The vaginal corona — generally known as the hymen but renamed in 2009 by a Swedish sexual rights group in an attempt to dispel many of the myths surrounding hymens — is made up of thin, elastic folds of mucous membrane located just inside the entrance to the vagina. The vaginal corona has no known function; it is probably a remnant of fetal development.
Many people wrongly believe that the vaginal corona is a thick membrane that entirely covers a woman’s vaginal opening and ruptures the first time you have intercourse or any kind of insertive vaginal sex. The myth goes like this: If a bride doesn’t bleed from a ruptured hymen on her wedding night, this means that she has had sex and isn’t a “virgin.” This is not true.
The mucous membrane that makes up the vaginal corona may be tightly or more loosely folded. It may be slightly pink, almost transparent, but if it is thicker it may look a little paler or whitish. The vaginal corona may resemble the petals of a flower, or it may look like a jigsaw piece or a half-moon. It may be insignificant or even completely absent at birth.
The vaginal corona may tear or thin out during exercise, masturbation or tampon use, or during other forms of vaginal penetration. Because of this, no one can look at a vaginal corona and know whether a person has had vaginal intercourse, or even whether she has masturbated.
In rare cases, the hymen covers the entire vaginal opening. This is called an imperforate or microperforate hymen. A person with an imperforate hymen will experience monthly cramping and discomfort without the appearance of menstrual blood. In these cases, the hymen can be surgically opened to release accumulated menstrual fluid and to permit tampon insertion or other forms of vaginal penetration.
More commonly, a hymen band may be present across the vaginal opening, allowing menstruation but preventing tampon insertion. If the opening is very small or partially obstructed, minor surgery can correct this.
Since the vaginal corona isn’t a brittle membrane, the sensation when you first stretch out the mucous tissue folds — whether you’re inserting a tampon, masturbating, or having insertive sex — is a highly individual experience. You may feel no pain at all, while others, with a thicker or more extensive vaginal corona, have some pain. There may be minor tears in the mucous folds that hurt, and sometimes there may be a little bleeding.
The Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU), the sexual rights group that coined the term vaginal corona, said in a statement: “The mythical status of the hymen has caused far too much harm for far too long,” and the hymen has wrongly been “portrayed as the boundary between guilt and innocence.”