot of blood and pain. This simply isn’t the case most of the time. There are a million reasons why your first sexual experience is going to suck, but your hymen busting probably isn’t necessarily going to be one of them.
Types of hymens
There are several types of hymen, all of them in various states of existence.
- A normal hymen means it is still intact, no longer exists, or it remains simply as a piece of extra skin that you would probably never notice.
- The imperforate hymen completely covers the vaginal opening, and is not discovered until menstruation occurs and the blood can’t escape, instead building up inside causing abdominal pain and distention.
- The microperforate hymen almost completely closes off the vagina, but blood is able to flow out. Tampon use is difficult or impossible.
- A septate hymen is split into two openings across the vagina, and although it won’t stop menstrual blood, it can stop the insertion of a tampon.
There are two types of surgery for hymens: the hymenoplasty which actually repairs the hymen, surgically, so that after sex, the hymen splits and bleeds – while this may seem bizarre, it can be used for several reasons including after sexual abuse to ‘heal’ or for religious reasons.
The second type of hymen surgery is the hymenectomy, whereby anyone with an imperforate, microperforate or septate hymen can have it slit open, allowing for sex, tampon use and easy flow of menstrual blood.
To do hymen stretches, put a wet/lubed finger into your vagina and push gently on your vaginal entrance, with a downward motion, towards the anus.
Do this for a few minutes at a time, every day once or twice, increasing the pressure as you go on, and using two fingers when it feels ready, pushing also out to the sides all around your vagina entrance. Don’t hurt yourself, but be firm, gentle, and persistent. You’ll get there.
Don’t understand if you are still a virgin? Read about virginity here.