What is a hymen?
Your hymen is a small, thin piece of tissue at the opening of your vagina. It's formed by fragments of tissue left over from fetal development. The size, shape and thickness of your hymen are unique to you and can change over time. When you're born, your hymen is usually a ring-shaped piece of tissue that surrounds your vaginal opening. Other times it covers just the bottom of the opening of your vagina. In rare cases, the hymen covers your entire vaginal opening and causes issues with menstruation.
The hymen has a reputation for being an indicator of sexual activity — like a hard, seal-like covering that blocks your vagina — but it usually has no connection to whether a woman (or person assigned female at birth) has had sex. In reality, it's soft and elastic and doesn't necessarily block your vaginal opening. It can break from everyday activities, inserting a tampon or having sex.
You may experience symptoms when your hymen breaks or you may not realize it has occurred.
What does a hymen do?
Your hymen doesn't serve a purpose in your body or reproductive system. Unlike other organs or tissues with a clear job, no one knows for sure what the hymen does. Some think it might have something to do with keeping bacteria or foreign objects out of your vagina.
What happens when a woman's hymen breaks?
Some people know when their hymen breaks, while others don't. Like other tissues in your body, your hymen is flexible and can stretch. It doesn't usually tear the first time it’s pressed on. Rather, it breaks as a result of being worn down. It's not an instant pain you'd feel if you tore a muscle or broke a bone.
Some people experience pain or light bleeding when their hymen breaks, but most will feel nothing. Since it's a flexible piece of tissue, it stretches and thins over time from day-to-day activities or from using tampons. If you bleed when your hymen breaks, many believe it’s their period or spotting.
Can your hymen regrow after it breaks?
No, your hymen can't grow back after it breaks. It's a tissue membrane formed during development, and it can't regrow in adults.
Where is my hymen located?
Your hymen can have a few different positions around your vaginal opening and come in many shapes and sizes. The most common types of hymen are annular (surrounding the entire vaginal opening) and crescentic (shaped like a crescent moon). These positions are considered normal. Annular hymens resemble donuts, with the center of the donut being the vaginal opening. A crescentic hymen is located at the bottom of the vaginal opening.
In rare cases, it covers the vaginal opening and causes complications. Most newborns will have an annular hymen, but by the time they reach elementary school, it has changed to a crescentic shape.
What does a hymen look like?
Your hymen is the same color as the skin around your vagina (flesh-colored). It can form a crescent moon beneath your vaginal opening or surround your vaginal opening. It doesn't cover the vaginal opening entirely because that would prevent menstruation blood from leaving your body. In infants, the hymen will be more noticeable since it hasn't had time to wear down.
If your hymen is broken it may look like a small piece of tissue that’s been pushed off to the side. A torn hymen is tough to see, and you can't feel it with your finger. In some cases, it blends back into the vaginal opening.
What is a hymen made of?
Your hymen is an elastic tissue that can stretch as you move. It's slightly thicker at birth but wears over time and loses elasticity due to hormones, activities, inserting tampons or sex.
Your hymen is formed during fetal development when your vagina is developing. Your vagina starts as a solid tube. As the tube dissolves and the vaginal opening expands, the remnants of the tube form your hymen.
Conditions and Disorders
What are some conditions of the hymen?
There is nothing you can do to control the shape of your hymen. It's formed when you are still in the womb. A hymen disorder is considered a congenital anomaly (you’re born with it). There are five classifications of the hymen:
- Annular or crescent-shaped hymen: These are considered the typical shapes of the hymen. In most cases, the hymen surrounds the vaginal opening at birth, like a donut (annular hymen). Then, it changes to a crescent shape.
- Cribriform hymen: A condition where your hymen contains many small holes. You may be able to menstruate through the holes, but you wouldn't be able to insert tampons easily.
- Imperforate hymen: When your hymen completely covers the opening to your vagina. This rare condition occurs in 1 in 1,000 girls. This means blood can't exit your vagina during your period. Instead, it will back up into your vagina and cause pain.
- Microperforate hymen: Your hymen covers your entire vaginal opening except for a tiny hole. Period blood can flow out of that small hole, but you may have difficulty inserting or removing a tampon.
- Septate hymen: Your hymen has an extra piece of tissue giving it the appearance of two hymens. Your vaginal opening is behind the two pieces of tissue. People with a septate hymen will have issues inserting or removing tampons.
Your healthcare provider can diagnose a disorder of your hymen with a physical examination of your vagina. Some hymen disorders are diagnosed at birth, while others are not found until a teenager is having issues with menstruation.
If you have a hymen disorder, a minor surgery called a hymenectomy can be performed to fix your hymen. During this procedure, the extra hymenal tissue is removed. This lets period blood flow out the vagina and allows for regular use of tampons.
How do I know if my hymen is healthy?
If you have an issue with your hymen, you will likely know once you reach puberty. In most cases, you will be unable to insert or use tampons during your period. In very rare cases, you may not get your period at all because your hymen covers your vaginal opening. Your healthcare provider will be able to diagnose a hymen disorder by the time you are a teenager.
How do you if your hymen is still there?
You likely will not know if your hymen is still intact. Signs of a broken hymen might be light spotting or bleeding, discomfort or visible skin around your vaginal opening. In most cases, your hymen wears down naturally over time. After it breaks, it sometimes will go back into your vagina or appear as a small flap of skin.
If you want to check to see if your hymen is still there, you can use a mirror and examine yourself. If you can see a piece of tissue around the bottom part of your vaginal opening, that is your hymen.
Can a tampon break a hymen?
Yes, a tampon can break your hymen. This is a common way the hymen is worn to the point of tearing. In most cases, your hymen breaking will not be a one-time event. It will be gradual, and if you’re menstruating, you may not even notice.
Does having sex for the first time break your hymen?
Your hymen doesn't necessarily break the first time you have sexual intercourse. Your hymen can break before you have sex from everyday activities like exercise or inserting a tampon. It's also possible that it does break the first time you have sex. If this happens you may see blood and feel a little pain.
What activities can cause the hymen to tear?
Everyday activities can wear the hymen down or cause it to break. It's important to know that the hymen is a flexible piece of tissue that gradually wears to the point of tearing. Once it does tear, you may feel discomfort or notice blood. Some common activities that can tear your hymen are:
- Riding a bike.
- Riding a horse.
- Climbing on a jungle gym.
- Vigorous exercise.
- Inserting a tampon.
- Getting a pelvic exam or Pap test.
If your vaginal area comes into contact with anything, it can cause your hymen to tear. It's not uncommon for women to have no idea when or how their hymen broke. The experience is different for everyone.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Your hymen is a thin piece of tissue at the opening of your vagina. It gets a lot of attention for being an indicator of sexual activity, but that isn’t entirely accurate. Everyone's hymen is different. Some people experience bleeding and pain, while others don't.
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