The Hymen: Breaking the Myths

By Christine Cupaiuolo |

The value placed on virgin brides in some cultures led to much talk this year about “reconstructing” virginity (see: hymenoplasty) and the legal relevance of virginity (see: “essential quality” for marriage). So it seems only fitting that we should end with an inflated device designed to fake virginity by mimicking the “breaking” of the vaginal tissue known as the hymen.

According to the product description, once inserted the device “will expand a little and make you feel tight. When your lover penetrate [sic], it will ooze out a liquid that look [sic] like blood not too much but just the right amount. Add in a few moans and groans, you will pass through undetectable.”

Putting aside the issues of why someone would consider this a necessary product  — and the looming question: what do they use to make the fake blood and do I really want it in my vagina?? — let’s take a step back and discuss the hymen and what really happens to this misunderstood body part.

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For this we turn to Carol Roye, a nursing professor at Hunter College and a nurse practitioner who specializes in adolescent primary and reproductive health care. Roye recently wrote an an article on the hymen that was published at Women’s eNews (and reprinted at Our Bodies Ourselves).

First off, contrary to what girls are often led to believe, “the hymen is not a flat piece of tissue covering the vagina, which is punctured during intercourse. If it were, girls would not be able to menstruate before they lose their virginity because there would be no outlet for menstrual blood,”

“Usually, the hymen looks like a fringe of tissue around the vaginal opening,” adds Roye. “It is not an intact piece of tissue draped across it. Some girls are born without a hymen, others have only a scanty fringe of tissue. Moreover, for all its fabled mystery, the hymen is just a body part.”

Furthermore, while hymens can be torn during sex or other physical activity, they don’t “break.” These torn areas can bleed, but it doesn’t always happen.

Some of Roye’s patients ask whether using tampons or riding a bicycle can affect their hymens (and their virginity), or if they are “de-virginized” if a partner inserts a finger into the vagina. Roye also deals with parents who ask her to determine if their daughters are virgins.

“Of course, in New York (and many states) teens have a right to confidential care so I cannot tell the mother anything unless the teen gives me permission to do so,” Roye writes. “But even if I am allowed to talk to the parent frankly, I often can’t give the yes-no answer they want. It is not so easy to tell whether a girl is a virgin, because hymens are so varied. If there is not much of a hymen I have no way of knowing what happened to it. Was it a boyfriend or a bicycle? Or, perhaps, this girl did not have much tissue there to begin with.”

Back to the virginity question, Roye states that she believes “virginity is what the individual thinks it is. It certainly is for men, who bear no tell-tale signs of lost virginity.” She adds:

The concept of virginity has an emotional connotation. It is more than just the physical disruption of hymenal tissue.

If a young woman has had a sexual relationship with her partner, and she feels that she has lost her virginity, then she has, regardless of what actually happened to her hymen during the encounter. There are ancillary issues that each woman must answer for herself.

Well said.

Interestingly, “hymen” is the most popular internal search term at the Our Bodies Ourselves health resource center. (In case you’re wondering, orgasm, abortion, yeast infection and vagina round out the top-five searches.) This self-guided tour is very useful in helping you to find your hymen, if remnants remain.

P.S.: If you enjoyed Carol Roye’s article, there’s more to look forward to — she is currently working on a book about reproductive health policies. Excerpts can be read at her website, Women’s Health is a Family Value.

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50 Comments

  1. Fanila says:

    My question..I was married for more then 15 years before divorce. In the last few years we had no sex or so rare-don’t remember. Within year after divorce, I saw my ob/gyn who informed me she thought my hymen was still intact. Is this possible after all those years? (guess it is I’m an example); I’m currently in another relationship for 3 yrs now and still find sex painful, is it poss that this may be due to hymen not being torn? and if I were to see my ob/gyn, is there anything they can do to correct this? (assuming it’s reason for painful sex)?

