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One of the most common questions I’m asked is whether or not the thin membrane in the opening of the vagina has to be broken during the first time a person has sex. We have this idea that it’s like a ribbon cutting ceremony and call it ‘losing one’s virginity’ or ‘popping the cherry.’ The truth is the hymen comes in many forms and changes in different ways depending on the person and their actions.

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One of the parts of the biosex female body that we haven't talked much about on Sexplanations is the hymen, also known as the vaginal corona. It's a thin membrane that covers some, or all, of the vaginal opening at birth until it's stretched, altered, or torn, and changes shape. Like if you imagine my face is a vulva and my mouth is the introitus, or vaginal opening, then this would be the typical hymen, also called a lunar hymen because it's shaped like a crescent moon at the top or bottom of the vaginal opening. 

Less common appearances of the hymen include; annular, meaning ring shaped; labial, when it has a hole that looks long and slender like labia; bifenstrate, meaning two holes; trifenstrated, three; which are also known as septate because the holes have a narrow septum, or bridge, between them. Subseptate is when there's a bridge but it's incomplete. Cribriform is having lots of little holes, after 'cribrum' which means 'sieve' in Latin. Microperforate is one small hole. Imperforate, no hole, which usually requires surgical correction so menstrual blood can exit the body. And finally there's the extremely rare congenital absence of the hymen, or the clinical way of referring to when a baby is born without one. 

The function of the hymen is unknown, but one theory is that it blocks germs from getting into the vagina. Another is that it's an evolutionary leftover like the tailbone. Maybe it had a purpose, but it doesn't now. What's important to know about them is that they tend to naturally open as you age. Simple activities like walking around, squatting to sit on the toilet, and curious self-exploration stretch the hymen about one millimeter each year. 

Which doesn't mean that you have a middle-aged 50mm hole it means that the hymen made mostly of elastic and connective tissue has the ability to expand. You do not have to pop, break, tear, or traumatize the hymen in order to move objects in and out of the vagina. And you do not have to cut the hymen yourself! There are forums of people talking about how to avoid pain the first time they have sex by cutting the hymen, because the presumption is that the hymen will tear from initial penetration and it will hurt. 

This is not true. If you're concerned about the elasticity of your hymen, put the scissors down. There's a better way. Start by looking at your body and identifying the type of hymen you have. If it's atypical then consult a doctor for medical assistance. If it's lunar, or even anular, you can simply widen the opening of the hymen with your fingers. 

I'd begin by masturbating so you're wet, or add lube, then use a finger, or a pinky if you have to gently press on the side of the hymen's opening, little by little. Hold pressure there for a moment then slide over to another part of the opening and press gently to widen it. If you want this can also be a part of foreplay with your partner with clean hands and sufficient moisture they can assist multiple times throughout the week, the same way you do with your own hands. 

Stretch that membrane! While it is possible to rip the hymen, and for it to bleed, this is usually the result of a traumatic impact. Sex that's rushed, forced, or rough; falling onto an object such as the center bar of a bicycle, or a water skiing accident. Penetrative sex doesn't automatically mean bleeding, and if there is bleeding, it isn't necessarily from the hymen. 

Blood could be from an abrasion on the vulva or in the vagina from not being aroused or lubricated, a sexually transmitted infection, menstruation, or spotting. So the idea that you can tell whether or not a person has had sex before based on whether or not the hymen breaks, and whether or not there's blood is a misunderstanding. A fatal misunderstanding.

Some cultures that value virginity at the time of marriage, and consider an intact hymen proof of that virginity, go as far as murdering brides who don't bleed from sex on their wedding nights. Other consequences include divorce, family and/or community rejection, humiliation, and invasive inspections of the bride's body to understand why they didn't bleed. 

Which has led to such behaviors as slicing one's inner thigh with a knife or fingernail to bleed, rubbing a dead bird on the sheets, and putting capsules of red liquid in the vagina that burst during sex. There are artificial hymens you can buy online for $29.95. Dip it in water, it'll adhere to the vaginal walls and if you have sex within the sex 20 minutes, a red gel will even come out. 

Just make sure to rinse it out of your body because who knows what's in it? They're not FDA approved. These tactics may seem extreme, but it gets way more intense with reconstructive surgery. Hymenorrhaphies and hymenoplasties: stitching together the tears in the torn hymen, or using part of the vaginal wall to create a hymen prosthesis.

Note these cosmetic procedures have risks and aren't approved by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. In their own words, "Patients should be informed about the lack of data supporting the efficacy of these procedures and their potential complications, including infection, altered sensation, dyspareunia [which is pain during intercourse], adhesions, and scarring." 

And I'll add, patients should be educated about the hymen; that it's not a reputable gauge for a person's sexual activity; you can have sex without tearing the hymen; you can have sex without bleeding, and you can bleed for other reasons than the hymen tearing. Stay curious.