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The hymen is a thin membrane located at the opening of the vagina in females. It is a natural part of the female anatomy and is typically present at birth. The hymen can vary in shape, size, and thickness among individuals.

Contrary to common myths, the presence or absence of the hymen is not a reliable indicator of virginity or sexual activity. The hymen can be stretched or torn for various reasons other than sexual intercourse, such as physical activity, tampon use, or even during normal development. In some cases, the hymen may naturally have a larger opening or may have already been stretched or torn before sexual activity occurs.

It’s important to note that the state of the hymen should not be used as a determining factor for judging a person’s sexual history or virtue. Virginity is a complex and personal concept that cannot be solely defined by the presence or absence of the hymen. It’s crucial to respect and support individual autonomy and choices regarding sexual activity and personal beliefs.


1. The hymen doesn’t cover the vagina

First, let’s take a look at hymen’s meaning. Coming from the Greek word meaning membrane, the hymen is a small piece of skin found inside the opening of the vagina. Contrary to its name, the hymen is not a complete membrane covering the full vaginal opening. After all, menstrual blood can pass through the vagina before we have had penetrative sex for the first time.

A very small number of women are born with what’s called an imperforate hymen (that means a hymen without any openings) – this may require minor surgery so that menstruation can pass through. However, for most of us, the hymen is shaped more like a donut with a hole (or in some cases, several holes). This leads us on to our next hymen fact….

2. Hymens vary a lot in how they look

Just like the vulva, hymens don’t all look the same. Some may be larger than others, some have fringing, while others are more lobed-shaped. Some have round holes, others have perforations shaped like a half-moon. There is not a standard of ‘normal’ when it comes to what hymens look like. In fact, the idea that a hymen should look a certain way is particularly harmful, as we’ll cover later on in this post.

If you’re curious to see if you have a hymen or what it looks like, you can take a look yourself at home with a hand mirror and a flashlight. The hymen may be visible if you part the labia on your vulva and look inside the vaginal passage. Don’t be worried if you can’t find your hymen, this skinfold is tiny and in some cases may not be visible at all.

3. The hymen stretches – it doesn’t break

We often talk about the hymen being broken when we have sex for the first time. However, the hymen is already perforated – we know blood, tampons and fingers can pass into the vaginal passage without the hymen disappearing. When we have penetrative sex for the first time, nothing disappears, the hymen may simply stretch.

This contradicts much of the language we’re familiar with when we talk about virginity. In reality, nothing physical is lost, and while our first time having sex may be significant for many of us, there isn’t a biological change to our bodies.

4. Not everyone has a hymen

Some women are born with a very small hymen or with no hymen at all. This is perfectly healthy and does not mean that they are missing anything, or need medical attention. For many of us our hymens can be stretched long before we have penetrative sex, whether it’s from sports, self-exploration or using menstrual products like tampons.

Again, you can check if you have a hymen, and should not be alarmed if you can’t find the hymen. Of course, if you have concerns about your reproductive health, you can always talk to your health care professional.

5. Virginity exams are not medically recognized

In 2019 the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement saying that they do not provide guidance on virginity testing. This is because you can’t tell whether a woman has had sex or not just by looking at her vagina. As covered earlier, every hymen looks different, so there is no set standard for finding evidence of penetration.

This idea that the hymen breaks when we first have sex has also led to a belief that our first time should be painful. In reality, pain during penetration is more likely to arise from anxiety, or from sexual inexperience, than from stretching the hymen.

While a medically accurate virginity exam does not exist, some cultures continue to carry out ‘virginity testing’. The United Nations have called for this to be banned. While we may feel removed from such practices as forced virginity testing, this is a worldwide problem that can affect women and girls everywhere. Understanding our own reproductive health is a great way to tackle myths and misinformation.


Aman k. Kashyap

I am a hard-working and driven medical student who isn't afraid to face any challenge. I'm passionate about my work . I would describe myself as an open and honest person who doesn't believe in misleading other people and tries to be fair in everything I do.

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