The hymen has the rare distinction of being one of the most talked about but least understood parts of a woman’s body. Most cultures have placed great emphasis on an intact hymen, often considering it the most important possession a woman can have. Marriage nights in medieval times would end the next morning with the elders in the family examining the sheets for spots of blood. Only if blood was found would the family accept that the marriage had been consummated and that the bride was a virgin. The common belief then (and now) was that a virginal woman has a membrane in her vagina called the hymen. This hymen could only be broken by a penis, like a brave sword slashing through all obstacles in its path. If this sounds like an unlikely tale made up by men, that’s because it probably was.
What Is The Hymen, Really?
Contrary to popular belief, the hymen isn’t an impenetrable membrane. Baby girls are born
with a thick membrane in their vagina, but with a small opening in the centre. With age, much of the tissue in the hymen is lost and the central opening gets wider. Menstrual fluid passes through this opening, something that couldn’t happen if the hymen was closed like everyone believed. By late adolescence, few young girls actually have any of their original hymen left intact. Most of it is lost through physical exercise, normal wear and tear and masturbation. In fact, women who do have a large part of their hymen left intact are considered an anomaly. Only 1 in 200 women actually have intact hymens in adulthood, a condition known as an imperforate hymen. Women with imperforate hymens can’t have anything inserted into their vagina and require a surgical procedure to remove excess tissue.
Is First-Time Sex Really That Painful?
So why does sex hurt the first time for most women? Many women do report feeling pain the first time they had
sex, with most attributing it to their hymen breaking. However, this is biologically impossible. Sex causes the hymen to stretch big enough to accommodate a penis, it doesn’t actually break it. The pain women experience the first time might be a combination of nerves and sexual ineptness on the part of their partners. Because first-time sex is described as being very painful for women, most are scared to experience it at all. This makes them very nervous during sex, causing their vaginal muscles to contract and interfering with their natural lubrication.
It isn’t all the woman’s fault though. Men having sex for the first time are generally clueless about how to turn their partners on. They’re also very eager to get to the main act, often completely ignoring foreplay. This doesn’t give the women any opportunity to be aroused. Because of this, the vaginal walls remain tense and there isn’t much lubrication to lessen the friction.
Why Did Medieval Virgins Bleed?
Which brings us
back to the question: where did the blood on those medieval marriage beds come from? While we can’t be completely sure, they most likely did not come from torn hymens. Medieval society (and in many cases, modern societies too), placed extreme importance on a bride being a virgin. Since bleeding was considered normal for virginal brides on their wedding nights, the pressure to bleed was immense. If a bride did not bleed, husbands could annul the marriage and ruin their reputations forever. To prevent any chance of this from happening, brides often took extra precautions to make sure they bled. Some would discreetly cut their thigh with a sharp nail, while others would sneak in small vials of animal blood to empty onto the bed. There is also the possibility that intercourse was very rough and caused bleeding of the vaginal walls.
Whatever the reasoning behind the importance of the hymen back then was, we aren’t in the medieval ages anymore. It’s time we dispelled all our misconceptions about the hymen and dismissed all the importance surrounding it.