Mythbusting: The Hymen
There’s a part of the female anatomy that has become the root source of a worldwide social construction that affects almost everyone, almost everywhere - VIRGINITY. It’s called the hymen and I’d go as far as to say that it is the single most misunderstood part of the female body. “Losing your virginity”, “cherry popping”, and “deflowering” are all examples of this constructed idea that permeates across cultures. But what if I told you almost everything you’ve been told about virginity - and the hymen - was wrong?
The biggest misconception about the hymen is that it is a sheet of skin that covers the entire vaginal opening. It must be punctured, “popped” or broken during a female’s first experience with intercourse. This is also associated with pain and blood - which can make the idea of sex terrifying for young girls.
The truth is - the hymen doesn't have to break the first time you have sex. The hymen is actually a thin elastic membrane that sits just inside the vagina. It partially covers the vaginal opening but its stretchy! If the vagina is not lubricated, relaxed, or if something is inserted too hard or too fast - the hymen can potentially tear which can result in some blood. Everyone’s hymen is different! They come in different shapes and sizes just like every other part of the vagina! Some cover more, some less. There do exist few cases of hymens that cover the entire vaginal opening. However, these are the minority and require professional medical attention.
Another misconception is that you “lose” your hymen when you “lose” your virginity. The truth is - having sex doesn’t take anything away from you! You never lose your hymen (it just stretches more) and since virginity is just a made-up concept - you never really lose that either!
THE SCARY SIDE OF VIRGINITY
Most of us are privileged enough to discuss virginity as a social construct, resulting in both positive and negative stigmas. Whether good or bad, they are just stigmas. However, for some women - virginity and the hymen can produce dire repercussions. “Honor Killings” are one of the biggest tragedies that plague our world. Young women are murdered for having brought “dishonor” to their families. Among other things, this perceived dishonor can take the shape of a woman failing to bleed on her wedding night, therefore providing “proof” of her non-virginity. Genital self-mutilation, and social banishment are also consequences of the social construct of virginity.
These heartbreaking events that take place every day in the world are directly related to global misconceptions of the hymen. Honor Based Violence Awareness Network estimates that as many 5000 women a year are killed for reasons relating to honor. 1000 of these occur in India, 1000 in Pakistan, and about 12 in the UK. However, these statistics are understood to be underestimates due to the rare occurrence of reporting/recording of these events. It’s not just countries in the Middle East either. Honor killings happen every day all over the world. They cannot be tied to one culture or society alone, but they can be traced back to two key ideas. The first is that a woman’s virginity is an indication of her purity, holiness, or morality. The second is the idea that one can determine a woman’s virginity by the intactness of her hymen - which is fundamentally false.
In order to work towards a sex positive, and pleasure accepting world, it is absolutely vital that we stop the spread of hymen-misinformation, and abolish the social construct of virginity.
Third World Quarterly