I never understood the idea of women having to be virgins until marriage and men having all of the sexual experience by the time they get married. If that were true, who are they having sex with? (In a heteronormative, joke way). The idea of virginity and how it is played out always amazed me growing up. There is a whole bible story dedicated to it. So, why was it so important? Why are men allowed to explore their sexual desires and are praised for the amount of people they “hook up” with, while women are supposed to repress their sexual desires to be “pure” until marriage? Putting aside the misogynistic elements, we fail to realize there’s a difference between being sexually active and having an “intact” hymen.
Let us all get the sex education we lacked in school, starting with the four types of hymens. A hymen is a thin layer of skin-like material that comes in all different shapes and sizes that covers the vaginal opening.
Hymens come in a myriad of shapes and sizes. The most common hymen is shaped like a half moon, which allows menstrual blood to pass through.
An imperforate hymen is usually diagnosed at birth and is where the whole vagina opening is covered. Since it is completely covered, there is no access for blood to flow and it can cause pain. There is usually a medical procedure that happens in order to remove the excess tissue.
A microperforate hymen is when the vaginal opening is almost completely covered except for a small opening. So you may be able to put in a tampon, but you would not be able to take it out. There is also a medical procedure to remove the excess tissue for this type of hymen as well.
The septate hymen is where tissue in the middle causes two openings (one opening split in half). You may have a hard time getting a tampon in and out, but the procedure cuts the thin layer in the middle which would restore access.
The key word in all these types of hymen is THIN, meaning the hymen can tear at any given moment. Ever been on a bike? Swimming? Any intense physical activity can cause your hymen to tear. So, the idea that having sex will tear your hymen for the first time is unlikely; doing everyday activities can cause tears at any time.
Sex education starts with us. I had a complete misconception about what the “first time” would be like. I had to use movies as my only guide. I assumed there would be blood, pain, and a womanly glow after having sex for the first time, because that’s what I was conditioned to believe. I even believed cultural myths that family members would be able to tell by just looking at me.
In Mexican culture, having dimples on the backs of your knees is viewed as loss of virginity. Asking about sex was often dismissed with “wait until marriage.” I was taught that abstinence was the best choice for pregnancy prevention. It is dangerous that most people get their sexual education from movies, pornography, or friends, as it could be misinformation. As a woman, I should feel honored and should look forward to wearing white at my wedding, and be “pure” for my husband. To that I say, will my husband also wear white and be pure for me? If not, then why should I be?
For those who also had the same misconceptions I did, I say spread the word to the next generation. Let us discuss safe sex and not abstinence. Let us debunk the myth that you should bleed your first time, feel pain, and instead teach that tearing your hymen can happen at any moment in your life and it’s natural. Youth should know that there is a difference between virginity, tearing your hymen, and having sex for the first time.
Virginity: An outdated social construct that was meant to repress women to not experience sex and pleasure in order to stay “pure” for their husbands.
Hymen: A thin membrane that covers your vaginal opening which can be torn at any moment in life.
First sexual experience: Open for interpretation; sex can be anything, not just penetration.
Having these new and improved definitions can allow for anyone to have an open conversation with their doctor, speak openly with their partner(s) of the expectations of sex, and have a mutual understanding of boundaries and consent. We just need to create a space where we can finally talk about this and not have to feel ashamed. We can break the cycle and start by educating ourselves on our bodies.
Diana Franco-Galindo (MSW, LCSWA) was born in a blended Mexican-Guatemalan household straddling three cultures. She is an aspiring mental health clinician focusing on de-stigmatizing mental health and wants to bring awareness to issues surrounding substance misuse, and domestic violence.