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A schematic drawing of a hymen

The hymen (also called maidenhead) is a membrane-like tissue that surrounds or partially covers the external vaginal opening allowing virgins to menstruate. The hymen has no known use. Since the hymen usually breaks after having sexual intercourse, women with unbroken hymens were considered virgins. However, a woman's hymen can break while engaging in some sports as well. Some women are also born without a hymen.

Types[change | change source]

There are several different types of hymen. In about 1 in 2,000 females, the hymen does not develop at all:[1] this is called an "imperforate hymen".[2]

Other types are:

  • crescent-shaped
  • forming a ring around the vagina
  • folding in on itself
  • has one or more bands going across the opening
  • has several holes

What might damage the hymen[change | change source]

The hymen may be damaged by playing sports or using tampons.[3]

When a girl reaches puberty, the hymen becomes stretchy. Sexual intercourse is another easy way to damage the hymen along with horseback riding and biking. The hymen usually breaks after having sexual intercourse, so in some cultures, women with hymens were seen as virgins. A woman's hymen can also break while playing some sports and some women are also born without a hymen.

Hymens in other animals[change | change source]

These animals all have a hymen:

There are many more animals which have hymens, but not all are listed here.

The stages of growth[change | change source]

When a fetus is developing, there is no vaginal opening. The hymen comes from the skin covering the vagina at that time.[4]

In young babies, the hymen is thick and pink. This is because the mother is giving the baby hormones through breast feeding which keeps it thick. In adolescent girls, the hymen becomes thin, smooth and delicate because she has stopped taking in hormones. The hymen becomes very sensitive and can easily cause pain if touched. From puberty, the hymen gets thicker again and becomes pale pink. This is because of the hormone estrogen.

References[change | change source]

  1. Kurman, Robert J., ed. (2002). Blaustein's Pathology of the Female Genital Tract (5th edition ed.). New York: Springer-Verlag. p. 160. 
  2. Chang, Lisbeth and Muram, David. (2002) "Pediatric & Adolescent Gynecology" in DeCherney, Alan H. and Nathan, Lauren. Current Obstetric & Gynecological Diagnosis & Treatment, 9th edition, McGraw-Hill, 598-602.
  3. Emans, S. Jean. "Physical Examination of the Child and Adolescent" (2000) in Evaluation of the Sexually Abused Child: A Medical Textbook and Photographic Atlas, Second edition, Oxford University Press. 64-5
  4. 1918 Gray's Anatomy

Other websites[change | change source]