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The hymen: what is it?

The hymen is a thin piece of skin that is part of a woman’s vulva. Its importance is mainly cultural, and many myths are associated with it.

The hymen is a part of the vulva. It’s a thin piece of skin that surrounds parts of the outer opening of the vagina. The hymen doesn’t usually cover the entire vaginal opening. Think of it more like a horseshoe-shaped piece of tissue around it.

Most women are born with a hymen. They come in different shapes, sizes, and thicknesses. Some women have a hymen so thin that it doesn’t even look like it’s there while others have a thick hymen. And yet other women are born without a hymen.

There are many myths and uncertainties associated with a woman’s hymen. Most of them are related to virginity.

Fun fact: humans aren’t the only species with hymens: elephants, horses, whales, and other animals also have hymens.

The hymen and virginity

The hymen plays a big part when it comes to virginity. Many people believe that all women who haven’t yet had sexual intercourse have an intact hymen and that they will bleed the first time they have sex. Both beliefs are myths.

The hymen can be missing altogether or could have been torn or stretched during exercise or while using a tampon. Or sometimes it doesn’t tear at all. And even if there is an intact hymen, it’s not necessarily the case that a woman will bleed if it gets torn.

And due to all these factors, even an experienced doctor won’t always be able to determine if a woman has had sex yet. Sometimes they can tell, especially if the hymen is very thick. However, if the hymen is torn, they will be unlikely to determine whether it’s torn because of intercourse or another activity.

Once the hymen is torn, it won’t grow back together.

It’s also a myth that force is required to break the hymen. And that’s what many people associate with the pain that may come with first-time sex. But unless the hymen is very thick and covers a lot of the vaginal opening, force isn’t necessary at all. As long as your partner is well lubricated and relaxed, there should be minimal pain. And of course, the hymen could have already been stretched or torn at another time.

Am I still a virgin?

What might seem like a straightforward question actually has a quite complicated answer that depends on many factors.

For starters, virginity is a cultural term, not a medical one. So it’s got to do with social, and often religious norms, not scientific ones.

As per many people’s definition, a virgin is a person who hasn’t had sex yet. But sex means different things to different people, so whether this includes mutual masturbation, anal and/or oral sex is up to your own definitions and views.

Some people also believe that in order for it to be ‘real’ sex, it has to be with consent. So a woman who has been sexually abused could still be considered a virgin until she decides to have sex with consent.

Your definition might also depend on sexual orientation: if a woman has only had sex with other women, so no penis-in-vagina sex, does that mean she is still a virgin?

Lots to think about!

But one thing is certain: whether or not a woman has a hymen or bleeds the first time she has sex doesn’t say anything about her virginity. There is only one foolproof way to find out if a woman has had sex before or not: asking her and believing her answer.

And of course, men can be virgins, too. But generally, society doesn’t make such a big deal about whether or not a man has had sex before.

The hymen, virginity, and virginity testing

Because of the many misconceptions about virginity and the hymen, women around the world get in dicey situations when they have to somehow prove that they are virgins. Many women, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, have to undergo controversial ‘virginity tests’, where a doctor tries to determine whether or not they are virgins.

These tests range from a doctor (or a supposed ‘expert’) just looking at your vulva for signs of the hymen, to the ‘two-finger test’ where two fingers are used to penetrate the vagina – if it’s difficult or impossible to enter, the woman is considered a virgin.

There are also a variety of other tests. These tests either look for the hymen or how tight a vagina is. Neither is an indication of whether or not a woman is a virgin. In other words: the results of these tests can never be trusted. They do put a lot of pressure on the women though; and can even destroy their future, especially if the test determines that they aren’t virgins.

Hymen repair and restoration

Because the hymen and perceived virginity are still a big deal, some women may want to have their hymen repaired for cultural or religious reasons.

The term ‘restoration’ isn’t really correct though. Nothing is restored, but a new imitation hymen is made.

There are two different types of hymen restoration operations:
A 'new hymen' is made using your own vaginal lining to create a cover over the vaginal opening. During sex, it tears and you bleed.

During the second type of operation, the outer labia are sewn together to make a ‘new hymen’. This is called infibulation, and in many countries, it’s illegal, because it prevents the passage of menstrual blood.

Both operations aim to make the entrance to the vagina tighter; so that you bleed when the penis goes into the vagina. That is, if everything goes according to plan – there’s no actual guarantee that these efforts will actually work!

Hymen complications

In rare cases, the hymen can actually completely cover the entrance of the vaginal passage. That’s called an imperforate hymen. When menstrual blood can’t pass, or a penis can’t enter the vagina, it might be necessary to have minor surgery to remove some of the hymen tissue.

Similarly, a microperforated hymen covers the entire opening except for a small hole. If menstrual blood flow is obstructed, surgery might also be necessary.

A septate hymen has an extra layer of tissue, and often two holes instead of one. Because of the extra layer, and hence thickness, surgery may also be necessary.

