When is a girl or woman a virgin and when is she not? You might think the answers are simple, but there is really a lot of confusion in people's minds about it, especially when it comes to virginity and the hymen. The simplest answer is that you are a virgin if you have not had intercourse; but it turns out that the exact definition of intercourse varies from one person to the next. Intercourse takes place when a penis penetrates the vagina beyond the hymen. So what do you need to know about virginity and the hymen? The most common image people have of the hymen is that it is a solid membrane stretched across the vagina. Think about that for a minute. If it is a solid membrane, how would menstrual flow get out? Some very well-educated young people say, "Well, it must be a semi-permeable membrane." WRONG. The hymen is NOT a closed membrane. Where is the hymen? About half of the U.S. population gets that answer wrong too. They think the hymen is kind of deep inside the vagina. In fact, it is right at the opening to the vagina, which explains confusion about virginity and the hymen. The hymen is just some pinkish tissue, a bit ruffled in shape, that NARROWS the vaginal opening, but does not close it off altogether. As a matter of fact, in some girls the hymen may be stretched or torn during childhood from activities such as ballet, bicycle riding, or gymnastics; and therefore, virginity and the hymen aren't necessarily related. In the vast majority of girls, the opening of the hymen will allow easy insertion of a tampon. The first time a girl or woman has sexual intercourse the tissue of the hymen will either stretch or it may tear a bit in one or two places. Often there is NO BLEEDING and little or no pain. Do you lose your virginity and the hymen disappears? The hymen does not disappear; you have it all your life. When you are having a "pelvic" or "gyn" exam, you can ask to be shown your hymen in a mirror or you may be able to see it on your own. Often, even a gynecologist would not be able to tell just by looking whether or not you have had intercourse. Are you amazed by all this? Most people are because there are so many myths about virginity and the hymen. Now you may understand that virginity and hymen are not the same. Virginity is not a simple matter of anatomy. Maybe we'd all be better-off thinking of virginity in more personal, even psychological terms.
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