Culture //

Hymens are a girl’s best friend

Sarah Mourney examines the science of hymens.

Illustration by Laura Precup. Illustration by Laura Precup.
Illustration by Laura Precup.
Illustration by Laura Precup.

“Joan of Arc Red” is the largest selling fake hymen product in China. These small packets of virginifying proteins are designed to dissolve in vaginal secretions and then bleed at the point of penetration. Users are instructed to insert the prosthetic membrane into the vagina 5 minutes before sex, and to appear “shy” and “in pain” to convince your unsuspecting partner. If you’re keen, visit hymenshop.com.

Cultural myths around virginity fly in the face of scientific reality.

Here’s the truth: hymens don’t always break. Oestrogen released during puberty elasticises the hymen, so – if proper foreplay is carried out – the hymen should stretch, not tear. For many women, the hymen is only going to tear if your sexual partner thinks that penetration should be akin to scoring a touchdown and believes in friction to no end. Only in rare cases does the hymen fully cover the vaginal opening. This is called an “imperforate hymen”; women who have one need to undergo a minor surgery in order to be able to menstruate and fornicate.

Usually, the hymen is a small crescent shape which comes in many different sizes; sometimes it has holes, sometimes women don’t have one at all. It may tear during vigorous activities like sport and sex, and depending what study you look at, more than 40 per cent of women don’t bleed at all during their first intercourse. This means the idea of the hymen as some obstructive barrier (for the hetero-women out there, at least) to be slain and conquered by a gallant penis, is a weird cultural by-product from history.

Even if the hymen does tear, it doesn’t mean it is gone, per se. You still have your hymen for the rest of your life: it’s an elastic collar sitting at the entrance of your vagina that will stay stretchy as long as you’re having sex regularly. If you don’t have sex for a while, it may stop being so stretchy and you might have to go slow and stretch it out again. It is also possible for older, postmenopausal women who haven’t given birth vaginally and who don’t have penetrative sex frequently,
to have their hymen close up again.

The science behind hymens needs to be added to the discourse around virginity. As it stands, myths are being used as a tool to police female sexuality in horrific ways. In 2013 a Saudi Arabian cleric raped, tortured and killed his five-year-old daughter after a doctor’s report cast doubt on the child’s virginity.

Women and girls are killed each year when they don’t bleed on their wedding nights. Doctors around the world conduct ‘virginity tests’ looking for tissue that might never have existed.

Women are paying thousands of dollars for a hymenoplasty, which entails using the vaginal lining to create a false hymen. Les Blackstock, an Australian cosmetic surgeon, said on Insight, “I know that my hymens have passed inspection in Australia and overseas and not been detected”.

As long as people believe the hymen is a true marker of virginity, women will continue to suffer from shoddy practices, only fuelling sex negativity and double standards for women. $29.95 fake hymens are nowhere near the worst of it.

Vice Chancellor Michael Spence.

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