The hymen is a membrane found lining the vaginal opening.. It is a structure that has been culturally associated with virginity and first sexual intercourse. However, as we shall see, the hymen can break before; in accidents, with masturbation, etc.
In this article we will learn about the anatomical and morphological characteristics of this structure. In addition, we will explain the different types of hymen that exist, what happens when it breaks and what are the functions of this membrane.
What is the hymen?
The hymen consists of a thin, fragile and flexible membrane that closes the superficial orifice of the vagina; it also has small openings or orifices that allow menstruation (as well as other vaginal secretions) to pass through.It also has small openings or orifices that allow the passage of menstruation (as well as other vaginal secretions). This membrane, in the form of a corolla, separates the vulva from the vaginal cavity.
Most women have a hymen from birth; in fact, the hymen is formed before birth.
Generally, the hymen is not completely closed (although each woman has her own characteristics in terms of size and shape of the hymen). In addition, there are women who have it completely closed until the first menstruation.
In these cases, complications may arise (e.g. very severe period pains), and in extreme cases, surgical intervention may be required to open the hymen.
Generally (and culturally) we associate “hymen rupture” with “first sexual intercourse” or “no longer being a virgin”. However, the hymen can be ruptured earlier (e.g. during tampon use, medical examinations, masturbation, accidents, certain physical or sporting activities, etc.).accidents, certain physical or sporting activities, etc.).
This is because, although it is an elastic structure, it is a very thin and fragile membrane, easy to break. It is true, however, that in most cases, the hymen breaks during the first penetrative intercourse.
When the hymen breaks, this usually causes slight pain in the woman (it may even bleed), although this is not always the case, as each woman is different. The thicker the membrane, the more likely it is to cause some pain.
In the event that our hymen is so thick or hard that it does not break “naturally”, we will have to undergo a small surgical intervention. This procedure is called “hymenotomy” (a small incision is made in the hymen).
On the other hand, if the clitoral and vaginal areas are sufficiently lubricated, it is more likely that the pain of hymenal rupture at the moment of penetration will be less painful.
Anatomy and morphology
At the anatomical level, the hymen is part of the vulva (external genitalia).. Its structure is similar to that of the vagina.
Specifically, the vulva of the female encompasses her external primary sexual organs. These are formed by: the mons pubis, the external labia majora, the internal labia minora, the clitoris and the vulvar vestibule. From this vestibule we find the exits of other structures: the urethra, the vestibular glands and the vagina.
As we shall see, the morphology of the hymen can be diverse, there are different types of hymen. In addition, its shape may vary with age and with certain hormonal changes (e.g. variations in estrogen levels).
When we are born, the hymenal tissue is progressively reduced (as estrogen levels decrease). By the time girls are one year old, hymenal tissue persists in 42% of cases. With the passage of time, its shape changes, although not substantially.
Every woman’s body is different, and so is the hymen.. Each one is different. Even so, there are different types of hymen. Those considered “normal” (the most frequent) and the atypical (less frequent).
1. Normal hymens
The “normal” hymens are the most common, and in turn can be of four different types:
1.1. Annular hymen
The annular hymen is the most common of all. In this case, the hymenal orifice is located in the center of the hymen and is surrounded by a membrane of similar width.
1.2. Labial hymen
In the labial hymen, we find a kind of elongated hollow in its midline. It also includes a small groove (opening), either vertical or horizontal. In addition, we also find the membrane that had the previous type, in this case in the form of lips (hence its name).
1.3. Semilunar hymen
Finally, the semilunar hymen has the characteristic that its orifice is located in the upper part of the hymen (against the wall of the vagina). In addition, the membrane covering it is crescent-shaped (hence its name).
1.4. Fringed hymen
This hymen has several small perforations on its surface.
2. Atypical hymens
Atypical hymens are, as the name suggests, less common. In this case, within them we find even more variety (up to 6 more subtypes):
2.1. biperforated hymen.
In this case the hymen has a septum that divides the orifice into two halves.
This hymen has no orifice. In this case, surgical intervention will be necessary. Imperforate hymen occurs in 0.1% of newborns.
2.3. Hypertrophied hymen
These are larger than normal hymens.
2.4. Triofolate hymen
This hymen has three folds.
2.5. Multifoliated hymen
The multifoliated hymen has several folds (more than three).
2.6. Coralliform hymen
It has a shape similar to that of the petals of a flower, as it has a set of extensions with this shape.
3. Other types of hymen
On the other hand, there are two more types of hymen, not classifiable in the previous sections:
3.1. Flexible hymen
This is a particularly flexible and dilatable hymen. Its orifice is larger than usual. It is a particular hymen because in this case, the woman can receive penetration, or even insert her fingers, and the hymen does not break. The flexible hymen can change its size and subsequently return to its initial position.
3.2. Hymen with dilated orifice
In this case, the orifice is also larger than usual (its diameter is larger), but its membrane remains firm and intact. It can originate or appear for two reasons: due to a congenital malformation (congenital cause) or due to prolonged dilatation (over time) (acquired cause).
The main function of the hymen is to cover the opening of the vagina.. Its orifice also allows menstruation to follow its cycle (i.e. it allows its passage), as well as that of other vaginal secretions.
The hymen also has the function of separating the vulva from the vaginal cavity. Beyond the above, in reality, anatomically the hymen does not have any other specific function.