The hymen has long been seen as a sign of purity and innocence. But from a purely physical standpoint, the hymen is simply a small layer of thin skin that partially covers the vaginal opening. The hymen can be found at the mouth of the vagina, not very deep inside. In fact, by spreading your legs very wide and using a small mirror, you might be able to see the hymen. You might also be able to feel it with your fingertip. Understanding what the hymen is and how it works can help clear up any misconceptions about this thin piece of skin.
What Is the Function of Hymen?
The hymen is there to help protect newborns from infections. As a young woman goes through puberty, the openings in the hymen can become larger, thus allowing menstrual flow to escape the vaginal opening. At some point during life the hymen is broken, either through sexual intercourse, vigorous exercise or other activities.
Does Broken Hymen Mean Losing Virginity?
Almost every woman has this mucous membrane early on in their lives, but as they grow older the hymen can be broken or torn in all sorts of ways. Contrary to popular belief, breaking of the hymen can happen by means other than sexual penetration. Unfortunately, many cultures still adhere to the idea that if a woman’s hymen is broken, that means she has had sexual intercourse. In some cases, women who are found to have a broken hymen are shunned, tortured or even put to death.
The hymen can be broken by vigorous physical activity, such as horseback riding or intense sports. It can be broken by masturbation, or by inserting a tampon. And sometimes, it can be broken for no apparent reason at all. A broken hymen simply means that the hymen has been broken somehow – it doesn’t mean a woman has lost her sexual virginity.
How Can You Tell a Broken Hymen?
If you’re curious about whether your hymen is broken, there are a few ways to check.
- Take a look. Spread your legs wide and use a small mirror to see the vaginal opening. Do you see a small layer of thin, ring-shaped tissue at the opening? If so, your hymen is intact.
- Go by feel. Insert your middle finger gently into your vaginal opening. If you feel resistance, like something pressing back against your fingertip, then your hymen is not broken.
- Look for bleeding or pain. The breaking of the hymen usually leads to some minor pain and bleeding. If you notice bleeding and feel sore, then it’s possible your hymen has been broken.
How to Restore a Broken Hymen
Sometimes a woman will choose to repair her hymen if it has been broken. This is especially true if she has a religious or cultural reason to have an intact hymen at her first sexual intercourse. The following are typical hymen repairs:
- Simple Repair. This repair can be done if there are remnants of the hymen left. However, this is often just a temporary procedure, as the hymen doesn’t have the vascular components necessary for true long-term healing of the skin.
- Alloplant. This is actually a small implant of a material very much like skin that can be torn easily. This is an option for women who don’t have enough of a hymen left for a simple repair, and those who want to have a hymen that can tear during their first sexual encounter.
- Hymenoplasty. This is a much more involved surgery that uses dissection of the tissues to form a small ring, just like the hymen, which is then stitched together to partially cover the vaginal opening. This is often what must be done for hymen restoration, or for those who have to undergo hymen surgery due to a microperforate or imperforate hymen.
More Facts about Hymen
Breaking of the hymen can cause pain, discomfort and some bleeding; however, there are many women who have a broken hymen and never felt the break. Bleeding might not be present either; about 44 percent of women don’t experience bleeding during their first sexual intercourse with an intact hymen. Some women – about one of every thousand – are born with no hymen at all.
Interestingly, women can go through their lives with their hymens intact. In fact, some women have been known to have intact hymens during pregnancy, which are sometimes broken by a doctor before they give birth. So, the hymen should never be considered a form of birth control.