The Hymen is not a Membrane, The Mythical Clitoris, and Other Phallusies

No I cannot claim ownership of that gorgeous pun.  “Phallusy” was coined by Fei Cai over at The Thought Erotic.

In the article, “The Myth of the Hymen: A Social and Medical Mystery“, Cai reveals that the Hymen is not a membrane covering the opening of the vagina.

Whoa!  Newsflash!

This makes complete sense to me.  Whenever the hymen came up in conversation, I would remark that I must have lost mine quite early since I never remember having a closed vagina.  Turns out… that’s because no one ever did.

The Hymen is apparently the ring of tissue just around the opening to the vagina, inside the labia majora and minora.  When we are children, the ring is rigid, like a bunch of rubberbands.  This makes complete evolutionary sense.  Until puberty, nothing should really be going in or out of the vagina.  No menstruation heading out, which should mean no semen coming in since there are no eggs to fertilize.

A narrower opening to the vagina would keep out bacteria and foreign contaminants.

Illustration credit: Theresa Lii

However, just like repeatedly using a rubberband starts to wear it out, the hymen begins to loosen up as girls walk, run, dance or just try to learn weird choreography from Nicki Minaj videos.

For me, I know some personal exploration definitely added to the weakening of my hymen tissue, as is likely the case for any girl with an ounce of curiosity and her own bedroom.

By the time a girl begins to menstruate, becomes a woman, and begins having sex – the hymen should present pretty much no problem.

Heard that rumor that sex the first time hurts and “There will be blood!”?  This is another place where I had to tell people, no that’s not true for me.  The first time I had sex I was comfortable and 100% into it.  I took the lead so I could figure the whole deal out.  It was great.  There was no tearing and no blood.  I have heard a lot of stories on both the pain and pleasure side of things.

Yes, many women experience pain and blood during intercourse the first time, but the hymen is likely not to blame.  It’s more likely because they aren’t properly aroused. The stigma, the shame for women, the lies we’re told that it will hurt and that you are dirty after – that all adds up to a lot of stress.  In a fight or flight mode like that, the body isn’t really gearing up for a great round of sex.  The vagina is not lubricated, the cervix is not raised.  **See Addendum on Imperforate Hymen.

A really excited guy who is finally getting to seal the deal is likely missing the foreplay section, which doesn’t help matters either.  With no lubrication, the walls of the vagina are often torn – resulting in blood and pain.  Additionally, if the cervix doesn’t rise up as it does during arousal it increases the chance that the tip of the penis will slam into it – which feels exactly not great and the opposite of sexy.

Where did this myth come from?  Why thank you religion, patriarchy, and a complete lack of modern anatomical awareness.

This is a topic I’ve talked about quite extensively – the need of male-dominated societies to control the female body.  Historically, it seems that men were so possessive and so afraid that their chosen woman (of the moment) would bear another man’s child, that they made up complete lies about female anatomy.  Our ancestors’ patriarchal society told women that if they lost their virginity they were unpure and would die alone with no one to take care of them (also that they weren’t allowed to support themselves for the most part – kind of a fucked up catch 22).  A lot of this has to do with control and was perpetuated by many different societies and religions.  Custom dictated that a virgin would bleed on their wedding night – some areas even required hanging the sheets outside the window in the morning for everyone to see.  Because this is literally not a thing that should happen very often if you make your new wife comfortable and a little aroused, a lot of red wine ended up on a lot of perfectly good sheets. Hopefully they used it as a toast the night before and didn’t waste whole bottles.

Trouble finding the clitoris? This kind of nonsense meant they hadn’t even had a proper look at a vagina before or were so threatened by the idea that they couldn’t prove virginity that they made up a total lie.  Let alone ever getting close to finding or becoming friends with the clitoris.

Here’s the thing, ladies.  Virginity has literally nothing to do with your purity, your value, your womanhood, your respectability, your morals, or your standing in society.

This goes for men, too.  Sex does not make you a man or a woman. It is not shameful.  It doesn’t not bring you glory.  It just makes you a person who has had sex before. Whether your first time was painful or pleasurable, was with someone of a different gender or not, whether it was oral, anal or vaginal…  these things make no difference in terms of who you are.

I know for the most part we’ve moved past the “women have to wear a veil in church to show their shame for original sin”, “women speak when spoken to” shit as a society… but we’re STILL PERPETUATING MEDIEVAL MYTHS ABOUT THE HYMEN.

I have friends in medical school who had never been told this and were still operating under information that someone made up in the dark ages.

At the risk of getting off on a tangent when all I really wanted to talk about was my vagina…   this is an excellent reason that we still need public services like Planned Parenthood trying to disseminate (this pun is mine) solid information.

