I was only going to spend a paragraph or two on this myth, but turns out I had a lot to say on this topic. Buckle in readers!!
Sex hurts women. Right? Especially that first time. In my opinion, this statement is one of the biggest issues facing women and sexual liberation today. Every woman (and most likely every man as well) has heard this rumor. It’s talked about in school bathrooms, and sleepovers. Discussed amongst young girls as well as older women. We laugh about it over wine; discussing our first time and how awful it was. The memory always met with giggles because we’ve grown so much since then. There is a shared commroadry in these conversations. These giggles. This pain. Pain so familiar it has stretched to every corner of society. It is written about in movies, and TV. scripts. In romance novels, and coming of age stories, teenage magazines, and even in sex education books. It’s a supposed known fact that sex for women hurts the first time. And then over time it starts hurting less and feels good. Usually.
One of the most common beliefs on why sex is painful for women is the hymen. A woman is a virgin until her hymen breaks. It breaks, we bleed a little, and that’s what causes the pain. It’s this thin piece of tissue that extends across the opening of the vagina, effectively closing up a woman until the mighty penis plows through it resulting in pain.
This is ridiculous and inaccurate for a whole host of reasons. Let’s start with what the hymen actually is. Anatomically speaking, the hymen is nothing more than this ring of stretchy tissue leftover from when the vaginal canal was being made in the uterus when you were a fetus. Big word there. LEFTOVER.
Now, if a woman is “closed up” until sex- as this myth suggests-she wouldn’t be able to menstruate. Now, there are rare occasions where the hymen does create a barrier in the vaginal canal. But when this happens, the hymen is cut open surgically so menstrual blood and other vaginal discharge can healthily exit the body. Most women get their periods between the ages of 12-16 so you will learn very quickly if you’re unable to menstruate. And, as I said, this is extremely rare.
Hymens, like women, also come in a variety of shapes and sizes. So while it’s true that some hymens break and cause bleeding due to penetrative sex, it doesn’t mean all hymens do. Indeed, some hymens are elastic enough and thick enough to stretch around a penis and never break. I know right?
Then there is the talk that the penis is the only way a hymen can break. Please. As if penises were that impressive. Hymens can break (or as we have just learned, not break) at any time, in any way. The hymen breaking is not synomonous with sex and we MUST start teaching how innaccurate this is.
I think the myth of the hymen has been passed down through the generations for several reasons. One being women are not allowed to be sexually free or liberated. Women are not allowed to have control over their bodies or their sexuality. Women weren’t sexually free until well into the 20th century, and even today we see the lingering negative affects western society has over sexual liberation for women.
The hymen is a convenient scapegoat for the amount of pain you know you’ll feel on your marital bed. The hymen is what tells women that no matter what, when you become sexually active it will hurt. The hymen is what causes the pain and the shame. The hymen is the way of protecting the woman sexually until marriage. Ever stopped to wonder why women must be protected so much? Why has “God” (Or Allah, or the universe, or the giant spaghetti monster) decided that a womans sexuality be protected but not a mans? Why is it that a man doesn’t need a “barrier” protecting him from sex until marriage?
We have been normalizing womens pain in sex for too long. None of it is true. It shouldn’t hurt. You should feel safe, and comfortable, and ready. Every time. Without restraint. Regardless of if it’s your first time or your 5000th time. Sex should always feel good. And if someone says or does something that makes you feel anything but good in the bedroom you have the right to stop. You have the right to say so. It’s your body. You don’t owe anyone anything.
I have much much more to say on this topic but we’ll end it here. As always, feel free to discuss, share, ask questions. I don’t claim to be a doctor. I don’t claim to know everything. But there is so much misinformation out there about womens health and women sexual health in particular. Please do yourself the favor of learning your body. It is not shameful. It’s yours.
NOTE: If you have felt pain during sex please know there is nothing wrong with YOU and to never feel ashamed. Also there are many medical issues that can cause painful sex, hence the main purpose of this blog. But it’s important to learn all facets of the conversation so to be as well rounded and knowledgable as possible.
Some links about hymens. These were all within a 5 minute Google search: