It’s absurd to think that the proof of a woman’s virginity is based on an anatomical misunderstanding: a small cuticle which does not even exist. Indeed, the value of women around the world and across many different cultures is measured by a myth. To address the issue and help bring clarity, we need to make a greater effort to understand the anatomy of our vagina. So, let’s take a closer look at the hymen.
What is a hymen?
The female hymen is often imagined to be something like the gold foil cover that seals an unopened jar of Nutella – and which has to be broken to reach its contents. In other words, it is pictured to be a piece of skin that closes over the vagina. That is until a woman has sex for the first time, at which point it is broken – irreversibly – and there is a bloody farewell to innocence. But according to medical science, that’s complete nonsense. In fact, the hymen is a soft, stretchy mucous membrane that surrounds the vaginal entrance. And just like the vulva, its appearance differs from woman to woman in width, size and elasticity.
Where is the hymen?
A must-know for everyone: the hymen does not close off the entrance to the vagina. Instead, it encircles the vagina and forms a border of between 1-2 centimeters. If there really was a piece of skin closing off the vaginal entrance, the menstrual blood wouldn’t be able to flow. (The latter blockage can actually happen, but it’s incredibly rare and requires medical assistance.)
For most women, the hymen stays intact for all of their lives – irrespective of sexual intercourse and childbirth. Yes: the rumors are wrong! Furthermore, neither a gynecological examination nor the usage of tampons or the practice of sports can destroy the hymen.
If the hymen really does tear, it is rarely considered to be painful and only bleeds minimally. So, if you do recall bleeding during your first time, remember that this happens to roughly only half of all women and is not a testament to being deflowered, but simply a sign of injury. Bleeding can also be connected to cramping, anxiety, arousal, moisture and the condition of both the vagina and penis.
The term ‘hymen’ is misleading
When it comes to the hymen, Sweden is well ahead of the rest of Europe. In 2009, the term was abolished from the language and replaced with ‘vaginal corona’. However, there are some promising signs of change in Germany. Frustrated with the language used to describe the labia, a group has launched a petition calling for the replacement of “Schamlippen”, which in German literally means “lips of shame”, with “Vulvalippen”, or vulva lips. After all, there’s nothing to be ashamed about. If we think about language as being a tool used in the oppression of women and start to reformulate certain words, then lives can be positively changed. Case in point, no woman is losing her virginity during sex – she loses absolutely nothing. Immaculate and untouched? It doesn’t exist.
And yet there are gynecologists who still issue virginity certificates; authorities which conduct a two-finger test for ‘integrity’ testing; doctors that sew up the hymen; companies that keep the original myth alive by using cellulose and fake blood to warn women from committing a crime before marriage; and families who expect to see a blood-stained sheet after the wedding night – proof of a ‘ruptured hymen’. All of this happens every day all over the world, across different regions, religions and cultures. And yet the state of the female hymen tells no story about whether a woman has previously had sex or not.
It’s 2018, but the burden of being a woman remains oppressively heavy. In October of this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that women and girls across at least 20 countries are still being subjected to degrading and traumatic virginity tests. WHO demanded an immediate end to these practices.
Even in developed nations like Germany and the US, prejudices and misconceptions used to discredit a woman’s vagina as “unclean” remain. That is why we have to learn more about the vaginal corona. Knowledge is power and knowledge is female empowerment.
Help on virginity, information from doctors and contact points for counselling can be found here.