If you’ve never been to a gynecologist, you may have a lot of unanswered questions about your reproductive health. But, as with a lot of taboo subjects, you may feel like you don’t know who to ask for answers. One of the topics that tend to cause confusion among teenagers and younger women is their hymen. What, exactly, is it? What is it for? Does it hurt when it breaks? And, how can you tell if it’s already been broken?
What is a hymen?
The hymen is a thin membrane that partially covers the opening of the vagina. It’s located about one or two centimeters inside the opening to the vaginal canal and varies in size, thickness, and elasticity. Some are crescent-shaped, while others are shaped like a ring. In some women, there are several bands of tissue extending from one side of the vagina to the other. It never covers the entire opening of the vagina — which allows for menstruation. It has no known biological function — and some women don’t have one.
What is an imperforate hymen?
An imperforate hymen is a term used to reference a hymen without an opening. It occurs in 1-2% of girls born. In some cases, babies with the condition develop a noticeable bulge in the membrane. However, most instances of imperforate hymens are discovered when a girl first gets her period. Symptoms include back pain and a feeling of fullness in the lower abdomen as it blocks the girl’s first menstrual flow. When this occurs, a doctor will conduct a visual examination of the girl’s vulva to confirm the diagnosis. It is corrected by undergoing surgery to remove the excess tissue. This type of surgery is generally performed after puberty. This is because the presence of estrogen promotes easier healing of the vaginal opening.
Some girls have a partially imperforate hymen — which means the opening is significantly smaller. When this occurs, girls may experience pain or have difficulties inserting and removing tampons. Neither condition is associated with abnormalities in other organs of the reproductive system.
Does it hurt when your hymen breaks?
There’s a commonly believed myth that the hymen only breaks the first time a female has penetrative sex. However, the membrane can wear down over time — and it can also break from exercise (such as riding a bicycle, doing gymnastics, or playing sports), masturbation, or from inserting a tampon. And, in many instances, a female won’t even feel it rupturing.
How do you know if your hymen is broken?
You likely won’t know if your hymen has broken. Even if you notice discomfort or a small amount of blood after your first sexual intercourse experience, it could be due to different reasons — such as a lack of foreplay, lubrication, fast penetration, or being tensed up about it being your first time having sex. In fact, the membrane that makes up the hymen doesn’t have enough blood in it to cause a noticeable stain. In some instances, the hymen can simply stretch out during penetrative sex, but remain otherwise intact. If the pain, blood, or discomfort continues past your first experience, schedule an appointment with an OB-GYN to find out whether an underlying medical condition is causing it.
If You Have Any Questions About Your Reproductive Health, OB-GYN Women’s Center Can Help
At OB-GYN Women’s Center, we aim to make all of our patients feel comfortable. And getting answers to all your questions is the first step in getting the treatment you need.
Contact us to schedule an appointment.