The concept of female “virginity” has a complicated history, and has often been (incorrectly) linked to breaking the hymen. Bleeding after intercourse was thought to be proof of an unbroken hymen, and thus, proof that a woman had not had sex before. The reality, however, is that the state of your hymen has nothing to do with sexual activity. As for how to know if your hymen is broken, it’s near impossible to see it for yourself. But let’s back up and talk about what the hymen actually is.
The hymen is a small, ragged membrane just inside the opening to the vagina (review our vagina anatomy lesson here). All hymens are not created equal. So many things other than intercourse can wear the hymen away, including horseback riding, biking, gymnastics, using tampons, fingering, and masturbation, which basically leads to “breaking” the hymen without ever having sex. Some women are even born without hymens.
“Think of the hymen like tissue paper,” says Alexandra Eisler, a health and sex educator from Healthy Teen Network. “It can stretch or tear or easily rub away.”
Some people experience a few drops of blood the first time they have penetrative vaginal sex, but it doesn’t happen to everyone because of the above-mentioned reasons. It also doesn’t take that much to fully open the hymen. According to Eisler, the hymen doesn’t have a huge blood supply, so even if it is intact, you may not bleed much or at all.
“People make a big deal about whether you bleed the first time you have sex,'” Eisler says. “But the idea of ‘popping your cherry’ is not the momentous event that a lot of people think it is.”
So now that we’ve dispelled the myth that a broken hymen always bleeds during first-time sex, let’s discuss other facts about the hymen and sexual activity.
- 1. Chances are, even if your hymen is intact, you won’t be able to see it.
- 2. Even intact hymens may have openings within them.
- 3. There is no way to prove “virginity.”
- 4. “Losing your virginity” does not necessarily mean penis meeting a vagina.
- 5. You don’t have to prove your sexual history.
- 6. You are in control of your sexual activity.
- Does It Hurt When Your Hymen Breaks?
- I Accidentally Broke My Hymen – Oh Well
- Click a button to go to a popular page on this site:
- Hymen Pictures
- Popping your cherry
- How To Know If You Popped Your Cherry AKA Your Hymen Is Broken
- 1. Sex
- 2. Touching
- 3. Athletics
1. Chances are, even if your hymen is intact, you won’t be able to see it.
If you try to look for yours, it may be difficult to pinpoint. “If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’d have a really hard time telling the difference, because it will be a fleshy colored membrane in a place where you have flaps and folds and hair,” Eisler says. If you do want to go exploring, though, it’s located about about 1-2 centimeters inside your vaginal opening.
2. Even intact hymens may have openings within them.
It’s easy to imagine the hymen as a wall or a structure waiting to be broken, sort of like being the first one to cross the finish-line tape in a race. But — get ready for it — the hymen also has an opening in it, so that menstrual blood and other secretions can get out. Generally, that opening is crescent shaped, but it varies from woman to woman. Some have very small openings, and some even have multiple openings in the hymen. Two percent of all woman are born with a closed hymen, which is called “imperforate,” and that requires surgery to open up the hymen so period blood can flow through.
3. There is no way to prove “virginity.”
According to Eisler, virginity is a social construct, not a medical condition. “While there is no medical definition for virginity, it is an important concept to many people,” she says. “It’s built by social norms and beliefs, even if it doesn’t have a scientific basis.” So you likely have a definition about what virginity entails based on your friends, what your parents have taught you, and whether or not you have specific religious beliefs. To many, virginity means you haven’t yet had sex, though what is considered sex can vary from person to person. It should also be said that having sex doesn’t change anything about you; it doesn’t add or take away value, just as not having sex doesn’t.
4. “Losing your virginity” does not necessarily mean penis meeting a vagina.
The concept of virginity has long been tied up with heteronormative ideas — when a penis enters your vagina, you’re no longer a virgin. There are some obvious problems with this definition. “It gets ridiculous when you think, okay, if someone is a lesbian, knows they’re a lesbian from day one, and has never had sex with a , are they going to be a virgin until the day they die?” Eisler says. “If someone only has anal sex but not vaginal sex, are they still a virgin? I’m really clear with folks, that when we say sex, we mean oral, anal, or vaginal sex.”
