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12 Questions About Virginity and Your Hymen Answered by Doctors

What is a hymen? What does it do? Does it have anything to do with virginity? Today, we're answering these and many other questions.

The hymen is a thin membrane that covers the vaginal opening. It consists of connective tissue, muscle fibers, blood vessels, and nerve endings.

For people who have one, the hymen can be easy to detect. It usually lies within 0.8 inches (1–2 centimeters) of the vaginal opening, creating a partial boundary between the external and internal genital organs.

The appearance and structure of the hymen vary just like body shape or hair color. Each hymen has its own shape, type (which is determined by the number and size of holes in the hymen), thickness, elasticity, blood vessels, and nerve endings. 

Some hymens may be elastic and stretchable; others are not. Some may have many nerve endings, while others may only have a few.

So far, scientists haven't reached a unanimous conclusion on this subject. One of the most common theories is that the hymen acts as a kind of barrier to prevent infectious agents from entering a developing body.

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About 0.03 percent of people who could have hymens are born without one. These individuals rarely have any problems with the development of their reproductive system, as the hymen isn’t necessary for healthy sexual growth.

The hymen has one or more holes to let blood through naturally. Usually, the hymen looks like a doughnut and has a large hole that can fit one or two fingers. 

A smaller percentage of people have hymens with two holes (septate type) that look a bit like nostrils. Others have several small holes (microperforate type) or none at all (imperforate type).

Sometimes, the hymen hole is so small that a tampon can’t fit. Consulting a health care provider will help you find out what type of hymen you have. This can reduce the risk of unintentionally disturbing your hymen if you choose to use tampons.

Each hymen has an individual structure; some individuals may experience bleeding and pain, while others may have neither. 

This largely depends on the thickness of the hymen. The thicker it is, the more painful a potential tear can be. 

Bleeding during the first sexual intercourse happens in only 43 percent of cases. The amount of blood can vary from a few drops to bleeding for a few days. If the bleeding lasts for longer than three days, consult a health care provider.

Choosing your first sexual experience is a personal issue. You are free to make your own decisions regardless of your friends' experiences or societal pressure. When you feel ready, it’s most important to find a sexual partner who shares your feelings and respects your priorities.

The hymen can be disrupted before having sex for the first time (for example, from masturbation, a medical examination, surgery, or using tampons that are too large). 

Some people’s hymens can be affected after an injury, excessive physical exertion, and some kinds of exercise.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommends the first gynecological examination should occur between the ages of 13 and 15 years, regardless of sexual activity. 

At your first visit, you will receive information about reproductive health care, and the doctor will ask for your permission to examine your sexual development.

Virginity doesn't harm a person’s health. In fact, abstinence is the only thing that offers total protection from sexually transmitted infection and unwanted pregnancies.

“Diagnosis and Management of Hymenal Variants.” ACOG, 12 May 2019,
www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2019/06/diagnosis-and-management-of-hymenal-variants.

Mishori, Ranit, et al. “The Little Tissue That Couldn't - Dispelling Myths about the Hymen's Role in Determining Sexual History and Assault.” Reproductive Health, BioMed Central, 3 June 2019,
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6547601/.

Hegazy, Abdelmonem Awad, and Mohammed O Al-Rukban. “Hymen: Facts and Conceptions.” Jan. 2012,
www.researchgate.net/publication/260578888_Hymen_Facts_and_conceptions.

“Hymens: Types of Hymens.” Center for Young Women's Health, 31 Jan. 2019,
https://youngwomenshealth.org/2013/07/10/hymens/.

“Does a Woman Always Bleed When She Has Sex for the First Time?” NHS Choices, NHS,
www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/sexual-health/does-a-woman-always-bleed-when-she-has-sex-for-the-first-time/.

“Your First Gynecologic Visit.” ACOG, Mar. 2019, www.acog.org/patient-resources/faqs/especially-for-teens/your-first-gynecologic-visit.

Rogers, D J, and M Stark. “The Hymen Is Not Necessarily Torn after Sexual Intercourse.” BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), British Medical Journal, 8 Aug. 1998, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1113684/.

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