1. The hymen is a membrane that covers the entry to the vagina.

This is the vulva of a woman who has given birth. The hymen is completely gone, or nearly so.

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This is a rare fimbriated hymen, with an irregular pattern around the vaginal opening.


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Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution


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While these truths about the hymen are well understood and even widely agreed upon in the anatomical and scientific literature, myths persist among the general public as well as many health care practitioners.

Even today, when regular medical exams are a matter of course in some countries, and when technology allows us to explore every inch of our bodies from the inside out, descriptions of the hymen vary, and often come with layers of culture meaning that we don't find in descriptions of other body parts. For example in 2014 the Oxford English Dictionary still refers to it as "the virginal membrane" despite it having no anatomical relationship to virginity.

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    It's variously described as a ring of tissue, a series of folds of tissue, and sometimes just a membrane (the word hymen comes from the Greek word for thin skin or membrane). It's thin, it's stretchy, and it can usually be found less than an inch inside the vaginal opening. One reason why there are different descriptions of what it looks like is that the hymen changes as we age.

    Everything about this description is inaccurate. The hymen is actually quite close to the vaginal opening. There is no medical, anatomical, or physiological relationship between the hymen and virginity. The hymen rarely completely covers the vagina (and when it does, that's a problem). Not all people with vaginas and hymens bleed the first time they have , and among those who do, the blood is thought to frequently come from other sources, not the hymen. In other words the hymen doesn't play much of a role even in first time intercourse and it's not a way of determining whether or not someone has had sex of any kind.