5. You don’t have to prove your sexual history.
You should never feel you have to prove your status, and furthermore, it’s not even possible to do so. We would argue that the best way to find out if someone has not yet had sex (if they really care to know) is simply to ask — and it’s entirely up to you whether or not you want to discuss it at all!
6. You are in control of your sexual activity.
There are some major problems with the concept of “losing your virginity.” The term implies that it isn’t in your control. If you lose your phone, is that a conscious decision? No! We need to change how we talk about the first time a person has sex. It shouldn’t be something that someone takes from you. “ this idea that young women should be passive receivers of sex and that young men are going to do something to them,” Eisler says. In too much of the world, women are still controlled in this way. “The most important thing is to keep yourself safe, and do something you feel good about,” Eisler recommends. “Take it slow and really know what’s comfortable for you and your body, what’s going on down there and relax about a lot of it.” And for sure, don’t worry about your hymen. Or lack thereof.
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- What I Wish I Knew Before Losing My Virginity
- Vag-atomy 101: Everything You Need to Know About the Vagina (and Then Some)
- The 4 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before You Lose Your Virginity
WATCH: 8 Fascinating Facts About the Vagina That Will Change Your Life
Thank you for visiting SexInfo! If you are curious about what your hymen looks like, you can use a flashlight and a mirror to see inside your vaginal canal. Lie on your back and position the mirror between your legs so you can see your vulva, and slowly spread the inner and outer “lips” (known as the labia minora and labia majora) of your vulva. If you cannot see into your vaginal canal, use a flashlight to illuminate the area (although this can be tricky while trying to hold the mirror and your labia apart). If you can see a thin layer of skin right inside your vaginal opening that has a small hole (or holes) present, your hymen is most likely intact.
The images to the right show the hymen in various states. The hymen comes in many different shapes and sizes, and these images represent just a few examples of how the hymen may appear.
- The first image shows a perfect annular hymen. In this state, the hymen forms a ring around the vaginal opening. The hymen becomes less ring-like with exposure to sexual, masturbatory, or other physical activity.
- The second image shows a cribriform hymen. This hymen has many small holes. These holes allow passage of menstrual fluid, but tampon insertion and sexual activity may be difficult.
- The third image shows a septate hymen. This means that there are bands of tissue that extend across the vaginal opening. This tissue can be thick and rigid, which may make tampon use and penetrative sex difficult. Sometimes, the bands will naturally stretch or break on their own; other times, a healthcare professional may need to surgically correct the tissue.
- The fourth image shows an imperforate hymen. In this state, the hymen completely covers the vaginal opening. This type of hymen can impede blood flow during menstruation and must be surgically corrected. Without correction, an imperforate hymen can cause menstrual blood to build up within the vagina and create health problems like infection or endometriosis. Imperforate hymens only occur in 1-2% of women and can often be diagnosed at early infancy.
- The fifth image shows a parous introitus hymen, or a hymen that is nearly or completely gone. This state typically follows childbirth.1,2
If you think you may have a septate, cribriform, or imperforate hymen, talk to your healthcare provider. Do not attempt to surgically alter your hymen on your own. Surgical procedures for hymen correction usually take less than an hour and have a short recovery period.
The image below illustrates what an imperforate hymen may look like:
If you notice small traces of broken skin surrounding your vaginal opening but no thin membrane, you may have already stretched or broken your hymen. The state of the hymen is not an accurate indicator of virginity. The structure of the hymen differs for each woman, meaning that the tendency to bleed is also variable. If a female’s first experience with sexual intercourse occurs when she is aroused and lubricated, the hymen has a greater tendency to stretch than to tear. In this case, there is a lower likelihood that bleeding will occur.3 Physical activity, tampon or menstrual cup use, masturbation, and pelvic examinations with a speculum can also cause the hymen to stretch or even break.2 Tearing the hymen is not always a painful experience; some women do not feel it break if engaged in physical activities or certain sports. Thank you for your question, and feel free to contact us with any more that you may have!
For More Information on the Hymen:
To learn about the cultural significance of an intact hymen, please click here.
To learn about the concept of virginity and an intact hymen, please click here.
To learn more about the hymen (and whether or not it is intact), please click here.
