The hymen is a membrane that typically covers a portion of the vaginal opening, and is actually named after the Greek goddess of marriage, Hymenaios. In conservative cultures, the presence of an intact hymen is a great source of pride and honor to virgin girls and their families, and its lack can have severe consequences — a cultural attitude that can be traced back to the middle ages.
Even in mainstream Western culture, it is not uncommon to encounter questions such as "I noticed bleeding after mountain biking — am I still a virgin?", or "my partner penetrated me with his fingers, does this mean I lost my virginity?".
Such questions give rise to new ones.
Types Of Hymen
Not all hymens are the same. In fact, they come in many different types:
- An imperforate hymen is one that completely covers the vaginal opening, making it impossible for menstrual fluids to escape. This condition can be diagnosed at birth and will require surgical intervention.
- A microperforate hymen is one that nearly completely covers the vaginal opening but has a small hole. Tampon use will be very difficult in girls and women with this kind of hymen, and once again, surgery is the treatment.
- A septate hymen is a hymen that creates a strip of tissue through the middle of the vaginal opening, essentially creating two separate openings. This can also be treated surgically.
- A crescentic hymen is shaped like a crescent. It may be thinner than usual and may not rupture during first sexual intercourse.
- An annular hymen, the most common type, is circular with a larger hole in the middle. It may or may not rupture during first sexual intercourse.
Does A Ruptured Hymen Cause Bleeding?
Some women will bleed when they rupture their hymens upon first sexual intercourse. It is also possible for the hymen to be so elastic that it doesn't rupture at that time, however. Likewise, some hymens do not contain blood vessels, in which case there will be no bleeding when they are ruptured.
The rupture of the hymen can occur during vigorous non-sexual physical activities or tampon insertion or extraction, but at the same time, it is important to note that hymen remnants are sometimes visible even in women who have given birth vaginally.
Women who do bleed when their hymen is ruptured are likely to notice only minimal amounts of blood, although it is also possible to rupture a vein, in which case stitches will be required to make the bleeding stop.
Interestingly, when a woman or girl does bleed when she has sexual intercourse for the first time, this may not be physically observable by others on bed sheets or even be noticed by the woman's partner — when seminal fluids mix with a minimal amount of blood, that blood is likely to go unnoticed.
Is It Easy To Tell Whether Someone's Hymen Is Intact?
It is often impossible to determine the condition of the hymen through a simple physical examination, as the membrane will typically be located two to three centimeters into the vaginal cavity, and even as deep as five centimeters.
The Hymen And Virginity
As we have seen, virginity is more a social than a medical construct — the hymen itself, if its presence was ever significant in the first place, can rupture in the complete absence of sexual activity, which certainly does not always lead to bleeding. It can also still be present after a woman has had sex countless times and experienced a vaginal birth.
Women who are part of cultures that require evidence of hymen rupture in the form of bleeding may wish to consider hymenoplasty to maximize their chance of bleeding on their wedding day. During hymen reconstruction surgery, the surgeon will use the remnants of your natural hymen to create a new one. Where such remnants are absent, vaginal tissue may be used. The surgery is not invasive and will create a realistic hymen that is ready for "use" after around six weeks. It is important to follow your surgeon's instructions closely to avoid rupturing the new hymen in the meantime.
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