Skip navigation! Story from Body. There are so many myths attached to the hymen — the thin membrane that surrounds the vaginal opening — that sometimes it's difficult to sort fact from fiction. If you believed them all, you'd think it "pops" the first time you have sex; that if yours isn't visible it means you've already had penetrative sex; that you're no longer a virgin if yours is "broken", to name just a few. At best, these misnomers are harmless — at worst, they perpetuate sexist notions of female virginity and leave women feeling baffled by- and detached from their own vaginas. Hymens come in different shapes, but most often they're shaped like a half moon, allowing period blood to leave the vagina, as the US-based Center for Young Women's Health's guide explains. However, some women are born with hymenal abnormalities that can result in problems ranging from period blood getting trapped in the vagina to difficulty having sex, and they may not realise until their teenage years, as an article from BBC Three highlighted recently. Hymen abnormalities are most often diagnosed during adolescence when girls start their periods, because once menstrual blood starts becoming trapped inside the vagina each month, it can cause pain that's hard to ignore. Dr Leila CG Frodsham, consultant gynaecologist and specialist in psychosexual medicine, says girls may find out their hymen is atypical "if they have not started their periods but are getting other symptoms: breast development, pubic hair growth, monthly breast tenderness, pelvic cramping pain each month and no bleeding.
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There can be so many questions that come with having a vagina. Is there such a thing as too much pubic hair? And WTF is a hymen?!
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The concept of female "virginity" has a complicated history, and has often been incorrectly linked to breaking the hymen. Bleeding after intercourse was thought to be proof of an unbroken hymen, and thus, proof that a woman had not had sex before. The reality, however, is that the state of your hymen has nothing to do with sexual activity. As for how to know if your hymen is broken, it's near impossible to see it for yourself. But let's back up and talk about what the hymen actually is. The hymen is a small, ragged membrane just inside the opening to the vagina review our vagina anatomy lesson here. All hymens are not created equal. So many things other than intercourse can wear the hymen away, including horseback riding, biking, gymnastics, using tampons, fingering, and masturbation, which basically leads to "breaking" the hymen without ever having sex. Some women are even born without hymens. Some people experience a few drops of blood the first time they have penetrative vaginal sex, but it doesn't happen to everyone because of the above-mentioned reasons.
The hymen is the stuff of legend and lore in many cultures, the treasured prize a woman gives her husband on their wedding night. People often do not know what it looks like or what really happens to it when virginity is lost. For example, some of my teen patients have questions about a partner male or female inserting a finger into a vagina.