Sex may permeate our popular culture, but conversations about it are still associated with stigma and shame in Indian households. As a result, most individuals dealing with sexual health issues or trying to find information about sex often resort to unverified online sources or follow the unscientific advice of their friends.
To address the widespread misinformation about sex, News18.com is running this weekly sex column, titled ‘Let’s Talk Sex’, every Friday. We hope to initiate conversations about sex through this column and address sexual health issues with scientific insight and nuance.
The column is being written by Sexologist Prof (Dr) Saransh Jain. In today’s column, Dr Jain busts myths around virginity and its mythical guardian, the hymen.
The word virginity is generally understood to refer to someone who has never had sex, but that leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Does oral sex count? If a woman only has sex with other women, is she a virgin? And so on. A lot of myths about virginity are often accepted as the truth.
Virginity has a complicated history, and has often been (incorrectly) linked to breaking of the hymen. Hymen is a thin membrane which covers or partially covers the entrance to the vagina. In many cultures, before a woman is married, her hymen is examined to determine whether or not she is a virgin. The morning after marriage, bloody sheets are seen as a sign that the woman has ‘lost’ her virginity.
Here are some popular myths about virginity:
Myth 1: The hymen must break the first time you have sex.
The biggest myth about the hymen is that it breaks when a woman has intercourse for the first time, and that this results in bleeding, a sign that she was a virgin. In reality, many women do not experience tearing of the hymen or bleeding the first time they have sex. That’s because the hymen can stretch.
Because of this myth, many women worry about pain and bleeding the first time they have sex, which can make it harder to get turned on. When a woman is aroused, the muscles near the opening of the vagina are relaxed, and the vagina creates natural lubrication so that sex is more comfortable—even when it’s the first time. Worrying about pain can lead to tightening of the muscles and less lubrication, which can lead to pain or bleeding.
Myth 2: A gynecologist can tell from looking at the hymen if a woman is virgin.
It is commonly believed that a healthcare professional through an examination of a woman’s hymen can differentiate between a virgin and a non-virgin. This is far from truth. Hymen can stretch and one’s virginity status hardly makes an impact on it.
Myth 3: Your partner can tell your status.
Many women worry their partner can tell if they are virgin or not. The truth is your hymen doesn’t reveal your virginity status, and even professional medical experts can’t tell whether you are a virgin or not. However, sharing your sexual history with your partner will help build trust and improve intimacy.
Myth 4: Pain during your first intercourse is just your hymen breaking.
The pain women experience the first time they have sex is usually not due to hymen-breaking. In fact, the reason it hurts so much is probably because the woman is nervous and has trouble getting aroused and lubricated, which would lead to a painful insertion; or both partners may be inexperienced and over-eager, which could lead to a minor injury. In both cases, it’s most likely your vaginal tissue that’s bleeding, not your hymen.
Myth 5: Penetrative vaginal sex is the core marker of your virginity.
As per traditional beliefs, only when a penis enters the vagina, it is sex. This is a redundant, false and misogynistic definition of sex because it doesn’t account for queer sex or other forms of expressing sexuality. Whether or not something “counts” as sex often varies, based on these factors:
* Ejaculation/ orgasm
This just shows that there isn’t any one definitive marker of sex. Penetrative vaginal sex is just one of the many ways to express sexuality. How you define sex is up to you. There is no need to let external perceptions define your virginity.