 

Comments
Tes, the hymen only partially covers the vaginal opening opening. This is why one can still user tampons or even insert a finger. It does not completely close up the vagina. Check out the following article for ore information. https://lovematters.co.ke/our-bodies/female-body/overview-the-female-body
How much would the first operation cost on average? The one where a new hymen is made using your own vaginal lining to create a covering over the vaginal opening.
Hey Ruth, We are not able to give approximate costs, you may have to consult a Gynecologist who maybe able to give more clearer information. What are your reasons for wanting to do this?
Hi Mosh, Not all women will bleed the first time they have sex. The Hymen which is what when torn or stretched will cause bleeding may already be stretched through other no sexual activities like sports. Also, if you were well prepared and lubricated before penetration there may not be as much discomfort or pain and blood. Check out this article;- https://lovematters.co.ke/making-love/virginity/busting-the-hymen-myth
AkE KENYA, there is no proven relationship between body weight and painful sex. Check out this aricle for more information on what causes pain and what one can do to manage this. https://lovematters.co.ke/making-love/sex-problems-how-to-overcome-them/painful-sex-time-to-listen-up

Hi Brony, not necessarily but you may want to think about this in terms of being healthy as opposed to just body size. If one is healthy and so are their sexual organs they should be okay. Also, sexual performance is affected by a number of things like compatibility of partners, communication between partners among others. With good communication performance will improve greatly for both partner. Check out this article;- https://lovematters.co.ke/making-love/how-good-are-you-in-bed

Hey Jean, yes it is. The only difference is that you will be wearing a condom. It is infact important to use a condom to prevent unplanned pregnancies and Sexually Transmitted Infections. Talk to your partner and agree on this and then follow the steps in using a condom for it to work well. Check out this article for more information on condom use;- https://lovemattersafrica.com/birth-control/types-of-birth-control/condom

Hey Yvonne, masturbating does not mean that one is no longer a virgin. General if one has not had vaginal sex where a penis has penetrated their vagina, they are considered as virgins. Check out this article for more information;- https://lovemattersafrica.com/making-love/virginity/female-virginity-top-five-facts    

My partner is a virgin kubreak virginity imekuwngumu it is too painfull for her she pushes me away everytime when I am aboutto enterher. what can i do to make it easy for her?

Hi Biko, sex for the first doesn't have to be painful, there is a chance it could be but this is not always the case. There are a few things you can do to try and reduce the chances or lessen the pain. It will help to spend more time in foreplay which ensures your partner is aroused and that the vagina is lubricated. When the vagina is lubricated penetration is easier and the sex is pleasurable for both partners. It's also important for you to help your partner relax before penetration, when she is not relaxed it also means her vaginal muscles are not relaxed leading to painful penetration. Communicate during sex, make sure she is ready for penetration before it happens. Check out the following articles;-  https://lovemattersafrica.com/making-love/virginity/female-virginity-top-five-facts

https://lovemattersafrica.com/making-love/virginity/first-time-sex-dos-and-donts

The first time I had sex I did not bleed my partner claimed that am not a virgin and that I have been lying to him. what happed??? pliz help.

Hey Shiqs, not all women bleed when having sex for the first time. If the hymen had stretched with athletic activities and/or injuries, the woman is highly unlikely to bleed. If a woman is relaxed during intercourse, and is adequately lubricated, she may not bleed during penetration. Lack of blood does not equal lack of virginity. Check out this article;- https://lovemattersafrica.com/making-love/virginity/busting-the-hymen-myth

Hey Judie, not all women bleed when having sex for the first time. If the hymen had stretched with athletic activities and/or injuries, the woman is highly unlikely to bleed. If a woman is relaxed during intercourse, and is adequately lubricated, she may not bleed during penetration. Lack of blood does not equal lack of virginity. Check out this article for additional information;- https://lovemattersafrica.com/making-love/virginity/busting-the-hymen-myth

Hi, it doesn't have to be painful the first time. If one is well prepared before intercourse to ensure the vagina is well lubricated and that the lady is relaxed when penetration happens this will reduce pain or discomfort. It is important to ensure the vagina is sufficient lubricated before intercourse, this will make penetration easier and pleasurable for both partners. Check out this article;- https://lovemattersafrica.com/making-love/virginity/busting-the-hymen-myth

I am a virgin planning to get married in Dec, what can I do to reduce the pain the first time I have sex? I dont want to disappoint my new husband. Help!

Hi Dora, Congratulations. The first time you have sex doesn't have to be painful. It is important you are relaxed and that you also spend sufficient time in foreplay which will get you aroused and the vagina will in-turn self lubricate. This makes penetration easier and reduces possible discomfort. It is important that at the point of penetration you are as relaxed as possible. It is important that you also communicate during sex which also help make the experience enjoyable for you both. Lastly, sex gets better as you get to know each other better and this takes time, for this reason you dont have to obsess over the first time. Have a look at the following article for more tips;- 

https://lovemattersafrica.com/marriage/married-life/wedding-night-sex-dos-and-donts

https://lovemattersafrica.com/making-love/virginity/first-time-sex-what-to-expect

https://lovemattersafrica.com/making-love/ways-to-make-love/talking-about-sex

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