    • sehar says:

      Hi guys..im a virgin 21 years old girl..and after six month i will be married…but im worried about my blood if it not come during intercourse..because some years when i was console myself with water(shower) i just saw that a little blood came out i also knew that its not Period blood..im not athlete nor do any hard work..im born in stereotype culture thats why im worried.
      Tell me exactly…:(

      • Natalie says:

        Hey.
        I’d like to ask the same thing as Sehar because I’m worried if I will not bleed during intercourse. Before two years I was laying on bed and as I got up to the toilet I saw a stain of blood on my underwear and I new it wasn’t my period for sure . And in my culture you have to bleed on your wedding night . So , I am very concerned .

    • Abraham says:

      I am more a Neurology student than gynecologist. However, your ex husband could do that job well lol. there is absolutely no way for a woman to keep her virginity for that long. It will break even if you don’t have sex. Hymen can break during cycling, workout, fingering, dildo or other tense activities.

    • Colleen H says:

      Fanila,

      Yes, your Ob/Gyn can do something to help you. I know because mine was surgically removed by my Gynecologist. Why? Well, because my hymen was very thick and wouldn’t have torn on it’s own.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Hi, I have recently done research on this topic and discovered that it is not “normal” for women to experience pain during sex. both the myth of tearing the hymen and painful sex when losing one’s virginity are false. since the vaginal walls are muscles that expand and designed to well take a beating, if the women are sufficiently aroused and has produced enough natural lubrication, sex should not be painful. the majority of women bleed because of discomfort in their first time or because their partner did not invest enough time in getting the women lubricated. all bleeding and pain are a product of tearing the vaginal wall and that is what may be painful.

  2. Lauren says:

    Suppose someone had a thicker hymen that hadn’t broken even after a few years of intercourse and tampons and what have you…it didn’t really get in the way, it was just there… Well, it breaks…tears completely in half. What happens to those halves…do they just hang out there?!

  3. chelsea says:

    if one had a seperate hyme (because I think I do), and tore some of it but not the rest would the rest strech to the side or is there something that needs to be done about it?

  4. Hope says:

    Pls help me.i am a virgin 28yrs old and and husband is 30yrs of age. Both of us have no sex experience before.since we are together i always feel pains when i want to sex that i cannot stand or endure it. What can i do.our marriage is 4years now.

    • Elizabeth says:

      you probably have some sort of issue in your vaginal walls and may need to go get a vaginal mesh implant if you are always experiencing pain regardless of sexual arousal.

  5. segni bikila says:

    i have wife when i married she have virginity 100%. but for the first time when we contact shes virginity do not break.in 2 time also but after a few month sheshavent hymen mean’s when we do sexual intercourse its get in her vagina.we dont see any bleed. i am sad and i cant trust my wife.b/se may she do sex with another guy but she said i donot done sex without you ido no this action,she said. but itrust my wife we are christian.belong to jesus. please helpme how this can made. no break no bleed how?

    • Lisa says:

      Segni Bikila, if able please read article “The Hymen, breaking the myths.” In the article you question is explained … sometimes the hymen tissue does not cause bleeding when disturbed. The hymen is not a barrier, it is tissue (body part) near the vaginal entry. In some cases a women’s hymen has been disturbed by exercise, illness, or she had little or none to begin with, etc. The fact is that bleeding upon first intercourse is not an indication of virginity. You claim to be a Christian … doesn’t the word of God teach to trust one another — does this not include you wife?

    • Jasmin says:

      Some women are born without a hymen. Without a hymen there would be no bleed even if the woman is a virgin.

    • glass says:

      Sometimes the hymen does not bleed, instead it stretches to accomodate. If it stretches and is well lubricated it will not bleed during the first sexual intercourse experience.

