4- Types of Hymens


4- Types of Hymens

female gender symbol

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

Vaginal area

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

Does a broken hymen mean someone is not a virgin?

Everyone born with a vagina has a hymen, a collar of tissue at the entrance to your vagina. Just as all bodies are different, hymens are also different. Looking at a hymen does not tell you anything about virginity

Key points

There is a lot of misinformation about the hymen and how it relates to virginity

We are not sure of the exact biological role of the hymen

Hymens are not commonly damaged by sexual activity or sports

Hymens change throughout life in response to hormone levels (primarily oestrogens)

Virginity is not a physical thing, but a quality that you can choose to share with someone – it cannot be taken away or lost

It is common not to bleed the first time you have sex – bleeding (or not) doesn’t say anything about virginity

Hymens through history

Throughout history, patriarchal cultures have used the sexual history of girls and women to determine their status and value, as well as the status of their families and communities

It is wrongly assumed that by looking at the hymen you can prove whether a woman is a virgin. Although this ‘virginity-testing’ has been condemned as a violation of human rights, it still continues in many parts of the world today and can be a controversial issue across different cultures and religions

?What is a normal hymen

The hymen is a stretchy collar of tissue at the entrance to your vagina. It is protected by your labia. It can be compared to a scrunchie (hair tie) – with bunched-up tissue that expands when stretched (eg, during sex or using tampons) then returns to its bunched-up shape afterwards

Hymens come in many different shapes and sizes. They may have a ring shape, half-moon shape or squiggly edges with notches – all of these are normal. The size of the opening in your hymen also varies in size and shape

Image credit: Nationwide Children’s Hospital

?What is an imperforate hymen

Imperforate hymen is a medical condition where there is no opening (or a very small one) in your hymen. This becomes a problem with menstruation (periods) as blood cannot come out, causing pain. It may also cause problems with passing urine (peeing) or bowel motions (pooing)

You may also have difficulty with inserting tampons or having sex. This is an uncommon problem (around 1 in every 2000 girls) and requires surgery under anaesthetic to give the hymen an opening to allow blood to flow

?How does the hymen change

Your hymen changes throughout your life

Before puberty, your hymen is thin and may be sensitive

During puberty, increased hormones (oestrogen) cause your hymen and other vaginal tissues to become thicker and stretchier

During pregnancy, increased hormones cause your vaginal tissues to become even stretchier to allow for childbirth

Childbirth may also change the shape of your hymen and your vaginal tissues

With menopause and aging, your hymen and other vaginal tissues become thinner again (as oestrogen decreases)

What is virginity

Virginity is a quality that we all have – it is not a physical thing. It is your choice to share your virginity and experience sexual intimacy with another person – without pressure or impairment (eg, from drugs or alcohol). It cannot be lost or taken by someone else. This is really important to understand, because you are in charge of your body and of your sexuality

Can you tell if someone is a virgin based on whether they bleed when they have sex 

You cannot tell if someone is a virgin or not based on whether they bleed the first time they have sex. About half of women bleed when they first have sex, and half of women don’t bleed. Both are completely normal

Bleeding may come from small splits in your hymen or your vagina itself. The bleeding should be lighter than a period and shouldn’t last for more than a couple of days as these tears heal quickly because there is a good blood supply

Some hymens are stretchier than others and will never split or bleed. It is impossible to tell by looking at a hymen whether you have had sexual intercourse or not

Other factors such as vaginal dryness, not being aroused (turned on), skin conditions (infection or inflammation) and rough sexual contact can also cause bleeding

Quick facts about hymens

Your hymen does not completely cover your vaginal opening – a hole is normal

When you have sex, your hymen does not ‘break or pop’ – it stretches, which may cause a small tear

You cannot tell by looking at a hymen whether sex has occurred (consensual or non-consensual)

The size of the opening in your hymen is irrelevant, unless it is so small and causes blood flow obstruction and pain (then you need to see a doctor)

Using tampons, bike-riding, doing gymnastics and horse riding are very unlikely to damage your hymen

Straddle injuries (falling onto a solid object with your legs open) may cause damage to your hymen and other tissues – see your doctor if this happens

Hymen: What It Is and How It Changes Throughout Your Life

The hymen is a fold of skin or membrane with no biological function. Lots of people have questions about it. We’ve got the answers to all of your questions about what a hymen is, where it’s located, and what it looks like

What is a hymen

The hymen is a thin and stretchy layer of tissue located below the opening of the vagina. The word “hymen” comes from the Greek word for “membrane.” Not every girl is born with a hymen, and the shape and size are always slightly different and typically change over time. The hymen may partially cover the opening of your vagina, or in rare cases, it may entirely block the opening, which may require surgery

Although the hymen has no known biological purpose, there are many myths and incorrect beliefs about what it means if your hymen covers your vaginal opening. Some cultures believe that your hymen determines if you’ve had sex before, but that’s not true. Let’s look at the hymen in more detail to understand its anatomy and forms

