This week in 1953, a brave man named Alfred Kinsey published the world’s first book documenting scientific findings about women’s sexuality. He likely hoped that his book “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female” would stop people from believing popular myths that suited the religious/patriarchal propaganda and were thus promulgated. But of course, the book didn’t reach everyone in places they were needed the most. However, this publication marks the beginning of the movement of women’s sexuality to the public domain, and for this, we wish to celebrate this occasion with two articles dedicated to busting one of the worst myths that plagues womankind around the world: The Myth of Virginity and the Hymen.
Why is it that our society is so obsessed with the hymen?
You might say it’s for evolutionary reasons; that women had a hymen to help men figure out which women were ‘pure’ or, to put it crudely, which women could not be pregnant with another man’s child. This, you might say, adds to to evidence that humans are biologically programmed to be monogamous.
But your argument would be extremely flawed. Why? Because of the following mythical assumptions we make about the hymen:
- “The hymen is a vaginal seal.” The hymen does not block the vaginal opening. If this was the case, we wouldn’t have our period before our first time. Rather, it is shaped like a hollow circle, surrounding the vaginal opening. It can stretch open like any other mucosal tissue in your body (your lips, for example) and it can develop tears from stretching too much. BUT IT CAN’T BREAK, or just disappear, when you have sex.
- “The hymen exists to denote virginity.” No. That’s insane. If that were true, virginity would be sought by our close cousins in the animal kingdom as well, and they too would have hymens. But they don’t. While its evolutionary purpose is not entirely clear, some scientists suspect it is meant to keep toxins out of the vagina in embryo. But once you’re born, your hymen does nothing significant for you. Not even mark the ‘loss’ of your virginity.
- “The hymen breaks only from sex.” Fact is that the hymen does not break at all, it simply develops tears that cause the bleeding to take place. Additionally, these tears can be delivered even during horseback riding, gymnastics, and other sports. And at the same time, they could not occur at all, even after you’ve had sex a few times. A different position you try years after your first time could also cause these tears.
- “Every girl bleeds her first time.” Hymens don’t all look the same, or cover the same area. Some hymens are large, some are very hard to notice. Some women are born without any trace of a hymen, and some with a very small opening in their hymen that can cause extreme pain during their period and while having sex. And some can just stretch open perfectly to accommodate a lifetime of sex without any tearing or bleeding. Hymens are as individualized as other external body parts, and that’s why using them as a metric for virginity is just useless.
- “If it doesn’t hurt/bleed, it isn’t her first time.” This is the worst of the beliefs. That a woman has to suffer to gain pleasure from sex. It is so wrong that it could be singled out as the primary reason why men are lax about their partners’ pleasure. We’ve made the hymen myth even more popular than the truth of the clitoris, and that is awfully problematic. The truth is, this is no excuse for you not to try and make sex painless. Sure, someone with a large hymen might find it very painful anyway, but that doesn’t mean that you take their pain for granted and look out only for your own pleasure.
“The idea at play here is that of “morality.” When young women are taught about morality, there’s not often talk of compassion, kindness, courage, or integrity. There is, however, a lot of talk about hymens”Jessica Valenti
The thing is, there’s multiple other things about your first time that can cause the pain, besides your hymen. When having sex for the first time, it’s only natural to tighten up down there, to be dry because you’re nervous, and to feel awkward about being naked in front of someone overall. And these are things you can control by making the environment more comfortable.
What’s most important though, is what you think of having sex. More on the psychology of virginity tomorrow, in “You are not “Losing” ANYTHING: Rethinking Virginity” Stay tuned!