    • joana says:

      Sir remember the vowles you guys made under jesus name. Maybe she wasn’t a virgin but remember that she was spiritually a virgin because good clean her with his blood. Even if she wasn’t you choosed her what if she got rape or by accident broke it women is really delicated from down there. She wouldn’t chear on you because she is a christian and is a believer. Please don’t get mad at her I don’t know who you are but maybe your paying what you did to one of you girlfriends younger

    • Dr says:

      Kara Kent Millions out there are still in the darkness!

      this is a myth which has been disproved many times over in the twentieth century as the medical establishment has made it clear that:

      1. Some girls are born without a hymen;

      2. The hymen may tear naturally when a girl plays sports or engages in any physical activity;

      3. The hymen is not always smooth but tends to be perforated and that the perforations may get bigger and cause the hymen to break once a girl menstruates;

      4. The hymen can be broken by the use of tampons;

      5. The hymen may be very small or very elastic so that no breakage occurs at all (some women even become pregnant while their hymens are still intact);

      6. A hymen may not bleed when broken.

      Given these facts, it is extremely sad that women all over the world are still expected to bleed on their wedding nights as proof that they are virgins and that they often pay severe consequences if they happen not to bleed, possibly being shamed and humiliated, instantly divorced or even killed.

    • Dr says:

      The myth about female virginity – why most women won’t bleed the first time they have sex.

      There’s a very common myth in South and Central Asia (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan etc.) and Middle East (KSA, we’re especially looking at you) that you can tell if a woman is a virgin, by whether or not she bleeds the first time she has sex. There is zero truth in this. Not all women bleed the first time they have sex, as we’ll explain in this post.

      To understand why some women bleed and some don’t, it’s very important to understand what the hymen is. The hymen is a membrane that tends to cover part of the vaginal opening (it does not always block or cover the entire vagina, as some people mistakenly think). NOT ALL WOMEN HAVE A HYMEN. The hymen also differs from woman to woman – like all women have different heights and weights and features, all women also have different amounts and types of hymen. Some women have thick hymens, some have very thin hymens, and some women have no hymens at all. Some women have larger hymens, some women naturally have a very little amount of hymen that covers only a small portion of their vaginal opening (and hence does not really get in the way, during first-time sex).

      In addition to this, the hymen wears away on its own as you grow up. For most women, the hymen wears away on its own with exercise, bicycling, horseback riding – it can wear off with pretty much any other physical activity, even dancing! – or from using tampons when menstruating. Especially if the hymen is very small or thin, most of it tends to wear away on its own as a girl grows up.

      If a woman is born without a hymen, she won’t bleed the first time she has sex. If a woman has a small or thin hymen, she might not bleed the first time she has sex. If a woman’s hymen has worn away on its own (which is very common as girls grow up), she won’t bleed the first time she has sex. The result is that the overwhelming majority – at least 63% of women – will NOT bleed the first time they have sex, according to a study published by the British Medical Journal. Women who do bleed include:

      – Women with thick hymens (who constitute a small percentage of the population)
      – Younger girls. Because the hymen wears away on its own with time, a 16-year old has a higher chance of bleeding than a 25-year old. By the time a girl is of or above the legal age of consent – 18, 20, 24 years of age, for example – most of her hymen is likely to have worn away on its own, meaning it’s unlikely that she’ll bleed a lot, if at all. However, even a young girl can be physically active, have a thin or small hymen, or have no hymen at all, meaning she might not bleed during first-time sex.
      – Most often, women who bleed tend to be women who are dealt with roughly during sex. If the guy forces himself inside the girl, when she isn’t ready, relaxed or aroused enough, he is likely to cause injury or bleeding. Because most people think it’s normal for women to bleed the first time they have sex, they don’t realize that this bleeding is a result of the woman having been hurt, and not of the hymen ‘breaking.’ Painful first-time sex is generally because the woman is not relaxed or aroused enough, and gets hurt as a result; it is rarely ever because of the hymen breaking.

      The bottom line is that there is no way to assess female virginity. Bleeding does not have anything to do with virginity – it has to do with the kind of hymen a girl has, and hymens differ from girl to girl from birth. The result is that only a small percentage of women bleed the first time! (Only 37% bleed during first-time sex, according to the study published in the British Medical Journal.)

