Can You Actually ‘Break’ Your Hymen?

Can You Actually ‘Break’ Your Hymen?

by Sue Jones
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If you have a hard time using a tampon or notice fluctuations in your period blood flow, be sure to check in with a gynecological provider for an accurate diagnosis if you have access to one, as there are health conditions that can cause similar symptoms, according to ACOG.

For example, someone with a transverse vaginal septum, meaning they’re born with a wall of tissue that separates parts of the vagina6, might not menstruate or have a hard time inserting a tampon. A minor surgery called a hymenectomy can remove the excess tissue if necessary and relieve symptoms. Afterward, you can expect to have totally normal vaginal function. Alternatively, you can talk to your doctor about whether using a vaginal dilator, which is a cylinder that is generally used to stretch the vagina (along with plenty of lube!), may help stretch your hymen. 

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Okay, so what causes hymen “breakage”?

Let’s start by explaining that the hymen doesn’t really “break.” Hymen tissue is membrane-like and flexible, meaning it stretches and eventually tears. Further, your hymen can’t grow back or somehow “break” twice.

In the case of penetrative vaginal sex, your hymen stretches and generally tears, leading to potential bleeding for some people, Dr. White says. But each person’s experience is different in terms of when their hymen tears and if they feel physical symptoms like pain, he explains. You’re more likely to experience an obvious tear if your hymen is thicker or more rigid and less stretchy.

But there are so many other things that can cause a hymen to tear. Many people’s hymens get worn down and thin out over time from participating in physical activities like biking, horseback riding, gymnastics, and even masturbating, Dr. Rosser notes. The thinner your hymen gets, the more likely it is to eventually tear. Heck, gynecologic exams (such as a Pap smear) can also tear your hymen, says Dr. White.

Tampons can also stretch out your hymen, so the tissue can tear after numerous uses or even just one insertion, Dr. White says. If you use tampons regularly, it’s unlikely your hymen is still intact, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them. If you are a virgin, and your hymen tears because of a tampon, that doesn’t somehow “cancel” out your virginity, if that’s something that’s really important to you.

One of the most common misconceptions is that an intact hymen confirms a person’s virginity2. “There is no way to tell if someone has had sex by looking at their hymen,” Dr. Gosine says. “Hymens come in all shapes and sizes and you cannot tell if what you see is just normal for them.”

The hymen doesn’t always break during penetrative vaginal sex, either. Think of your hymen stretching in the same way a condom stretches to accommodate different sizes. “Some women have hymenal tissue and some do not regardless of whether they have had penetrative sex, used a tampon, or used a sex toy,” Dr. Gosine says.

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Does it hurt when your hymen “breaks”?

This ultimately depends on your unique hymen structure (again, if you have one) and your personal pain tolerance. Some people may feel soreness or pain when their hymen tears, while others may not even notice. If you’re trying to have penetrative sex for the first time but the pain is unbearable, try to press pause and schedule a visit with your doctor to make sure you don’t have an underlying health issue at play.

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