Sex may permeate our popular culture, but conversations about it are still associated with stigma and shame in Indian households. As a result, most people 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 publishes this weekly sex column every Friday entitled “Let’s Talk Sex.” With this column, we hope to spark conversations about sex and tackle sexual health issues with scientific insight and nuance.
The column is written by sexologist Prof (Dr) Saransh Jain. In today’s column, Dr. Jain debunks myths surrounding virginity and her mythical guardian, the hymen.
The word virginity is generally understood as 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. Many myths about virginity are often taken for granted.
Virginity has a complicated history and is often (incorrectly) associated with hymen breaking. Hymen is a thin membrane that 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 the wedding, bloodied sheets are seen as a sign that the woman has ‘lost’ her virginity.
Here are some popular myths about virginity:
Myth 1: The hymen has to break when you have sex for the first time.
The biggest myth about the hymen is that it breaks when a woman has intercourse for the first time, leading to bleeding, a sign that she was still a virgin. In reality, many women do not experience hymen tearing 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 aroused. When a woman gets aroused, the muscles at the opening of the vagina relax and the vagina provides natural lubrication, so sex is more comfortable, even if it’s the first time. Worrying about pain can lead to muscle contraction and loss of lubrication, which can lead to pain or bleeding.
Myth 2: A gynecologist can tell if a woman is a virgin by the hymen.
It is widely believed that a health care professional can distinguish between a virgin and a non-virgin through an examination of a woman’s hymen. This is far from true. The hymen can stretch and one’s virginity status has little influence on that.
Myth 3: Your partner can tell your status.
Many women worry that their partner will be able to tell if they are a virgin or not. The truth is, your hymen doesn’t reveal your virginity status, and even professional medical experts can’t tell if you’re 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 simply your hymen breaking.
The pain women experience the first time they have sex is usually not due to the 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-enthusiastic, leading to a minor injury. In either case, it is most likely your vaginal tissue that is bleeding, not your hymen.
Myth 5: Penetrative vaginal sex is at the heart of your virginity.
According to traditional beliefs, it is only sex when a penis enters the vagina. This is a superfluous, false and misogynistic definition of sex because it doesn’t take into account queer sex or other forms of sexuality. Whether or not something “counts” as sex often varies, based on these factors:
This just goes to show that there isn’t one definitive marker for sex. Penetrative vaginal sex is just one of many ways to express sexuality. How you define sex is up to you. There is no need to let external perceptions determine your virginity.
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