1. “Hymen Gallery.” Healthy Strokes. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2015. <http://www.healthystrokes.com/hymengallery.html>.
2. “Hymen.” TheVisualMD.com. N.p., 2014. Web. 03 Feb. 2015. <http://www.thevisualmd.com/visualizations/result/annular_hymen_within_fe….
Last Updated 17 February 2015.
Does It Hurt When Your Hymen Breaks?
Even if it’s not your hymen that hurts, sex can be painful, particularly if it’s the first time you’re doing it.
But there are a number of ways to reduce pain around sexual activity — and it is possible to have sex for the first time without feeling pain.
If it’ll be with a partner, talk to them about how you’re feeling
It’s always a good idea to talk to your partner. Talking to your partner about sex can reduce your anxiety. It’s also essential for setting healthy boundaries around sex.
Unsure what to say to your partner? Here are a few ways to start the conversation:
- “I’m feeling nervous about this. Can we talk about it?”
- “I’d like to talk about our boundaries before we get started.”
- “I’d like to try X and Y, but I don’t want to do Z. What would you like to do?”
- “Let’s start gently and spend some time on foreplay.”
Make sure you spend some time on foreplay (whether solo or partnered)
It’s good to indulge in a little foreplay before penetration. Not only is it fun, but it can help calm your nerves and get your body ready for what’s to come.
During foreplay, your body realizes it will be having sex, so it starts producing its own vaginal lubricant.
Your muscles will also relax more so they can accommodate penetration.
Foreplay doesn’t have to be complicated. It could include:
- watching or listening to porn
- nipple play
- clitoral stimulation
How long should you spend on foreplay? That’s hard to say. Foreplay itself can be a fun experience, for both you and your partner.
So, take your time and figure out what you like. Ten minutes is a good goal to aim for, but you might simply wait until your vagina is wet enough for penetration.
Use plenty of lube (whether solo or partnered)
Whether you get wet easily or not, lube is always a good idea. The lubrication makes penetration easier and less painful.
Keep some on hand and apply it around your vagina, as well as on fingers, sex toys, your partner’s penis, or whatever you’re planning on inserting.
Do some research before buying a lube that works for you.
Reconsider your position (whether solo or partnered)
If one sex position feels uncomfortable for you, change it up!
When it comes to penis-in-vagina sex, missionary position is often comfortable. This is where the person with the vagina lies on their back while the person with the penis lies facedown on top of them.
You can prop a pillow underneath your hips to make the position more comfortable and pleasurable for you and your partner.
If your partner is penetrating you with their fingers or a sex toy, try lying on your back with your legs spread slightly apart.
And “positions” aren’t just for sex with a partner. You should be just as mindful of the positions you use when you masturbate.
For example, if lying on your back feels uncomfortable, try squatting, standing, or kneeling on all fours.
Whether you’re having sex with a partner or masturbating on your own, experimentation is key. Try different positions until you find one you enjoy.
I Accidentally Broke My Hymen – Oh Well
By Marawa Ibrahim
When I was 15 years old, I realized that I had torn my hymen… two years earlier, at 13.
During those two years, I had been getting a grip on periods… or rather, experiencing the rites of passage many women have taken before me – making pads out of toilet paper, using tampons for the first time, going swimming with tampons for the first time, and tying jumpers around my waist when I had really leaked through my clothes (not the 5 million times I thought I was leaking through my clothes only to discover a truly minute drop of blood in my knickers).
I decided that pads felt gross. That period pain was the WORST. That the euphoric feeling of renewed life once my bleeding was over was GREAT – but I debated in my head if it was really worth the pain and suffering prior – and that maybe that’s why I felt so relieved when it was all done.
I had always been into sports, climbing trees as soon as I realized I could, and roller-skating at the age of two. When I was 15 and debating hardships overcome by young women, one of the discussions was around why girls of some religions were not allowed to partake in sports. In fact, they were discouraged and actually prevented from exercising in general. As a sporty kid, this infuriated me – I was OUTRAGED!
WHY would you prevent girls from doing sports?! Men and women need to exercise! It’s an important part of life! Then someone at school told me: “Well, it’s to protect their hymen – if girls run around too much they can tear their hymen without even having sex – and then they are not considered to be virgins anymore – no blood on the wedding night sheets means you ain’t a virgin.”
