Busting Myths About the Hymen
Same here, Chrissy … same here!
What even is the hymen?
The hymen is a thin membrane that surrounds the opening of the vagina.
Because of euphemisms like “popping your cherry,” many people think that the hymen is skin that covers the entirety of the vaginal canal and that breaks during the first time someone has sex. Some people believe that the presence of a visible hymen “proves” that someone has not had sex and thus has maintained a certain patriarchal standard of purity.
In fact, hymens typically have a hole wide enough for menstrual blood to pass through. Some people are born with very little hymenal tissue, such that their hymen is barely noticeable — if at all! What’s more, lots of things can stretch out the hymenal tissue that have nothing to do with partnered sex — riding a bike, doing sports, and just generally living your life, not to mention...vaginal masturbation.
And why is everyone obsessed with it?
Well, to be totally honest with y’all: we wish they weren’t.
First off, you just can’t tell anything about whether or not someone is sexually active from looking at their genitals.
Secondly, the hymen’s use as a marker of virginity places a lot of emphasis on one type of sex (vaginal intercourse) without acknowledging that there are lots of ways to be intimate — including (but not limited to) manual, oral, and anal — which means, you guessed it, there’s many ways to define what sex is. And we just aren’t down with the heteronormativity assumed in making P + V intercourse the only way folks can have sex.
The idea that virginity is something you can lose (and not get back) often gets used as a moral argument for not having vaginal sex. Because some believe that virginity can be measured by examining the hymen, this puts an undue gendered burden on people with hymens, whereas the same “measurement” can’t be made of someone who has a penis. Historically — and sadly into the present — this supposed measuring of virginity, whether through genital examination or displaying blood on the marital sheets, has encouraged a culture of sexual shame.
The whole concept of virginity places a lot of emphasis on one very small part of sexual experience without considering things like: Are you happy with your sexuality and sexual experience? Are you experiencing pleasure? How do you want to continue on your sexual journey, be that with yourself, your first partner, or your hundredth partner?
For some, their very first sexual experience may feel no more significant than later sexual experiences, but if the concept of a first sexual experience does feel important to you, think about the ways that you are gaining a new experience, rather than “losing” something. You are making your sexual debut!
So whether you are making a sexual debut for the first time or the fiftieth time, being intimate with many people, one person, or just yourself — we want to honor and encourage you to explore and define what sex is for you, not based around ideas of purity, but based around what brings you pleasure and joy.