      Why is this so important to be aware of? Women all over the world get abused, injured and even killed due to the myth of ‘virgin bleeding.’ Because most people (men AND women) think that bleeding is a sign of virginity, women who don’t bleed the first time have been divorced, suffered from suspicion leading to domestic violence and abuse, and even killed for honour. Educating people that a girl does not necessarily have to bleed the first time she has sex – because not all girls have thick hymens, and some are born with no hymen at all – is important because it can literally save lives.

      P.S: We understand that not everyone is able to share material like this, even if they want to. However, the only way we can educate people regarding this issue is if it goes into the newsfeeds of as many people as possible, if as many people as possible read it. So please consider sharing. If you can’t share, please like, leave a comment, or forward this to your friends. We need to make content like this visible to increase its reach, to educate people, to have impact. If we can save or better the life of even person with this post, it’s worth it.

      Regards,
      Saif Ud Deen Haider
      Umbrella Films Pvt Ltd.
      #ViaHardTalk #SaveLives #Virginity

    • elahe says:

      Hi.
      I have a very important question and none of the website answered me.
      I’m 18 years old.
      Last year I had sex BUT, we sexed just with the head of the penis, not completely.just the head of the penis.
      I didn’t see any blood and I had alittle pain.
      Now I don’t know,that I lost my hymen or not.
      Please help me.it’s very important for me.thanks

  6. nishant says:

    I had jst intercourse Wid my Gf she is jst 19 n I jst enter my penis into her vagina at first shot she gotta a pain n I removed my penis n suddenly lots of blood came … I haven’t done exactly sex from two days she is in pain I wanna to knw Wat should I do for her nw ….how dat pain will go n her period date is 29 Jan plz do help

  7. Iman Mahmoud says:

    A few years ago, I was excercising vigirously when I came to take a shower I noticed an aweful lot of blood. I know it wasn’t menstrual blood because my menses has just ended. My question is, could this mean that my hymen has broke?

    • Dr Kirage says:

      well u were fingered and blood came out, this means that your hymen was torn apart, u will not bleed again. buh dont lose hope u r still virgin though since breaking of the hymen does not mean breaking of virginity.

  8. vero shah says:

    dear, segni bikila, i think the article here itself suggests that there are women born with thick and thin hymen, and often with no hymen at all. How could you judge a virgin by her bleeding? Its not mandatory for a girl to bleed. Its a huge misconception, I personally regard this as a ‘TABOO’ – “not to bleed is a non virgin”. Inshort, you are saying your spouse shouldn’t trust you too.. Afterall guys don’t bleed, right?

  9. Anon says:

    What’s really upsetting is the lack of knowledge on all topics related to sex and our vaginas. My health teacher never told us about discharge or diva cups, only preached of the breaking of our hymens, but never on the varying sizes they come in. I didn’t even know until recently that at age 17 you can choose to be put on the pill without parent permission. The emphasis on virginity seems to be the only significant concept regarding the vagina in this society, when really there is no clear definition or even a clear way to classify a girl as a virgin. Virginity is indeed, not real, and I hope that fact can relieve a lot of stress for women who deem themselves impure.

  10. pari says:

    My question is.. Im 19y/o and I had sex with my boyfriend for the first time but I dint felt it painful at all and I feel like I don’t have hymen. But Im not athletic and nor I do any work out. So is it possible that I don’t have hymen?

  11. Kristina says:

    I recently had intercourse with my boyfriend. Before this i had only be fingered. It was uncomfortable at first and only slightly painful. We decided to not “pop my cherry” however when he pulled out the second time there was slight bleeding and I’ve been spotting since then (its been roughly 4 days). My question is did he break my hymen or is it only irritated?

