- laura plit
- BBC News World
Virginity is a farce, Ellen Støkken Dahl and Nina Dølvik Brochmann say, and armed with one of those hula hoops coated with a delicate transparent plastic film, they decided to explain it to their audience.
Brochmann holds it and Dahl smashes it with a powerful slap.
The scene, performed at a TED conference in Oslo by these two Norwegian doctors and writers, powerfully illustrates an idea most of us grew up with: that the first time a woman has vaginal intercourse, the hymen it breaks and, as a result, bleeds. And in that moment virginity is lost.
Despite the speech of the authors of “The book of the vagina: everything you need to know and you never dared to ask” took place in 2017, and the fact that the the hymen does not undergo a change after intercourse As a fact recognized by the medical sciences for more than 100 years, the idea that this part of the female body can reveal her sexual history is still prevalent in our society.
“In today’s popular culture there are many examples of the myth of the hymen: on TV, in books. It is still believed that most women bleed at first sexual intercourse and that it is possible to distinguish between virgin women and those who are not. “Dahl tells BBC Mundo.
“It is very practical to believe that nature has given us some kind of proof of virginity in the female body, if what you want is to control the sexuality of women,” he adds.
And although the WHO and the UN consider virginity tests (which involve a vaginal exam to check if the hymen is “intact”) as a violation of human rights and they advocate a ban, these are still practiced in twenty countries (including the UK and the US), as is hymenoplasty, a surgical procedure that offers to “repair the hymen” despite not being broken.
Open, elastic and with a hole
So, what does the hymen really look like and what exactly happens to it after the first intercourse?
Far from being a delicate membrane covering the entrance to the vagina, “the hymen is more like a hair band (like those seen in the photo below) or a Elastic band“indicates Brochmann in the TED video which has millions of views.
Its shape, in general, is like that of a donut or crescentwith a big hole in the middle. It is also a structure hyperelastic able to accommodate the penis without being damaged.
“Most hymens are pieces of meat —Hymeneal caruncles — very different in each woman. They can be two, three larger pieces or four or five smaller pieces, like small tabs or petalsof the same color as the mucous membrane of the vagina “, explains to BBC Mundo Marta Torrón, pelvic floor physiotherapist and expert in physiosexology, who devotes much of her time to dissemination.
“For this reason, because they are the same color (and because we are not used to looking at our vulva and our vagina), women don’t know that those little pieces are their hymen and that they will have it for life,” she adds. .
That is, “the hymen not a closed membrane that breaks and disappears (after penetration). In the majority, in 99% of cases, the the hymen is open and it is normal“.
If this were not the case, we would be faced with an “imperforate hymen, something that is considered a malformation, and that needs an intervention, since in this way the flow or menstruation will not be able to go out and, obviously, you will not be able to have intercourse” Torron points out.
Its appearance can be as varied as that of a woman’s clitoris, vulva, or any other part of the body.
Basically, there is nothing in its appearance unveil a before and an afterrelationship, as we have come to believe from so many repetitions. Therefore, there is no medical procedure to determine whether a woman has had vaginal intercourse or not.
“In all these years I have seen thousands of women, thousands of vaginas. In most cases, you cannot know if they have had intercourse or not,” Torrón points out.
A study from 1906, for example, revealed that a prostitute’s hymen was unchanged, maintaining an appearance similar to that of a young woman who had not had sexual intercourse.
Another more recent one, carried out in 2004, noted that of 36 pregnant young women, 34 kept their hymen intact.
In short, the hymen can remain as it is not only after penetration, but also throughout the pregnancy.
H.magnet as a seal of virginity
Without a scientific basis, virginity is shown as a social constructiona concept deeply rooted in many cultures for centuries to control women’s pleasure and sexuality, experts consulted by BBC Mundo agree.
However, it wasn’t until the nineteenth century XVI when a connection was first established between the idea of virginity and a specific part of the female body.
The bond of the hymen “with the vitrude flourishes in the fantasies of men throughout history until the sixteenth century, when the famous Flemish anatomist Andrea Vesalius discovered some remains of flesh around the vaginal opening during the dissection of the corpses of two virgin women “, explains Eugenia Tognotti, professor of History of Medicine at the University of Sassari, in Italy.
“Vesalius wrote in his book on human anatomy (which contains one of the earliest descriptions of the near-correct anatomy of the hymen), that not all virgin women had a hymen“, Tognotti tells BBC Mundo.
However, he later added that the “so-called ‘intact’ hymen could be a ‘virginity test‘”continues the historian.
With this last statement, “Vesalius unknowingly gave the hymen the symbolic meaning that would become dominant for the next five centuries, despite advances in the understanding of female anatomy showing that the hymen, like many other parts of the body, varies remarkably in shape and size “.
blood on the sheets
Another idea that prevails in the popular imagination is that of bleeding.
The sheet with the drops of blood – or the handkerchief dyed red in other cultures, such as the gypsy one – on the wedding night constitutes a proof of the woman’s preserved honor.
To begin with, “the vast majority of women not bleeds in this situation and many feel guilty or strange. “Why didn’t I bleed?” they ask themselves. “Well, since your body is normal, you know it and you understand when to have sex,” I told him, “Torrón says.
“Without knowing how your body works, intercourse can damage the mucous membrane (the inner skin of the vagina) and that is why you bleed, but not because the hymen ruptures”, clarifies the expert and adds that, with excitement, the “vagina becomes long and wide.
And in the event that the hymen – a poorly vascularized tissue – undergoes a small tear, “it tends to recover quickly, like any other mucous membrane in the body,” explains Dahl.
And what’s true in the idea that the hymen can be broken by cycling, playing violent sports, or inserting a tampon?
“To ride a bicycle definitely not, because (the hymen) is a structure that is inside the vagina. Unless you ride the bicycle with the seat inside the vagina, it would be very difficult,” Dahl jokes. .
“The idea that cycling, dancing or horseback riding can change your internal anatomy, I find absurd“, He adds.
The same thing says the Spanish physiotherapist. “There is no truth in this. Nothing. Since we have no idea of the reality of the body, we try to explain why there is no bleeding.”
“The real explanation is this your hymen and vagina are elastic“
put an end to the myth
For Torrón, it is important to divulge this information on the hymen, which weighs “not only on the religious”, to erase it from collective thought.
But aside from the impact it could have on women’s sexual health and well-being, eradicating these false notions is critical because of the influence they have on the forensic field, she says.
“When a woman comes in who says she has been abused and that there has been penetration, they evaluate her vagina and if the hymen is intact, if they see no wounds, they doubt her,” he explains.
Dahl believes that separate information is important stop worrying if a woman is a virgin or not.
“Because the problem is the idea that a woman must be a virgin and they are using a biological misunderstanding to build their arguments.”
“That’s why the most important project ahead of us is to stop thinking that women should be virgins.”
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