This was news to me. I don’t know what it says about my education, but my understanding about bleeding on the sheets had always been that it was to do with when a woman was married, she had the joys of being torn open on her wedding night to look forward to.
What was this new hymen theory? I had never even heard of a hymen before – I did some very pre-internet research: sealed sections of teenage magazines, my mums medical books. But there was very little to be found. What I did find got me this far– there is a bit of stretchy holey tissue just inside the vagina that can’t always handle a penis and so it needs to stretch and usually tear to make it work – resulting in some blood loss.
THIS HORRIFIED ME. Another injustice against women – to get to the pleasure first we had to go through some serious pain in the most sensitive place?!
Then I remembered the discussion about women not being allowed to do sports – the various activities that could bring on ‘losing your virginity’ to a gymnastics class, dance class, horse-riding adventure instead of your future husband.
Somewhere in there, I suddenly had a very clear flashback.
I was 13 years old in a gymnastics class. I was wearing a navy blue leotard. I had been practicing split leaps over and over again, trying to get them high as a gazelle, leaping through the air. I was hot and sweaty and full of adrenaline.
I lined up for another split leap – I told myself this was going to be the best one, the highest, with my legs reaching above and beyond 180 degrees, which is what every young rhythmic gymnast wanted. So I took off down the length of mat, I aimed high, and I used every single interconnected fibre and muscle of my body to send myself flying through the air as I kicked my legs out in opposite directions, willing them as far away from each other as I could.
At this moment – at the peak of my jump – I was suddenly pierced by a sharp, gasp-inducing pain from my core. I came crashing back down and when I looked up, I saw stars. Confused, I walked around a bit trying to work out if I had hurt myself, and then I realized that my pants felt wet – UGGGGGGHHHH.
I had only been getting my periods for around a year, but I just seemed to always have disasters. Furious, I went to the bathroom where my worst fears were confirmed. I was bleeding, and aside from my knickers and a little piece of lycra, there was NOTHING to protect me. I was so mad. I was having such a good training session and this new “being a woman” thing was really getting in the way – and the searing pain had really put me off pushing myself.
I found my tracksuit pants and spent the rest of the training session doing things half-assed and being miserable about all these new responsibilities. How was I going to be able to trust my body again when suddenly it was doing things without consulting me first?
The next day there was no more blood. Even the night before, there was no more blood. With a new distrust of my body, I still wore a pad for a day or two, but there was nothing, so I chalked it up to the mystery of this whole new system that had taken over my life. Some spotting here, some cramping there… it took years for me to feel like I could safely leave the house in white pants without fearing a potential accident.
Two years later, there I was researching stories of girls that tore their hymens riding a horse, kicking a football, and I realized I hadn’t got my period at all that day – I was literally tearing myself a new one – via the most extreme and beautiful split leap I had ever managed to get off the ground.
I started to think of my hymen in a new way, I started to think that it was the glass roof, the cotton wool, the last piece of childhood that now torn, I could now be free to push myself further – make those split leaps higher! Move faster! JUMP JUMP JUMP!
Now that I knew what had happened, I felt free! I felt strong again. But the more I read on the subject, the more FURIOUS I became. Stories of girls being forced into having hymen reconstruction surgery! Or blood capsules you can shove up your vag before sex to give the illusion of a torn hymen. I thought about how many young girls didn’t get to play sports because of these expectations. I thought about how many virgins were thrown out after their wedding night for appearing to not be virgins. Imagine having sex with someone for the first time, only to be accused of being a fraud.
Like so many things related to ~lady parts~, hymens are another mystery surrounded by so much misinformation. They are even less measurable than ‘the first time I got my period,” as so many girls and women don’t know whether they tore it or if it just stretched, if it was during sex or not… So, this is my story!
Feel free to use it as a way to start this conversation with a friend! You never know what you might learn and it is so important to actually talk about – the truth is so much more important than the myth!
People around the world still believe that hymens are tied to chastity but clearly that’s not the case. Did you grow up with any misconceptions surrounding women’s health that you now know to be false? Share them with us in the comments!
