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FYI, Your Hymen Probably Never Actually Broke

Basically, everything you were ever taught about your virginity was wrong.

A lot of us were taught as kids that the hymen is a thin layer of skin mostly covering the vaginal opening that "pops" or "breaks" when it's first penetrated.

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Like some kind of vaginal freshness seal.

And that the tearing of your hymen is what caused a lot of women to bleed the first time they had sex, right?

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(Spoiler: This is actually wrong.)

And that if you didn't bleed during sex it was probably because you accidentally "popped" your hymen horse-riding.

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Why was it always horse-riding?

Well, it turns out most of that is pretty wrong.

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Very wrong, in fact. It is impossible to know if someone has been penetrated or not by looking at their hymen.

"The hymen does not 'break' the first time you have sex," Rose Olson, lead author of a review paper on "virginity testing" published in the journal Reproductive Health and a medical student at the University of Minnesota, tells BuzzFeed. "Looking at the hymen can't prove someone has had vaginal sex, or anything else about their sexual history. Everybody's hymen looks different. Even the most experienced doctors cannot distinguish a 'virgin' hymen from a 'non-virgin' hymen."

Just like the rest of the vagina, hymens come in lots of different shapes and sizes.

Instagram: @thisisavagina

Some people are born without hymens entirely, and the size of the hole in the middle of the hymen can vary a lot, irrelevant to whether the vagina has been penetrated or not.

The only thing that really changes with regular penetration of the vagina is that the hymen can become more flexible.

Instagram: @nwoy

The first time the hymen is stretched to let a penis (or anything else) in, it can be painful, but this is just one source of pain and usually not the main one.

If the hymen does tear during penetration, it doesn't stay that way forever – it will heal!

Instagram: @thealbaniangirl_

"Multiple studies have shown that injuries to the hymen heal rapidly and leave no evidence of prior trauma," Olson says. "Most injuries heal so well that after days to weeks it is often impossible to tell whether or not the hymen has been injured." So you can't tell if a hymen has "broken" or not, because it will heal itself.

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The hymen does naturally shrink over time!

Instagram: @michelinguide

The hymen can be quite noticeable when you're very young, but due to hormones, by the time you're around 25 your hymen probably will have shrunk (technical term: atrophied) to a size where it's barely noticeable at all, whether you've had sex or not.

"The hymen is a thin, flexible piece of tissue that changes with time and exposure to oestrogen in puberty," Olson says. "It can stretch and tear easily. By the time you first have sex, it may already be undetectable."

So what does cause bleeding during the first time you have sex?

Instagram: @wearesylk

Most of the time this is during to general tearing due to lack of lubrication and can be avoided with the use of lovely, lovely lube.

And let's not forget that virginity is a social construct anyway.

Instagram: @virageknal

"'Virginity' is not a medical term, it is a gender-based social and cultural construct," says Olson. "It has been used to sexually exploit and humiliate women and girls throughout history. Its definition changes depending on who you talk to. We need to change how we talk about virginity. 'Losing your virginity' implies that you are not in control of it. No one besides you, not a hymen or another person, can 'take your virginity away'. You are in control of your body, and no one should define you by your sexual history."

You can read more about hymens in Emily Nagoski's amazing book Come As You Are.

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