What is the hymen? A myth of virginity?
This term comes from the Greek "humen", which means "membrane". Hence the name, the hymen is a thin membrane located about one centimeter from the entrance of the vagina and partially closing it. Thus, the hymen separates the vagina from the vulva, but the closure is not complete to allow the flow of menstruation and white discharge.
The hymen has no physiological role, it is only the remnant of an embryonic membrane. However, this small membrane is surrounded by many preconceived ideas, especially concerning female virginity.
Are there different types of hymen?
Like the eyes or the nose, the hymen is different from one person to another, whether by its opening, its shape or its elasticity. Some people are even born without a hymen or with a hymen that completely obstructs the entrance to the vagina. There are a number of anatomical variations:
- imperforate hymen: here the membrane completely covers the entrance of the vagina. This is quite rare but requires a surgical incision to perforate it and thus allow the menstruation to flow out
- microperforated hymen: almost completely obstructing the entrance to the vagina, which makes it difficult to use tampons for example. It may also require a 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 and require a small surgical incision
- annular hymen: has a central opening of varying diameter
- labiate hymen: with a thin horizontal or vertical slit
- complaisant hymen : very elastic, it dilates easily without bleeding or breaking
- cribriform hymen: membrane with several small holes
- sclerotic hymen: thick and resistant membrane that can be a problem during sexual intercourse
- absence of hymen
In cases where the hymen makes impossible to penetrate we advise you to consult a specialized doctor. A hymenotomy, which is a small operation that enlarges or perforates the hymen, may be proposed. Nevertheless, we 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 consult a doctor.
Preconceived ideas about the hymen?
Throughout history, the hymen has suffered from many preconceived notions and beliefs, especially about female virginity. Indeed, many cultures still think that the rupture of the hymen signs the end of the virginity and generates bleedings.
But hymen and virginity have no link. Indeed, some hymens break in the absence of penetration, while others never break. Moreover, as we have seen previously, some people are born without a hymen, others have a very elastic hymen, etc. Also, some hymens are more vascularized than others. Thus, we can now read in the medical dictionary of the Academy of Medicine: "From puberty onwards, the hymen may be sufficiently flexible and elastic to allow full sexual intercourse without determining traumatic injury. Its integrity is therefore not synonymous with virginity."
For all that, 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 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 for a permanent restoration of the hymen, or hymenorraphy, which allows for a temporary restoration of the hymen.
The WHO and the UN are still fighting to ban this virginity test, which is an obstacle to women's rights and can be traumatic if the person has experienced rape in her life. Remember that this virginity test is forbidden in France, except if it comes from the patient's own will (for example to help rebuild after a trauma such as rape).
Moreover, this idea reduces sexuality to a phallocentric penetrative act. However, the beginning of sexual life can go through masturbation or non-penetrative sexual acts regardless of sexual orientation.
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