Feeds

What is the use of the hymen?

And can virginity be restored?

Application security programs and practises

Also in this week's column:

What is the use of the hymen?

Asked by Marc Savage of Northampton, United Kingdom

The hymen (or maidenhead) is a ring of tissue around the vaginal orifice. "Hymen" is a Greek word meaning "virginal membrane" or "thin skin". Hymen was also a Greek god of marriage.

The hymen is shrouded in myth. One myth is that the hymen completely occludes the vaginal orifice in human females. But this is quite rare.

Another myth is that the human hymen is the same in all females. However, there is much variation. There are in fact four distinct forms of hymen (annular, septate, cribriform, and parous introitus) based upon its general configuration. The many variations in the "normal" hymen are very important for doctors to understand. Otherwise, they risk, among other things, the misdiagnosis in a child sexual abuse case.

This is a point made recently by Drs A K Myhre and two colleagues from the Department of Laboratory Medicine, Children’s and Women’s Health at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, writing in the Acta Paediatrica in 2003.

Indeed, variations in the hymen are so great that a small percentage of female babies are born without one.

Yet another myth is that a so-called "intact" hymen insures that a woman is a virgin. But the hymen may be "broken" for a variety of reasons besides sexual intercourse. Another myth is that the hymen is necessarily "intact" at some time. In fact, there is always an opening in it of some kind.

Still another myth is that the blood that flows after the first sexual penetration is caused by the tearing of the hymen. In fact, blood is not always produced and if it is it may be from the tearing of surrounding tissue, not necessarily the hymen.

In recent years, the very concept of a hymen has been criticised, and its very existence has been questioned by researchers. Many gynecologists and other experts on the human female reproductive system consider most commonly-held beliefs about the human hymen to be based more on cultural perceptions and sexual stereotypes than upon anatomical and physiological reality.

The hymen has no definite function other than as part of the vaginal opening. The hymen does not "grow back", although it can be surgically "restored" according to some surgeons.

What is not a myth is that the hymen has, and continues to have, great symbolic significance as an indicator of a woman's virginity in many religions and cultures throughout the world.

Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.