Where is the hymen

There are many parts of the vagina, including the hymen. The vulva is shaped like an oval, pointing to the front and back of the pelvis. The top end of your vulva points toward your public bone, and the bottom end points toward your anus. Your hymen is located toward the bottom side of the opening of your vagina. The hymen can also be called a hymenal ring if it encircles the outer walls of the vaginal opening

Hymens can have many shapes and forms. If the hymen is intact, it may look like a thin disc covering the opening of the vagina or a doughnut-shaped ring around the vagina (hymenal ring). If the hymen isn’t fully covering the vaginal opening, it may look like a crescent or half-moon. Some hymens have small perforations or multiple openings. The hymen might also have skin tags (called hymenal tags), ridges, or notches called hymenal caruncles

The hymen is mostly made up of elastic-like tissue that can move and stretch as the skin around the vagina moves. The section of the hymen that’s attached to the vulva is slightly thicker or denser than the flap or fold of membrane that moves freely from the surface of the skin. The free-moving section of the membrane doesn’t contain any nerve fibers, muscles, or blood cells, so it’s unlikely to bleed or hurt very much even if it’s torn

Hymen changes over time

Just as hymens come in many shapes and sizes, their appearance and thickness can also change as we get older, typically as a result of puberty, pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause. The hymen can also rupture from vigorous activities, using tampons, or with sexual intercourse. However, a ruptured hymen won’t always cause pain or bleeding

Here are some of the ways your hymen can change shape.Take a quizFind out what you can do with our

When you are born

When babies are in utero, the vagina develops as a solid tube. As the fetus develops, the inner part of the vaginal tube dissolves and becomes hollow. When the vaginal opening extends, the remnants of the tube’s membranes protrude out the bottom and form the hymen

The hymen of a newborn baby is quite thick and can rupture naturally within the first few days of birth. Because of hormones during pregnancy, the hymen remains thick and may protrude for the first two to four years of a child’s life. By age four, the hymen usually becomes thinner and smoother

The hymen can take several possible shapes at birth

A cribriform hymen is a hymen that is perforated with many small holes. This hymen anomaly can be corrected with minor surgery

An imperforate hymen is a hymen that completely covers the vaginal opening. Imperforate hymens aren’t very common, affecting between 1 in 1,000 or 1 in 10,000 girls. Imperforate hymens can block the flow of vaginal discharge and menstrual blood. Once detected, a doctor may recommend minor surgery to allow the vagina to function normally

A microperforate hymen is like an imperforate hymen but with a small hole in it. The hole might allow for normal vaginal discharge, but it may cause longer periods because blood isn’t exiting the vagina at a normal rate. It might be painful or impossible to insert a tampon if you have a microperforate hymen because it can’t fit through the small hole. A microperforate hymen may resolve on its own, or a doctor might recommend minor surgery to correct it

Septate hymens have extra tissue that runs vertically or horizontally across the normal area of the hymen, like a string connecting two sides of the vagina. This shape of hymen is likely to tear during sex, which can cause some pain, light bleeding, or discomfort

Hymen abnormalities don’t cause any long-term health effects, but they can cause some discomfort, pelvic pain, or bleeding, especially if you’re menstruating or trying to have sex. Typically, doctors will examine a baby’s hymen when they’re born and make any medical recommendations to correct any issues. As you get older, if the shape of your hymen prevents normal menstruation, your doctor may recommend a minor surgical procedure called a hymenectomy to remove excess tissue. Once corrected, the vagina will function normally

As long as your hymen isn’t causing physical pain or preventing you from menstruating or using tampons, there’s no need to change the shape of your hymen

Virginity loss

There is a myth that a broken or torn hymen means that a woman has lost her virginity. This myth may have roots in the meaning of the word itself. “Hymenaios” is the name of the Greek god of marriage, and some cultures believe a woman shouldn’t have sex until she’s married

Some of these cultures believe it’s possible to detect whether someone has had sex by checking to see if their hymen is intact or if they bleed when they consummate their marriage. There is no evidence that sexual intercourse changes the hymen. It’s also true that not everyone will bleed the first time they have sex. Some hymens are more elastic than others, so having sex for the first time might not rupture it

As you go through puberty and become an adolescent, your hymen becomes larger and more elastic. It’s unlikely that your hymen would change permanently with sexual intercourse or penetration by a small item like a tampon or a finger. However, you can potentially break the hymen. When a hymen does break, it doesn’t usually cause pain, and it won’t always bleed

Vaginal birth

The hymen can change shape during pregnancy and vaginal childbirth. During pregnancy, the hymen becomes thick as it fills with glycogen. During vaginal childbirth, the hymenal tissue can sometimes tear, either by stretching to allow for the head of the baby to pass through or with an episiotomy (when the doctor manually cuts the tissue for a larger opening for the baby)

After childbirth, the hymen may develop hymenal caruncles, which are ridges, extra skin, or small growths. Women with existing hymenal tags might find that their tags disappear after a vaginal delivery

What are the different types of hymens

“Shortly after you’re born, the hymen will create an opening, which allows for your period blood to leave your body later in life,” Dr. Gosine says. But sometimes this hole doesn’t form properly (or at all), and when that happens, you may have one of the following types of hymens

An imperforate hymen completely covers your vagina and has no opening at all3. Dr. Gosine explains this is most often discovered when someone with a vagina reaches puberty and does not get their period. If you have an imperforate hymen and start menstruating, the blood can back up in your vagina because it has nowhere to go. As a result, you could have back or stomach pain and a “full” feeling in your lower abdomen. There is no “right age” to menstruate, but if someone hasn’t yet and they’re older than 154, then it might be worth getting a physical exam at a gynecologist’s office to evaluate things further

microperforate hymen covers almost your entire vagina with one small opening. Most likely you’ll menstruate and won’t know that the opening is small until you have trouble inserting a tampon or having penetrative vaginal sexual activity, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists5 (ACOG)

cribriform hymen has multiple small openings rather than one larger hole. In this case, your blood might flow slowly when you menstruate and you might have trouble inserting things like a tampon in your vagina, depending on the size of the openings

septate hymen has two small openings that are connected by skin tissue2, which can make it hard to insert a tampon or other objects. Depending on the size of the holes, you may be able to insert a tampon, but have trouble with penetrative vaginal sex or masturbation

If you have a hard time using a tampon or notice fluctuations in your period blood flow, be sure to check in with a gynecological provider for an accurate diagnosis if you have access to one, as there are health conditions that can cause similar symptoms, according to ACOG

For example, someone with a transverse vaginal septum, meaning they’re born with a wall of tissue that separates parts of the vagina6, might not menstruate or have a hard time inserting a tampon. A minor surgery called a hymenectomy can remove the excess tissue if necessary and relieve symptoms. Afterward, you can expect to have totally normal vaginal function. Alternatively, you can talk to your doctor about whether using a vaginal dilator, which is a cylinder that is generally used to stretch the vagina (along with plenty of lube!), may help stretch your hymen.

Okay, so what causes hymen “breakage

Let’s start by explaining that the hymen doesn’t really “break.” Hymen tissue is membrane-like and flexible, meaning it stretches and eventually tears. Further, your hymen can’t grow back or somehow “break” twice

In the case of penetrative vaginal sex, your hymen stretches and generally tears, leading to potential bleeding for some people, Dr. White says. But each person’s experience is different in terms of when their hymen tears and if they feel physical symptoms like pain, he explains. You’re more likely to experience an obvious tear if your hymen is thicker or more rigid and less stretchy

But there are so many other things that can cause a hymen to tear. Many people’s hymens get worn down and thin out over time from participating in physical activities like biking, horseback riding, gymnastics, and even masturbating, Dr. Rosser notes. The thinner your hymen gets, the more likely it is to eventually tear. Heck, gynecologic exams (such as a Pap smear) can also tear your hymen, says Dr. White

Tampons can also stretch out your hymen, so the tissue can tear after numerous uses or even just one insertion, Dr. White says. If you use tampons regularly, it’s unlikely your hymen is still intact, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them. If you are a virgin, and your hymen tears because of a tampon, that doesn’t somehow “cancel” out your virginity, if that’s something that’s really important to you

One of the most common misconceptions is that an intact hymen confirms a person’s virginity2. “There is no way to tell if someone has had sex by looking at their hymen,” Dr. Gosine says. “Hymens come in all shapes and sizes and you cannot tell if what you see is just normal for them

The hymen doesn’t always break during penetrative vaginal sex, either. Think of your hymen stretching in the same way a condom stretches to accommodate different sizes. “Some women have hymenal tissue and some do not regardless of whether they have had penetrative sex, used a tampon, or used a sex toy,” Dr. Gosine says

Does it hurt when your hymen “breaks

This ultimately depends on your unique hymen structure (again, if you have one) and your personal pain tolerance. Some people may feel soreness or pain when their hymen tears, while others may not even notice. If you’re trying to have penetrative sex for the first time but the pain is unbearable, try to press pause and schedule a visit with your doctor to make sure you don’t have an underlying health issue at play.Most Popular

That said, a person can experience vaginal pain during or after sex for a number of reasons, Dr. Gosine says. Experiencing soreness, discomfort, or pain after sex is unfortunately fairly common for people with vaginas, and there are a handful of factors that can contribute to it

Bleeding a little bit during the first time you have sex isn’t a big deal. Sometimes, you can get vaginal tears during sex, especially if you don’t have enough lubrication, which can lead to bleeding from the vaginal wall, explains Dr. Rosser. If the bleeding happens frequently or persists after sexy time is over, it’s worth seeing your gynecological provider if you have one to make sure there’s nothing more serious going on, such as conditions like endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, or a sexually transmitted infection

Bottom line: Don’t fuss so much over your hymen.

One more time for the people in the back: The hymen does not equate to virginity! That’s just one myth about sex. And in most cases, your hymen doesn’t really impact your life (unless it hasn’t developed normally). A greater understanding of the hymen is clearly lacking in the context of cultural expectations, which speaks to a larger issue about the importance of knowing our bodies, including the vaginal area, and being free to talk about them