I am working on the first few lecture of my class for the spring semester. Lecture 2 is anatomy, and this year, in response to last year’s surprise interest, I have a whole PPT slide on the hymen. To write that slide I’ve been doing research.

And it turns out that everything culture teaches us about the hymen is wrong.

The closest thing to true is the idea that the hymen can be painful when it’s not used to being stretched – it’s one of a number of potential causes of pain with penetration, but it is by no means the most common.

However: the hymen doesn’t break and stay broken forever, like a freshness seal (with accompanying “use by” date). If a hymen tears or bruises, IT HEALS.

And the size of a hymen doesn’t vary depending on whether or not the vagina has been penetrated. It’s about 2.75mm. There, now you know roughly how big your hymen is.

543px-Hymen_en.svgHowever, hymen vary a LOT, and there are many different kinds of hymens, from imperforate hymens, which completely cover the vaginal opening and must be medically opened in order for a woman to menstruate, to septate hymens, which feel like a strand of skin across the vaginal opening.

And it usually doesn’t bleed. Any blood with first penetration is more likely due to general vaginal tearing from lack of lubrication.

What does change when a woman begins having the hymen stretched regularly is that it grows more flexible. Um, is it appropriate to say that, metaphorically, vaginal intercourse is like yoga for your hymen?

So. Pain with first penetration might be the hymen stretching, maybe. Or it might be a variety of other things. And chances are first penetration will just feel really complicated and novel and nothing like what you expect.

We know from research that a small amount of pain over a longer time span results in lower perceived pain than a large amount of pain over a short time span (in other words, pull the band-aid off slowly, don’t rip it off in one go). So if you want to eliminate your own hymen, do it gradually and gently, teaching it to stretch, rather than forcing it to break.)

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