What is the hymen? A myth of virginity?

What is the hymen? A myth of virginity?

The term comes from the Greek "humen", meaning "membrane". Hence the name, the hymen is a thin membrane located about a centimetre from the entrance to the vagina, partially closing it off. The hymen separates the vagina from the vulva, but is not completely sealed to allow the flow of periods and white discharge.

The hymen has no physiological role; it's merely the remnant of an embryonic membrane. However, this little membrane is surrounded by many preconceived ideas, particularly when it comes to female virginity. 

Are there different types of hymen?

Like the eyes or the nose, the hymen is different from one person to the next, whether in terms of opening, shape or elasticity. Some people are even born without a hymen, or with one that completely obstructs the entrance to the vagina. There are a number of anatomical variations:

  • imperforate hymen: in this case, the membrane completely covers the entrance to the vagina. It is quite rare but requires a surgical incision to perforate it and thus allow the periods to drain
  • microperforated hymen: almost completely obstructing the entrance to the vagina, making it difficult to use tampons, for example. It may also require surgical incision.
  • bifenestrated hymen: the membrane has two small openings in the vagina instead of one. The use of a tampon can also be difficult here, requiring a small surgical incision.
  • annular hymen: has a central opening of variable diameter
  • labiate hymen: with a thin horizontal or vertical slit
  • complaisant hymen: very elastic, it expands easily without bleeding or rupturing
  • cribriform hymen: membrane pierced by several small orifices
  • sclerotic hymen: thick, resistant membrane that can interfere with intercourse
  • absence of hymen

different types of hymen

In cases where the hymen makes penetration impossiblewe recommend that you consult a specialist. You may then be offered a hymenotomy, which is a minor operation to enlarge or perforate the hymen. However, we would remind you that vaginismus can be another cause of impossible penetration, and you can read our blog post on this subject. In both cases, we advise you to seek medical advice.

Preconceived ideas about the hymen?

Throughout history, the hymen has been the subject of many preconceived ideas and beliefs, particularly in relation to female virginity. Indeed, many cultures still believe that breaking the hymen signals the end of virginity and leads to bleeding. 

But hymen and virginity have nothing to do with each other. In fact, some hymens break in the absence of penetration, while others never do. Moreover, as we saw earlier, some people are born without a hymen, others have a very elastic hymen, and so on. Similarly, some hymens are more vascular than others. Thus, we can now read in the Académie de Médecine medical dictionary: "From puberty onwards, the hymen may be sufficiently supple and elastic to allow full sexual intercourse without determining traumatic injury. Its integrity is therefore not synonymous with virginity."

However, many women, because of these beliefs, have undergone the "virginity test", which consists of having a health professional check that the hymen is still intact, or check for the presence of blood stains on the sheets after the wedding night. To anticipate the result of this virginity test, some people have resorted to hymenoplasty, which allows the hymen to be permanently restored, or hymenorrhaphy, which allows the hymen to be temporarily restored.

The WHO and the UN are still fighting to ban this virginity test, which is an obstacle to women's rights and can be traumatizing if the person has experienced rape in the course of his or her life. It should be remembered that virginity tests are forbidden in France, unless they are requested by the patient (for example, to help rebuild after a trauma such as rape).

What's more, this idea reduces sexuality to a phallocentric penetrative act. However, the beginning of sexual life can involve masturbation or non-penetrative sexual acts, regardless of sexual orientation.



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The information contained in the articles on www-elia-lingerie.com is general information only. Although reviewed by health professionals, this information is not error-free, does not constitute health advice or consultation, and is not intended to provide a diagnosis or suggest a course of treatment. Under no circumstances may this information be used as a substitute for medical advice or consultation with a healthcare professional. If you have any questions, please consult your doctor.