The hymen is a thin piece of mucosal tissue that surrounds or partially covers the external vaginal opening. It forms part of the vulva , or external genitalia , and is similar in structure to the vagina. In children, a common appearance of the hymen is crescent -shaped, although many shapes are possible. During puberty , estrogen causes the hymen to change in appearance and become very elastic. The hymen can rip or tear during first penetrative intercourse , which usually results in pain and, sometimes, mild temporary bleeding or spotting. Sources differ on how common tearing or bleeding after first intercourse are.
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The concept of " virginity " for people with vaginas has a complicated history, and has often been incorrectly linked to breaking the hymen. Bleeding after sexual intercourse was incorrectly thought to be proof of an unbroken hymen, and thus, proof that a person had not had sex before. The reality, however, is that the state of your hymen has nothing to do with sexual activity. With the help of Dr. Jessica Shepherd , a board-certified ob-gyn and a spokesperson for Paragard, and Alexandra Eisler , a health and sex educator from Healthy Teen Network, we're going to separate fact from fiction and explain what a hymen is, how a hymen breaks, and its complicated relationship with the historical concept of virginity. Read on for 9 facts you need to know about this tiny tissue. But first, let's get our definitions clear:. The hymen is just a portion of the vaginal canal that really doesn't serve a purpose.
Author: Jonathan Schaffir, MD. One commonly misunderstood part of female anatomy is the hymen. Many people might be surprised to learn that the hymen has no proven medical or physiological purpose. That situation is rare, and it can interfere sex or tampon usage, but it can be removed surgically. Though there are many instances where women do experience a small amount of bleeding from hymenal tearing at first intercourse, this is by no means a universal experience, as there are many women who have very little tissue there in the first place. Another common myth is that the hymen is rigid and penetrable. The tissue is actually stretchy and flexible, which means it does not necessarily tear with penetration. In many cases, some tearing or stretching occurs over time from tampons, gynecological exams or vigorous exercise.
Clinicians, however, continue to refer to changes in the hymen to assess for a history of consensual or nonconsensual sexual intercourse. We reviewed published evidence to dispel commonly held myths about the hymen and its morphology, function, and use as evidence in cases of sexual violence. An examination of the hymen is not an accurate or reliable test of a previous history of sexual activity, including sexual assault. We call on clinicians to consider the low predictive value of a hymen examination and to: 1 avoid relying solely on the status of the hymen in sexual assault examinations and reporting; 2 help raise awareness of this issue among their peers and counterparts in law enforcement and the judicial system; and 3 promote fact-based discussions about the limitations of hymenal examinations as part of clinical education for all specialties that address the sexual or reproductive health of women and girls. The online version of this article In some settings, clinicians who evaluate women and girls suspected of being victims of sexual assault, or suspected of having engaged in intercourse with or without consent , rely on an examination of the hymen for their assessments. The hymen is a small membranous tissue outside of the vaginal canal that has no known biological function. We reviewed published studies about the hymen to help guide clinicians in evaluating whether or not a hymen examination would be a valuable practice. We concluded that an examination of the hymen is not an accurate or reliable test of sexual activity, including sexual assault, except in very specific situations. We recommend that clinicians take into consideration that a hymen examination does not generally offer a high degree of certainty about sexual activity, with or without consent.