Ok, so the Hymen is not a complete myth. Most women are born with a thin, half moon shaped membrane covering the lower part of the vaginal opening. See diagram: (http://period.theperiodblog.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/closeup_big.jpg).
Since Medieval times, many many lies have been told about this tiny sliver of skin. Even today, urban legends about how to "pop a cherry" are told in dark corners of middle school playgrounds.
I want to share the facts and fictions I have gathered about this mysterious, yet widely discussed, body part.
In middle school, the hymen was not discussed in Sex Ed or Health class. I don't even recall seeing a particularly accurate diagram of the vagina. A penis is pretty straight forward. If you know the names of the parts, and you have even the vaguest idea of its general shape, you can put together what it should look like without a detailed illustration. A vagina is a tad more complicated. I can't even take a good look at my own without a handheld mirror and space to perform some naked yoga. As a middle schooler, most of what I learned about my anatomy did not come from PE teachers in health class or from practical viewing. It came from friends, my mom, and my imagination.
My friends were probably repeating things their older siblings told them, or things they read or saw on TV. By the time I knew the word hymen, I was terrified I was one bike ride away from losing my virginity.
My mom was pretty great about answering questions, but I could only bring myself to ask her the truly important things like "can I still pee with a tampon in?" and "exactly how many holes are down there?". (There are 3, by the way).
People said that when a girl had sex for the first time, it was called "popping her cherry" and that this hymen (whatever it was) would break, causing lots of pain and BLOOD. Romantic, right? I also heard that it could break by itself while I was riding a bike, riding a horse, or even wearing a tampon.
The horror scene that I was supposed to save for my wedding night, best case scenario, would be filled with pain and blood. Worst case scenario, I pop my own hymen with a tampon, have no idea I had done it, and get to my wedding night a "defiled woman".
If this all sounds dramatic, believe me, it was. I may have been an over the top teen, but I would still bet many girls had similar fears and misconceptions about the hymen. Perhaps some of you reading (regardless of gender) still have no idea what a hymen actually is.
As I said before, the hymen is a thin membrane covering the lower part of the external vaginal opening. Imagine a piece of stretchy fabric across the bottom leaving a hole with plenty of space for menstrual blood, a tampon, a finger or two, etc. It will stretch if anything larger is inserted. It will also stretch (and sometimes tear) during vaginal child birth. But it will never "pop" or disappear entirely.
Sometimes, when a woman has vaginal intercourse with a penis for the first time, the hymen will stretch a lot causing tiny tears around the edge of the opening. Sometimes, this will result in some bleeding. Often, extra lubrication or foreplay to ensure female arousal will keep the hymen stretchy resulting in zero tearing and minimal pain. Notice how I'm saying "sometimes" and "some" and other "maybe" words because all vaginas are different just like all ear lobes, and forearms and big toes are different. Therefore, not all hymens are exactly the same.
Some hymens surround the external vaginal opening leaving a small hole in the middle. Some women are born with a very small hymen or none at all. Some women are born with a hymen that covers the entire external opening leaving no hole or leaving just perforations or two very small holes. Being born with these types usually requires surgery to make room for menstrual blood and prevent painful conditions. This is why it is SO important for young women to visit the gynecologist around age 13. Even if your teenager won't have sex until later in life, visiting the OBGYN is crucial in preventing or treating tons of vagina related issues.
For a very long period of history female virginity was a marketable commodity. Men were able to buy and sell it. This is still true in some countries where brides are inspected to ensure an "intact hymen", therefore proving their virginity and legitimizing a marriage.
I can't imagine how many women have gone through unfair and mortifying ordeals considering what we now know about hymens. If a woman's hymen was smaller or thinner than an average hymen, she would be labeled "impure" and disgraced, even if she had never had sex. If a woman's hymen was more elastic and didn't bleed on her wedding night, her husband would be suspicious of her virginity. Blood types were not discovered until 1900, therefore a reliable form of paternity testing was not invented until the 1920's! Men legally inherited wealth and property prior to this time so, in order for a wealthy family to ensure their estate was inherited by the right biological child, the brides/ potential mothers coming into the family needed to be virgins. They couldn't test paternity so they tested virginity.
Today, because of DNA, testing for virginity to ensure paternity is irrelevant. And yet, we still talk about this piece of skin that is supposed to prove female virginity. Biologically, the hymen cannot definitively prove or disprove virginity. Let me reiterate that. A hymen cannot and does not determine virginity. We cannot tell if a woman is a virgin just by looking at her just like we cannot tell if a man is a virgin just by inspecting HIS genitalia.
In Matthew 5:28, Jesus is talking to His disciples about adultery and lust. He says "anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart". Jesus is concerned with our hearts long before we commit a sin. In 1Corinthians 6:18, Paul says that "sexual immorality is a sin against your own body". So, in this case, Paul is saying that sinning against oneself is worse than sinning against someone else. He is putting a high value on our bodies because God died for us! How awful to destroy or break the beloved person God sacrificed himself to save and the vessel in which His Holy Spirit chooses to live. But Jesus goes even further when He talks about our hearts. He says that when we consider committing sexual immorality, our hearts are already so far from Him. If we are lusting after someone whom God hasn't given to us in marriage, if we are considering having sex with someone other than our husbands or wives, our hearts are already so far away from Jesus that we've effectively sinned against our bodies.
How can you tell if someone is a virgin? In order to be a virgin in God's eyes, your heart would need to be so close to Jesus that a lustful thought has never crossed your mind. In this case, I haven't been a virgin since puberty. In this case, every time I made out with a boy, rounded third base, or even looked at someone and thought "yeah, I'd hit it" I was sinning against my own body. It was as bad as having sex outside of marriage; it was as bad as adultery. Before you start to feel defeated and say "well I'll never accomplish virginity! What's the point? Forget Christianity! I'm out!", remember that no one but Jesus ever accomplished being sinless.
Being a virgin on my wedding night, to me, meant getting there before I had vaginal intercourse with a penis. Jesus does not consider this an accomplishment on my part. I did SO many other physical things that were sexual and thought far more sexually immoral thoughts. Being proud of my virginity was keeping my heart from being close to God.
You see, there is no piece of skin that can prove our purity because purity is not an accomplishment. It's a gift. Like righteousness. Like Joy. Purity is the glorious result of giving our hearts daily to Jesus. If we are in His presence and we are striving to be close to Him, He will make us pure by redirecting our thoughts and actions. His abiding spirit will make us less sinful. If you're thinking, "If I can't ever accomplish being sinless why should I want that?" Stick with me.
Jesus is concerned with our hearts way before we commit a sin. We should want to be sinless like Jesus because He desires it and He is everything. If He wants us to be so close to Him that we don't even consider having sex outside of a marriage then we should want that too. We give the people we love what they truly desire, why not our God?
None of us are pure or can accomplish purity on our own. The only purity that exists is the kind that comes automatically from having our hearts close to Him. In order to be pure, all you have to do is be close to Jesus. All you have to do is desire Him and let Him change your thoughts, change your heart.
My husband and I were pure on our wedding night, not because I'd never had sex or he'd never been in love but because our hearts were close to Jesus and because we'd spent so much time in His presence. He makes us pure. He determines our virginity and nothing else.