  12. Lily says:

    I had sex a couple of times with my x.. But in our first intercourse it hurt a lot but I did not bleed… It was my first time.. And it has been 8 months that I am single.. So is it possible that if I have sex in future it might hurt.. I am very curious because then it would mean that I do not have a hymen

  13. Missy says:

    A hurdle took out my hymen during a track meet freshman year of college. I bleed. When I lost my virginity, I did not bleed. A lot of these questions were answered in this article. Nobody can give you a definitive answer on what is going on inside your vagina unless they are your doctor and they have had a look. Even then, it is hard to say. Some women are born without a hymen. Some women are born with a thick hymen. Some women are born with a thin hymen. Some women are born with their hymen already separated. To the guy doubting his wife: you are listening to myths passed down over generations that have just been proven to be completely false yet you cling to those lies and don’t trust your wife. Come on! Wake up.

  14. anne says:

    plz tell me whether tears in hymen mean it has been broken and virginity is lost or is it okay…..also i’m from a culture where virginity means intact hymen

    • Abraham says:

      As a medical student, it depends on how old you are. If you used finger, it could still be in place. however, hymen is not something to worry about. If its not there you could have been broken during workout, running or other heavy tense activities.

  15. Lara says:

    I’m 15 I’m wondering if the hymen was torn by fingering would I bleed when I actually have sex and I haven’t had sex I just got fingered

  16. Holly says:

    I just had sex and my partner said that I may have broken my hymen because there was a little bit of blood coming out and I am confused because apparently it can’t break…….

  17. Christin says:

    It is a misnomer that a woman cannot have a hyman covering the vagina. The fact is that a rare few have a congenital disorder known at imperforate hyman. An imperforate hymen is formed during fetal development when the sinovaginal bulbs fail to canalize with the rest of the vagina. Although some instances of familial occurrence have been reported, the condition’s occurrence is mostly sporadic, and no genetic markers or mutations have been linked to its etiology. Estimates of the frequency of imperforate hymen vary from 1 in 1000 to 1 in 10,000 females. When these men expect a woman to have a fully intact hymen, they are hoping for a congenital defect. That makes total sense… NOT!

  18. Chelsea says:

    My boyfriend won’t believe me that my hymen was already gone before my first time having intercourse. If this is the case, did I lose my virginity when I first put a tampon inside me?

  19. Michaela says:

    I have a question that I cannot simply find the answer for.. When you have sex for the first time, and let’s say the hymen tears. If it does bleed, will it bleed right then and there during sex, or will it happen the next day?

  20. Vmj says:

    I’m 16 and I’m scared that when my mom takes me to my first gynecologist appointment I won’t have a hymen and get in trouble I’m still a virgin I’ve never had sex but I have fingered and I tried to look and see if I could see my hymen but it was hard to tell I jus want to know wat u think I should do concerning my mom and my hymen being intact I’m really scared lik I’m crying right now looking for answers

  21. Vmj says:

    I also don’t work out or do any sport and I haven’t rode a bike since I was little I tried telling her tht a lack of hymen doesn’t mean I’m not a virgin and she said I should still have one cuz I’m not athletic so if I don’t have one I’m lying and I’m in big trouble

  22. Judith says:

    I recently started getting intamate with my boyfriend yesterday. But when he first went inside me I felt a really bad pain and started bleeding a lot. It kept coming and coming for about 40 seconds– I had to go sit on the toilet (so embarrassing).. After that I showered and cleaned up and there was really small thin pieces of flesh that came out and I freaked out.. Another thing is that I’m supposed to start my period soon so maybe I figured it had something to do with it? Any way today I have discomfort and minor pain in my vagina and very minor blood leaking and I was wondering if it’s any cause for concern. It’s my first time but I know it shouldn’t have been so much blood (or even pain)…

    • Mahi says:

      I wanna ask that i am 20 years old my partner insert the tip but he discharged he only inserts a little bit not a proper sex so what should i do if I don’t wanna get pregnant

  23. Priya68fer says:

    I am 21. My ex has inserted his penis to my vagina for over 20 times. But at any time it didnt bled. But when i examine through a mirror i saw little tearings on my hymen. Now um gonna marry another guy next month. I wanna know whether will i bleed at my first night.

  24. rapunzul says:

    I have a sex with my x bf and the blood came out during sex..my question is that.iam going to get married after 2 years would I got bleeding on my first night or not