The Hymen The Hymen The hymen is a thin piece of mucosal tissue that surrounds and partially covers the vaginal opening also called the introitus. The hymen oftentimes, though not always, rips or tears the first time a female engages in penetrative intercourse, which may cause some temporary bleeding and slight discomfort. Some women may not be aware when their hymen tears, especially if it does not occur during sexual activity, because it may or may not cause bleeding or discomfort. The hymen has been and continues to be a source of extreme concern in many cultures , and even now, many myths regarding the presence of the hymen exist due to ancient cultural traditions and a lack of scientific knowledge.
Structures of the Hymen The shape and structure of the hymen varies from female to female. The picture below shows the most common configurations. In rare cases, the hymen may have several very small openings seen bottom left. Females with a microperforate hymen often have difficulty inserting a finger or a tampon. Some hymenal tissue may remain after a female has had intercourse; even after childbirth, there may be a few remnants left of the hymen. Even if a female has not had penile-vaginal intercourse, she should still be able to menstruate and insert a tampon through an opening in the hymen.
Having a septate, imperforate, or microperforate hymen is usually not problematic; however, if problems do occur, they can easily be rectified with a simple surgery that creates a wide enough opening for menstruation to occur. Cultural Significance In many cultures, the presence of a hymen is synonymous with female virginity. In many parts of the world, women who are found with a ruptured hymen face severe and sometimes fatal consequences. For example, by some Arab customs, a woman who is found to not be a virgin on her wedding night brings great shame to her family.
Some of these women are even subjected to having a physician directly observe the hymen and report to the family. Many other families simply wait to see if the bride will bleed when she first engages in sexual intercourse. If a female does not bleed on her wedding night, or she is reported as no longer having an intact hymen before her wedding night, she may be beaten or killed by her close family members, usually by her brothers and uncles, and at times by her own father or husband.
Ignorance about the structure of the hymen and why it may not be intact can have severe consequences for women. You can read more about the cultural significance of the hymen here. Myths About the Hymen As mentioned, having sexual intercourse is not the only way that a female can break her hymen.
You could very well be a virgin and have no hymen, or you could have had multiple sex partners and still have an intact hymen. It is generally accepted amongst health professions that the hymen is an ineffective indicator of vaginal-penile sexual intercourse. If you cannot see into your vaginal canal, use a flashlight to illuminate the area although this can be tricky while trying to hold the mirror and your labium apart.
If there is a thin layer of skin with a small hole or holes present, your hymen is most likely intact. If you notice small traces of broken skin surrounding your canal, you may have already stretched or broken your hymen; however, there is no need to panic or be scared. Many women are born with perforated hymens.
Having a hymen that is already broken or perforated is completely normal and natural. For more information check out this great video! Smerecnik, Chris, et al. Implications for sex education and prevention. Last Updated 29 May