The hymen is a stretchy piece of tissue that surrounds the vaginal opening. Formed during the embryotic stage, many people still believe that the purpose of the hymen is to prove a female’s virginity or serve as an indicator of her sexual activity.

Keep reading, if you’d like to understand the truth behind that myth, and learn what the really hymen is, as well as its function.  

What Is a Hymen?

Contrary to what some believe, a hymen is not a thin membrane that covers the vaginal opening, but rather a ring or halfmoon-shapped piece of flexible tissue that partially covers the vaginal opening.

Studies have shown that the hymen is, in fact, a remnant (or remaining) piece of tissue that forms during fetal development in the womb. During this stage, the hymen is believed to serve as a defensive barrier that protects the developing vagina from germs.  

Although still present at birth, the shape, size, and thickness of a hymen will vary from woman to woman but they typically begin to thin over time. The difference in hymen shapes and sizes could explain why some women experience a little pain or spotting when the hymen tears, while other women notice nothing. 

How is The Hymen Formed? 

The hymen is created as part of the vagina during the development of a fetus in the womb. During this development, the vagina begins as a solid tube, which then softens and dissolves as the fetus grows. Once the vaginal opening develops, the tissue left over from the tube forms what we call the hymen.   

What is The Function of The Hymen?

The function of the hymen remains somewhat of a mystery to scientists. The theory that it served as a protective barrier against germs entering the vagina during embryonic development rings true for most medical experts. Post-birth, it is believed that the hymen could exist to prevent infants and young children from inserting anything harmful into their vaginas. For adult women, however, the hymen appears to serve no purpose at all. 

The Hymen and The Myth of Virginity

For many young vagina owners, an unruptured hymen resembles a donut or half-moon-shaped membrane that lies across the vaginal opening but does not fully cover the opening.

That said, hymens are inherently unique and can differ in appearance. Some are shaped like a crescent moon, others resemble a ring, some have more than one hole, and others have fringes of extra tissue.  

Therefore, the myth believed by certain cultures that an intact hymen can prove a woman’s purity is neither backed up by science nor medicine. For starters, an intact hymen could appear different from one female to the next.

Secondly, the hymen can break or tear without a female ever engaging in sexual intercourse. The simple exercise of bike riding or horse riding can cause the hymen to break in young females, for instance, as well as the insertion of a finger or tampon. 

Can Women Feel Their Hymen Break?

Some women can feel a little pain or experience light bleeding when their hymen ruptures, while others don’t notice any change at all. The pain associated with a torn hymen is not usually sharp or immediate and some women think the light bleeding is from to menstruation. 

Similar to the other muscular tissues in the body, the hymen is somewhat stretchy and pliable, so it does not rupture the first time it experiences pressure, but rather wears down and becomes thinner over time. 

Does The Hymen Break the First Time You Have Sex? 

Not necessarily. The first sexual encounter could result in the hymen tearing for some women, however, many hymens have already ruptured by the mid-teens due to everyday activities.

Besides Sex, What Causes the Hymen to Break?

As females grow from infants to teenagers, the hymen gradually thins and stretches over time until it finally tears. As explained earlier, sex is not the only cause of a ruptured hymen – bike riding, horse riding, and inserting a tampon can break the hymen too.  

And according to female health experts, the following activities can also cause the hymen to tear. 

  • Climbing on a jungle gym
  • Gymnastics
  • Having a gynecological exam
  • Having a pap smear
  • Inserting menstrual cups
  • Masturbation
  • Use of sex toys
  • Vigorous exercise 

Bear in mind that only some women will be aware of their hymen breaking. For most, the tissue has thinned so much by late puberty that the hymen ruptures without any pain. The bleeding that sometimes occurs when the hymen breaks is also nothing to be concerned about. Considering that the hymen is remnant tissue, it contains very few blood vessels, so bleeding is usually minimal. 

Conditions That Affect the Hymen

Ideally, the hymen is open, thereby allowing vaginal secretions and menstrual blood to flow out without restriction. At birth, for example, hymens are commonly annular and surround the vaginal opening in a ring or donut shape. With time, the tissue of an annular hymen gradually thins and changes to resemble more of a crescent or half-moon-shaped hymen. 

However, in rare cases, females are born with hymen variants that cover the vaginal canal, preventing penetration and/or prohibiting the exit of menstrual flow. 

The four common hymen variants include the following:

Imperforate Hymen

Although rare, an imperforate hymen is when the remnant tissue completely covers the vaginal opening. This type of hymen will not only prohibit menstrual flow and vaginal secretions from exiting the vagina, but it also prevents vaginal penetration. The condition is sometimes noticed at birth, but more often than not, it is diagnosed during puberty, when either a tampon is impossible to insert, or the patient feels pelvic pain due to a build-up of menstrual blood that cannot exit.  

Microperforate Hymen

A microperforate hymen is described as having only a small hole or opening in the hymen tissue. In this case, menstrual blood and vaginal secretions can exit through the small opening, but vaginal penetration with a tampon or penis would be severely painful, if not impossible. 

Cribiform Hymen

A cribiform hymen is diagnosed when several small holes are found in the hymen. Similar to a micoperforate hymen, vaginal secretions, and menstrual blood can exit, but the use of tampons or having vaginal intercourse would likely be impossible.  

Septate Hymen

When females are born with a septate hymen, it means that they have an extra piece of tissue down the center, resulting in two vaginal openings as opposed to one. Women with a septate hymen will experience menstruation flow as usual, however, inserting tampons is not normally possible, nor is vaginal sex.  

Can You Treat Hymen Variants? 

Yes. If you think you may have issues with your hymen, the first step is to schedule a consultation with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis. Hymen variants like imperforate, microperforate, septate, and cribiform hymens are normally treated with a procedure called a hymenectomy. 

During a hymenectomy, a gynecologist removes any surplus tissue from the hymen and ensures that the vaginal opening is a comfortable size for vaginal intercourse and the insertion of menstrual products or sex toys.  

A hymenectomy is typically followed up with a few visits to a pelvic health physical therapist, and the use of vaginal dilators at home to reduce scar tissue, increase blood flow, and relax tight vaginal muscles during the healing process.  


The hymen is a flexible piece of tissue located at the opening of the vagina. For most women, the hymen is a little thicker at birth, but over time, due to everyday activities, hormonal fluctuations during puberty, and the insertion of menstrual products, the hymen gradually thins and wears down before it ruptures. 

That said, some women are born with hymen variants that can prevent menstrual flow and render vaginal intercourse impossible. If you feel like these symptoms could apply to you, contact your healthcare practitioner for a consultation. Treatment in the form of a short procedure and the use of vaginal dilators can usually rectify any hymen irregularities.   


WebMD – What to Know About The Hymen -

Center for Young Women’s Health – Types of Hymens -

Planned Parenthood – Virginity -

American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists - Diagnosis and Management of Hymenal Variants - 

My Cleveland Clinic – Hymenectomy -

National Library of Medicine - Treatment of microperforate hymen with serial dilation: a novel approach -

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