Feeds

What is the use of the hymen?

And can virginity be restored?

Intelligent flash storage arrays

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

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.