The Myth Of The Hymen
“Hymen = hymen; thin crescent-shaped to ring-shaped fold of mucous membrane that partially closes the woman’s vagina. During the first sexual act (defloration), the hymen is usually torn with bleeding. Complete destruction of the H. occurs during the first birth.”
This definition is still found today in many dictionaries under the word: hymen. In sex education at school and in teen magazines, similar statements are made. Doctors have never seen this notorious body part in this form and, interestingly enough, it has been clear for a while that the hymen does not exist in this way. The invention of a closing skin is a socio-cultural construct that has a deeply sexist origin. It is based on morality, with the wish to control people with vaginas and their lust, rather than biological research. We want to look at the reality behind the myth.
Origins Of The Myth
The idea of a hymen can still be found all over the world today and is present in all world religions. The virginity of someone passing as female has thus been a theme for millennia and the chastity of a female read is often associated with purity and enforced by society and the patriarchy. In many religions, such as Catholic Christianity, much emphasis is placed on people not having sex before marriage. Since it was assumed that people with vaginas have hymens that tear and bleed during their first penetrative sex, this blood was used as way to check and control peoples virginity. For example, in some cultures (to this day) a blood-stained sheet is held out the window of a new couple after their wedding night, to publicly display the deflowering of a person with a vagina. If there was no blood on the sheet, this became extremely problematic for persons with vaginas. In the past, however, people passing as females were married off very young to much older people passing as men. The difference in anatomical development often led to injuries and bleeding.
To this day, hymen reconstruction surgery is offered so that people with vaginas can prove their chastity. This procedure is not standardized in many countries, such as Germany, and is therefore extremely dangerous. In other countries, however, it is performed legally, but must be paid for privately. Even then, this procedure is only offered for a lot of money, around 3,000 Euros, although the operation could be performed for as little as 100 Euros. If the operation goes wrong, this can also lead to genital mutilation.
It is also important to mention that even after the procedure, there is no guarantee that people with vaginas will bleed during penetrative sex. However, the fact that very many undergo this operation, or use other methods to prove their ‘chastity’ reflects the pressure to which people with vaginas are subjected socially.
What Is The Hymen Actually?
The hymen is neither a skin nor a membrane that closes the vagina and that can be breached. Instead, it is a mucous membrane or rim. It frames the entrance to the vagina and is stretchy like a scrunchie. There are many different forms in which it can appear. In about 80 per cent of cases, the hymen is ring-shaped (one round opening in the middle), in about 19 per cent it is fringed (several elongated openings) and in about one per cent it is either sieve-shaped (i.e. has several smaller openings) or divided in two (i.e. has two openings). In very rare cases, the entire hymen has grown together or has openings that are too small. This is called vaginal atresia and must be treated by a doctor.
The vaginal entrance is initially closed in fetuses in the womb, so that the sexual organs can develop without the influence of the amniotic fluid. Shortly before birth, however, the entrance opens. Before puberty, the hymen is still a little firmer and not so stretchy. With the onset of puberty and the associated hormonal changes, lactic acid bacteria are formed. These serve as protection for the vagina and the mucous membrane becomes softer and more stretchable and has no further function.