Marawa Ibrahim holds the world record for 200 hoops at once, and 12 world records in total. She has performed everywhere from North Korea, Somalia, Russia, Paris and beyond. She came 3rd on Arab’s Got Talent, and was a semi-finalist on BGT & AGT. In New York, she played Josephine Baker for 6 months to rave reviews. Marawa also is the proud owner of 4 pairs of high heeled roller skates. Her book The Girl Guide is out with Harper Collins now!
Illustrations of the hymen in various states
This shows the names of the parts of the vulva. The rest of the illustrations do not have labels.
This is a perfect annular hymen. It is called annular because the hymen forms a ring around the vaginal opening. As the hymen starts to erode from sexual or other activity, the hymen becomes less ring-like.
This is a crescentic, or lunar, hymen. It forms a crescent shape, like a half moon, above or (as in this case) below the vaginal opening.
The hymen of a female with some sexual or masturbatory (internal) experience is apt to look something like this. Note that it is much less ring-like than the annular hymen.
This is what the hymen of a female who has only had a small amount of sexual activity or object insertion would look like. Health professionals who examine hymens for signs of sexual abuse are usually most interested in the posterior part of the hymen, from the 3 o’clock to 9 o’clock position. This is normally where the hymen breaks when the vagina is first penetrated.
This is the vulva of a woman who has given birth. The hymen is completely gone, or nearly so.
One in 2000 girls is born with an imperforate hymen. A doctor will do surgery to create a hole in the hymen of such a newborn.
This is a rare cribriform hymen, characterized by many small holes. This type of hymen lets menstrual and other fluids out with no problem, but sexual activity and the insertion of tampons can be problematic.
This is a rare denticular hymen, so called because it looks like a set of teeth surrounding the vaginal opening.
This is a rare fimbriated hymen, with an irregular pattern around the vaginal opening.
This rare labial hymen looks like a third set of vulvar lips.
Some girls are born with only a tiny hole in their hymens. Surgery is also necessary for these newborns to create a larger vaginal opening.
This rarity is called a septate hymen because of the piece of hymen that makes a septum, or bridge, across the vaginal opening.
This is the rare subseptate hymen, similar to the septate hymen only not making a bridge all the way across. Doesn’t this remind you of the view into your throat with the uvula hanging down?
To learn more about hymens and how the medical community advises to examine them for signs of sexual abuse, see
HealthyStrokes.com is not designed to provide medical advice and does not provide medical advice. All material is for information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional or medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment. Please review the information contained on HealthyStrokes.com carefully and confer with your doctor, psychologist, or other health care professional as needed. Copyright © 2002-2017 by HealthyStrokes.com.
Hymen: a thin membrane that surrounds the opening to the vagina. Hymens can come in different shapes. The most common hymen in young women is shaped like a half moon. This shape allows menstrual blood to flow out of the vagina.
Imperforate hymen: An imperforate hymen can sometimes be diagnosed at birth. More often, the diagnosis is made during the teen years. An imperforate hymen is a thin membrane that completely covers the opening to the vagina. Menstrual blood cannot flow out of the vagina. This usually causes the blood to back up into the vagina which often develops into a vaginal mass and abdominal and/or back pain. Some girls may also have pain with bowel movements and trouble passing urine.
The treatment for an imperforate hymen is minor surgery to remove the extra hymenal tissue and create a normal sized vaginal opening so that menstrual blood can flow out of the vagina.
Microperforate hymen: A microperforate hymen is a thin membrane that almost completely covers the opening to the vagina. Menstrual blood is usually able to flow out of the vagina but the opening is very small. A young woman with a microperforate hymen usually will not be able to insert a tampon into her vagina and may not realize that she has a very tiny opening. If she is able to place a tampon into her vagina, she may not be able to remove it when it becomes filled with blood. The treatment is minor surgery to remove the extra hymenal tissue making a normal sized opening for menstrual blood to flow out, and to allow for use of a tampon.
Septate hymen: A septate hymen is when the thin hymenal membrane has a band of extra tissue in the middle that causes two small vaginal openings instead of one. Young women with a septate hymen may have trouble getting a tampon in or trouble getting a tampon out. The treatment for a septate hymen is minor surgery to remove the extra band of tissue and create a normal sized vaginal opening.
