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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.

 

Tell us what you think

Recent Comments (60)

  1. And how comes the normal…
    And how comes the normal hymen does allow periods to flow

  2. How much would the first…
    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.

    1. Hey Ruth,…
      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?

      1. Was just asking out of…
        Was just asking out of curiosity…Thanks though

  3. Can the hymen be teared…
    Can the hymen be teared without bleeding

    1. Hi James, Tearing suggest…
      Hi James, Tearing suggest that there will be some blood. However the first time a virgin is having sex there may or may not be blood. See the reasons for this in the article above.

  4. I have sex at my first tym…
    I have sex at my first tym end my partner is claiming that am not vargin bcoz idid’nt bleed,,,what happed???

    1. Hi Mosh, Not all women will…
      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

    2. I had that problem too and…
      I had that problem too and he left hey was confused

  5. Hi..lencer the hymen can…
    Hi..lencer the hymen can only tear if you have a strong sex hence may lead to bleeding.

  6. WHY IS IT THAT FAT LADIES…
    WHY IS IT THAT FAT LADIES EXPIRIENCE PAIN IN FAST SEX AND EVEN LATER

  7. Does the body size of a man…
    Does the body size of a man affect his sexual performance

    1. Hi Brony, not necessarily…

      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

    1. Dear Mutebe, 

      Love Matters…

      Dear Mutebe, 

      Love Matters Africa does not condone abusive language. Should you have any question to our articles please feel free to ask. 

  8. Is it possible to have sex…
    Is it possible to have sex with a vigirn girl using a condom?

    1. Hey Jean, yes it is. The…

      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

  9. Can you help me find a…
    Can you help me find a virgin to marry?

    1. Hi Lawrence, unfortunately…

      Hi Lawrence, unfortunately we are not a dating service and for this reason we are not able to help you meet someone. We wish you well. 

  10. If I only masturbate myself…
    If I only masturbate myself never with a man am I still a virgin?

  11. My partner is a virgin…
    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?

    1. Hi Biko, sex for the first…

      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

  12. The first time I had sex I…
    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.

    1. Hey Shiqs, not all women…

      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

  13. I didn’t bleed the first…
    I didn’t bleed the first time nilihave sex? Is there a reason for this?

    1. Hey Judie, not all women…

      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

  14. is the first time a lady has…
    is the first time a lady has sex painful?

    1. Hi, it doesn’t have to be…

      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

  15. I am a virgin planning to…
    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!

    1. Hi Dora, Congratulations…

      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

  16. Can you break the virginity…
    Can you break the virginity of a girl if you use condoms the first time you have sex?

  17. Does this mean the more a…
    Does this mean the more a girl has sex the bigger her vagina becomes?

  18. Does it mean when you have…
    Does it mean when you have sex with a girl and she bleeds ,is she a virgin and is it good to have sex and bleed

  19. If you finger a girl is she…
    If you finger a girl is she still a virgin or that can break her virgin?

  20. What canyou do to make sure…
    What canyou do to make sure you don’t feel pain the first time?

  21. Must a girl feel pain the…
    Must a girl feel pain the first time she has sex? Do men with foreskin also feel the pain during the first time?

    1. Hi Ian, first time sex doesn…

      Hi Ian, first time sex doesn’t have to be painful for a girl. It is important that the girl is relaxed during intercourse, that she is well prepared before penetration. It is important to spend sufficient time in foreplay which will get the girl aroused and this will cause the vagina to become moist or self lubricate. This reduces discomfort and makes penetration easier and pleasurable for both partners. On the part of men, sex should not really be uncomfortable for an uncircumcised man. If it is all the time it maybe important to seek medical advice. Have a look at the following article;- 

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

      https://lovemattersafrica.com/our-bodies/male-body/does-sex-hurt-with-a-foreskin

  22. When is the right time to…
    When is the right time to start having sex for a girl?

    1. Hi there, the right time to…

      Hi there, the right time to have sex is when one is mature and old enough, emotionally ready, they are in a caring and loving relationship, they feel they are with the right person and they feel it is the right time. Having sex comes with different consequences and it is important for one to think about about things like unplanned pregnancies and Sexually Transmitted Infections. Have a look at the following article for additional information;- https://lovemattersafrica.com/making-love/are-you-old-enough-are-you-mature-enough

  23. My girlfriend is a girgin…
    My girlfriend is a girgin and she did not blind and i did not enjoyed the sex so what is the problem

    1. Hi Peter, it is normal for a…

      Hi Peter, it is normal for a girl who is a virgin not to bleed the first time they have sex. What causes the bleeding the first time is the stretching of the hymen. The hymen my have already been stretch at the time you were having sex by other activities she was involved in which may include some sports. Sex is better when partners talk about it to express what they like and enjoy, sex also does become better with time and as partners get to know and respond to their partner’s needs. Have a look at the following articles for more information;-

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

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

  24. Is it true that some girls…
    Is it true that some girls have anal sex to remain virgins? What is the effect of the anal sex?

    1. Yes Abbas, some girls do…

      Yes Abbas, some girls do choose to have anal sex to preserve their virginity for various reasons. There is a risk of getting infected with an Sexually Transmitted Infections if they do  not use protection. Have a look at the following articles for more information;- 

      https://lovemattersafrica.com/making-love/ways-to-make-love/do-women-have-anal-sex-to-stay-virgins

      https://lovemattersafrica.com/making-love/ways-to-make-love/anal-sex-top-five-facts

  25. If someone is fingered is…
    If someone is fingered is there a probability of vaginal discharge?

    1. Hi Priscilla, thank you for…

      Hi Priscilla, thank you for asking. The vagina is quite sensetive and when things are introduced it could affect the pH and also introduce bacteria that could cause infection. This could be especialy true if the person’s fingers are not clean.

  26. When u have sex and maybe…
    When u have sex and maybe the penis did nt enter ur vigirna is the person still a virgin

    1. Hi Opeyemi, thank you for…

      Hi Opeyemi, thank you for getting in touch and asking a great question. Well, this depends on what you consider losing one’s virginity. According to general customs across the globe, if the penis enters and penetrates the vagina, then you have both lost your virginities. If on the other hand, there was no penetration, then it is safe to say that according to most societal norms and value systems, you are both still virgins. Click here to find out more about virginity: https://lovemattersafrica.com/making-love/virginity and have a wonderful week ahead! Stay safe and make sure that if you are having sex unless you do not want to have children, always use protection.

  27. When one bleeds during sex…
    When one bleeds during sex what’s the meaning

    1. Hi Nicole, 

      It depends. 

      Hi Nicole, 

      It depends. 

      If this is first-time sex, then yes, it is totally normal for you to bleed a little. 

      If this is not your first time sex and you are not on your periods, it can be brought about by many factors including include infection, vaginal trauma due to dryness, cervical polyps, menopause, and cancer. Occasional light bleeding is usually not a cause for concern but you should have it checked if it occurs a lot since this could be a sign of a problem that requires immediate medical attention. 

      You may be at greater risk of bleeding during sex if you:

      • have cervical or uterine cancer
      • are in perimenopause, menopause, or are postmenopausal
      • recently had a baby or are breastfeeding
      • aren’t fully aroused before intercourse
      • douche frequently

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