WUKA experts discuss: what is a hymen, how does it break and breakage signs to look out for. Plus, we answer the common question, how do you know if it’s even is still there?
What is a Hymen and How Does It Break?
Firstly, let’s define what a hymen is. Dr. Fiona MacRae, expert in women’s health and biogenetical hormone replacement therapy for the Marion Gluck Clinic, explains:
'The hymen is a thin piece of tissue situated at the opening of the vagina. It is a remnant of embryological development and its function unclear. There is much variation in the size and shape; it may be annular or crescentic or it may cover the vaginal opening completely. Reputedly an indicator of sexual activity, in reality, it may tear or break during certain sporting activities such as horse riding, with the use of tampons, or during masturbation or sexual intercourse.'
The function of this thin, stretchy membrane is unclear, so why people with vaginas even have one isn’t really known. A common evolutionary theory is that it exists to prevent bacteria from entering the vagina, thus protecting reproduction of the human race. Pretty clever, if that is the case.
Like all other organs, it is formed during development in utero and, as it develops, it actually grows to cover the vagina. Then, as the vagina is developing, it begins to recede away and becomes a thin ring of tissue. After birth, a small hole develops to eventually make way for period blood later in life.
However, for some women, this hole doesn’t actually form, or it can sometimes form incorrectly. In such cases, this thin piece of tissue can either completely cover the vagina with no opening at all (known as an ‘imperforate’), almost completely cover the vagina with just a very small opening (known as a ‘micro perforate’), have many small openings (known as a ‘cribriform’) or have two small openings connected by skin tissue, making the insertion of tampons and other objects difficult (known as a ‘septet’).
Women without a hole to release period blood may experience a lack of menstruation during puberty. This is because the flow cannot be released. Period blood will ‘back up’ inside the vagina with nowhere to go, and women may experience a feeling of fullness and pains in the lower abdomen. We recommend speaking with your healthcare provider if you are concerned about this.
Because there are different types, it is not always easy to clarify what ‘normal’ actually is, especially considering the fact that some females are actually born without one.
Some are ring-shaped, some are more crescent-shaped, some completely cover the vagina and some don’t. Some are smooth, some have ridges. Some are thicker than others. Some are more stretchy than others. Some are bigger than others.
The fact is, there is no guidebook. Your hymen is unique to you.
The hymen is made from an elastic tissue that tends to stretch and become thinner over time. As it gets thinner and stretches further, it eventually tears, and for most women, this is barely noticeable.
Activities such as horse riding, gymnastics, and even inserting a tampon can cause this stretching, but it shouldn’t be painful when it occurs.
Lots of women may struggle to spot hymen breaking signs because of the simple fact that it doesn’t just suddenly ‘break’. Because of its flexibility, it stretches easily and therefore tears over time. Because every woman is different – and every hymen is different – this experience can vary from person to person.
Some women will experience pain and some won’t. Some will experience a small amount of bleeding and others won’t. In fact, some women won’t even realise that there has been any breakage at all. For example, if it occurs during sporting activities.
It is a common misconception that a broken hymen is a sign that a woman has had sex. But since we know that it is liable to tearing over time – and due to a number of other reasons too – we also know that there is absolutely no way of telling that a woman has had sex just by looking at this thin piece of skin.
How To Break Your Hymen?
As already discussed, there is more than one way for tearing to take place, and it may already have happened without you even knowing about it. Inserting a tampon during your period, sustaining an injury ‘down there’ (think falling onto the middle bar of your bicycle, or similar), penetrative masturbation and certain sporting activities can all contribute towards the natural thinning and tearing.
In fact, even as your body grows and develops, the hymen can naturally become thinner and more likely to tear too. So, if it hasn’t already ‘broken’, there is a good chance that it will sooner or later, and without you even knowing about it.
Can Your Break Your Hymen More Than Once?
Once it tears, it will not grow back or repair itself, so you cannot break it more than once.
Breakage, once again, is not a sign of losing your virginity. That will only happen once, too, and the natural tearing has taken place due to other activities will not happen again when you have sex.
Can Hymen Repair Naturally?
The hymen cannot repair itself naturally. The only way that this can be done is through a surgical procedure that you can read more about here.
How Do You Know If Your Hymen Is Still There?
Most women will struggle to see their own hymen due to its location. Even if you did manage it, you would have no idea if what you were looking at was ‘normal’ for you or not.
There are so many variations on size, shape and thickness, and there are so many different ways in which it can be stretched and torn, too. The only reliable way to really know if it is still there is to ask your doctor for a vaginal examination.
Will a Tampon Break Your Hymen?
As Dr. Shivani Dattani, GP at London Gynaecology, explains,
'The hymen is a thin membrane that surrounds the opening of the vagina and the shape of it allows menstrual blood to flow out. Tampons can be inserted through the opening of the hymen without changing the shape, but for some women they can cause the hymen to stretch.'
Inserting any object into your vagina can contribute towards thinning and eventual breakage, so, yes, using a tampon can break it. But, once again (just in case), this does not mean that you have lost your virginity.
Difference Between Hymen Blood and Period Blood
Hymen blood is the result of tearing, and it is usually very bright in colour and thin in consistency. It typically only lasts for a short while. For some women, it will be spotting, and for others there will be a very light flow for up to two days.
Period blood is much different, occurring due to menstruation and taking place during the first phase of your cycle. For many women, the blood flow is is thicker, darker and heavier blood, and will flow for around 4-7 days.
Because there are very few blood vessels located in the hymen, some women may not experience any significant bleeding at all. If you have sex for the first time during your period, you probably won’t be able to tell if it’s bleeding then either. And, yes, you can have sex while you are on your period. Want to know more? Here are 5 facts about period sex that might be of interest.
The bottom line? If you do experience bleeding when it breaks, it will be a one-off occurrence compared to menstrual bleeding, which will take place during every cycle after puberty occurs.
ABOUT THE MARION GLUCK CLINIC:
The Marion Gluck Clinic is the UK’s leading medical clinic that pioneered the use of bioidentical hormones to treat menopause, perimenopause and other hormone related issues. Headed up by Dr. Marion Gluck herself, the clinic uses her method of bioidentical hormonal treatment to rebalance hormones to improve wellbeing, quality of life and to slow down ageing: https://www.mariongluckclinic.com