Different types of hymens
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Popping your cherry
Ever heard the phrase “popping your cherry”? It’s slang for losing your virginity and refers to the tearing (stretching open) or “popping” of the hymen during vaginal sex (penis-in-vagina intercourse).
Covering the opening of the vagina, the hymen is a thin layer of skin that can be torn or stretched open with penetration. Found about half an inch inside the vagina, the hymen has tiny holes and a small opening in the centre that allows for menstrual flow.
Sometimes the tearing of the hymen can be uncomfortable and cause bleeding. But other times, you might not even notice when it happens
Can my hymen be torn without losing my virginity?
It’s important to remember that the hymen may not be intact before vaginal sex. Some girls don’t even have a hymen.
The hymen’s natural holes stretch open with time and activity. Masturbation, using tampons, and even rigorous activity like horse riding, dancing, riding a bike, and other sports may stretch the hymen before vaginal sex and can cause rupture or tearing.
So yes – the hymen can definitely be torn without losing your virginity.
Can my hymen grow back?
Nope. Whether the hymen is torn or stretched out through first vaginal sex or another activity, once the hymen is torn it can’t grow back.
Does a torn hymen mean I’ve lost my virginity?
The definition of virginity is complicated. Many people define virginity as never having penis-in-vagina sex, so a torn hymen through masturbation, the use of a tampon, sex toys, or any other activity does not equal a loss of virginity.
However, this definition is very limiting because it excludes lots of people. Some LGBTQ people may never have penis-in-vagina sex, but don’t think of themselves as virgins. And some people who have had other types of sex, like oral or anal sex, also don’t think of themselves as virgins.
How To Know If You Popped Your Cherry AKA Your Hymen Is Broken
There are a few indicators.
Phrases like “popping a cherry” are pretty common, yet in the medical field, a broken hymen is the phrase more commonly used. But not everyone knows, that while usually associated with having sex for the first time, what a “cherry” actually is.
The “cherry” is a woman’s hymen, and it’s called that because when it tears, it will often bleed. So, red will result after it’s “popped.” According to board-certified plastic surgeon, Dr. Joshua Zuckerman, MD, FACS, “The hymen is a thin, relatively flimsy membrane located inside the vaginal introitus (opening).”
Whether it’s your first time having sex, you’ve noticed bleeding not from your period, or you’re just genuinely curious, there are a few things that can cause a broken hymen.
Tearing a hymen is most often associated with loss of virginity. But it’s best not to think of the hymen as an object which breaks, but rather, as living tissue which can be damaged or torn.
“If you have sexual intercourse for the first time and have bleeding, the blood is coming from the hymen and you know it has torn somewhat,” says Felice Gersh, M.D., an award-winning OB/GYN.
Sex isn’t the only way to tear a hymen. In fact, it’s one of many, because the hymen is pretty fragile. “It is theoretically possible for a woman to reach up and actually feel the hymen, although it would be difficult, and one would risk breaking the hymen through that action,” says Dr. Zuckerman.
Strenuous physical activity also has a way of tearing your hymen, and you probably didn’t even know it happened. “Breakage can occur outside of intercourse during athletic activity, for example,” warns Dr. Zuckerman. One strong liklihood? Horseback riding.
But if you don’t have a broken hymen from touching it, sex, or athletics, sometimes you may not even know how you tore it. According to Dr. Zuckerman, “It takes relatively little to rupture the hymen, and while there is evidence that it can heal itself in young women from minor trauma, often women don’t realize that it has broken.”
So, what happens when it breaks? You’ll likely see a little bit of blood. And because any blood can also be mistaken for menstruation, if you see bleeding when you aren’t on your period, that’s another possible reason.
Though you can repair a broken hymen, most of us probably wouldn’t want to, as it requires surgery. “There aren’t really external manifestations of a broken hymen after the initial event. I have had some interest from prospective patients for a ‘hymenoplasty’ to repair the hymen surgically for cultural reasons,” Dr. Zuckerman warns.
Aly Walansky is a NY-based lifestyles writer. Her work appears in dozens of digital and print publications regularly. Visit her on Twitter or email her at [email protected]