Virginity, sex and hymens! Now that we're all feeling comfortable, let's begin.
In today's very special episode of DNews, stalwart science journalist -- and former sex ed teacher -- Trace Dominguez considers the hymen and its relationship to the concept of virginity. As we shall learn, there's quite a lot of confusion around both of these terms.
Let's begin with the hymen, which is a thin membrane inside the opening of the vagina. Contrary to the oddly enduring belief -- among the male of the species, anyway -- the hymen does not seal the opening to the vagina. Of course not. Any female of the species could tell you this. But information on hymens, like directions, are something men don't like to ask for.
Actually, hymens are commonly shaped like a ring, or a crescent or half moon. When a women has sex for the first time, the hymen will often stretch or tear, triggering minor bleeding. But more often than not, the hymen is already stretched from other types of purposeful or accidental penetration -- like tampons, sex toys, masturbation or even some forms of physical activity.
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The presence or absence of the hymen, therefore, is in no way related to a woman's virginity -- as that term is commonly understood. More on that in a second. Because the hymen does not seal the vaginal opening, it does break or pop during first-time sexual intercourse.
This misinformation about the hymen may actually be related to the belief, very common among young girls, that first-time sex always hurts. Sometimes it does, but not always. Several studies have suggested that this pain has little to do with the hymen, and more to do with a woman's mental state. According to this idea, many women are culturally conditioned to expect first-time sex to hurt.
As to the very concept of virginity -- well, things can get complicated. Virginity is really a cultural construct, for both men and women. In some cultures, sex is strictly defined as penis-in-vagina intercourse, and so long as that hasn't happened, then you're still a virgin. Obviously, this excludes quite a lot of sexual activity. Many in the LGBT community, for instance, have never had vaginal intercourse, but do not consider themselves virgins.
There are plenty of definitions of virginity, and plenty of ideas on how one loses virginity. There's no right and no wrong. The only really important part, as always, is to stay safe.
-- Glenn McDonald
Our Bodies Ourselves: Pain During Intercourse Or Penetration
The Atlantic: Lying Myths About Virginity
Cosmopolitan: Should Doing The Deed For The First Time Be Painful?