At the risk of getting even more on a tangent…  even if you are pro-life, you should support Planned Parenthood.  They do very few abortions – they have more male patients than they do patients seeking abortions (not getting, just inquiring).  A not a dime of government or tax money funds them.  These are cases that would be handled by other doctors at other hospitals were PP defunded.  Defunding Planned Parenthood would limit  access to free and affordable prophylactics, unbiased information, cancer and STD screenings, and regular health exams – which will absolutely INCREASE THE NUMBER OF ABORTIONS, unplanned pregnancies, terminal cancers, and STDs.

Okay, I’m off my soapbox.  Back to the beautiful vagina.

Good information about our anatomy can lead to better communication, better first times, and better sex in general.

Who doesn’t want that?

 

** ADDENDUM **

It has been brought to my attention that I may have breeze over a condition that will make sex painful no matter how aroused, ready, and intentional you are.  An imperforate hymen fails to perforate during fetal development (insinuating that the hymen does, in fact, perforate before birth), fully obstructing the vagina. According to the ever reliable wikipedia, the frequency of imperforate hymen vary from 1 in 1000 to 1 in 10,000 females.

I learn something new every day!

Vulnerability, Seattle Freeze, and How to get a Turtle out of a Blackberry Patch

Hey.  Are we almost friends?  Do you enjoy my company and sometimes think we should be better friends, but feel we don’t quite connect?  We probably would connect if I showed myself to you and paid more attention to who you are.  We probably would hang out if I allowed myself time.

This isn’t the Seattle Freeze, this is my struggle with vulnerability and self acceptance.

This is my armor, my turtle shell: I people please and show you who I think you want instead of who I am.  I use my empathy to anticipate your needs and keep you comfortable and attend to you instead of listening to how you feel and who you are.

You tell me you’re hungry?  I feed you wonderbread all night and say, ‘Aren’t I a good friend for feeding them’.  But there’s no nutritional value.  I didn’t ask why you were hungry, or how that need felt to you, or if you even wanted to eat something, or what you might want.  I didn’t relate to you a time when I was hungry and let you know I understood how you felt.  I hit the accelerator and tried to be the hero.  I frequently miss the chance to create a connection and dive into the deep end of placation like there was a hundred dollar bill at the bottom.

I didn’t mean to breezed past you and miss something pivotal.  Maybe you have felt I’m aloof or oblivious or uninterested.  Maybe you’ve even thought I didn’t like you, that I thought I was better than you.  It would hurt me if you’d thought that, when really I was concerned about how you felt about me.

I people-please and keep myself overly busy because I struggle with accepting that I have value on my own.

I always believed that having free time was shameful; I should always be working, practicing, doing.  More with less.  Efficency, productivity, success.  I leave myself in an empathy deficit.  If it feels like I don’t have energy for you, it’s because I don’t even have energy for me.  Because I don’t think I’m allow to give myself down time – I’m only as good as my added value.

America doesn’t make that tendency easier – where more with less is our unofficial motto.  We get less paid time off, fewer vacation days, fewer sick days, less maternity and more stress than any other developed nation.

My gender doesn’t make it easier either – I know many women who complain of trouble finding authentic female friends.  I think the struggle to be authentic is difficult for both genders, but for different reasons.

I know that I started to people-please more in puberty when suddenly my favorite activities (climbing trees, collecting frog eggs, and building forts) became unseemly, too loud, and unattractive.  When I realized it was not okay to be myself, something changed. The world was suddenly a blackberry patch, and I added more armor to my arsenal.  I suppressed my vulnerability, emotions, feminine intuition as weaknesses.

My need for outside approval out-paced my need for self approval.  I began to lose my ability to get lost for hours alone in the woods with myself – completely and blissfully unconcerned with anything else.

While I am a product of my environment and past, vulnerability is a muscle that I need to strengthen if I want to push past that barrier into deeper, authentic friendships and I deeper, more authentic relationship with myself.

A wise woman once told me, “A friend felt she needed her armor like a turtle in a blackberry patch.  I asked her, ‘What are you doing in a blackberry patch?‘”.

My blackberry patch is partly of my own creation.  I can learn to slow down and allow myself time to reconnect with myself.  I can remove toxic individuals and situations from my life as I am able.  I can restructure my attitudes and thought patterns.

I’m working on meeting every moment with true authenticity and openness.  I want to start presenting myself and what I believe with intention and time.  If I can just show up and be me truly, rejection will feel like disappointment and not like shame.  If I can really hear someone and give them empathy, a lack of connection will feel like a truth and not a failure.  If I can accept and understand who I am, I won’t need to prove my value to you – I’ll just need to show it.

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I’m waking up.  If we’re almost friends I’m about to allow myself the opportunity to be real friends with you.

Hi.  I’m Alissa.  How are you?  Really?

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