Where Is the Hymen?

I thought we'd gone over this in the past few years enough times that folks knew this information already. But it seems like we need a review because authors still don't seem to know where the hell the hymen is.

We went over this in the Bosoms for about six pages, and we've joked about it here for pages and pages more.

But it seems that the hymen still eludes us, specifically WHERE IT IS.

It is NOT Up the vaginal canal by a few inches.

IT IS NOT INTERNAL.

IT IS EXTERNAL.

Here is a professor of anatomy, someone whose JOB it is to KNOW the HUMAN BODY, who has an advanced degree or two in Where Things Are In or On Your Body:

Speaking as you were on the blog of virgins, I have a long standing smart bitch bitch with writers who have no idea where the hymen is located. This is amazing to me, as most romance authors are female and should have a better knowledge of their own anatomy.

Some have it placed correctly and as the act BEGINS, the virgin feels stretching and pain. The hymen, if present, is a curtain or ring of tissue at the entrance of the vagina. This is how the British medical people could verify by sight, that the intended royal bride was a virgin.

It is not, as some authors repeatedly write in book after book, located somewhere in the middle of the vagina, causing discomfort halfway through depth of penetration during the act.

How, oh how, can we make writers aware so I don't end up throwing books across the room and screaming out loud????
 
JL
Disgruntled Romance Reader and Anatomy Professor


Let's talk about it scientifically. The hymen is a “membrane that surrounds or partially covers the EXTERNAL VAGINAL OPENING.”

Even Lance Goddam Armstrong's LIVESTRONG website knows this: “A common misconception about the hymen is that it is inside the vagina. It is actually a mucous membrane that is part of the vulva, the external genital organs.”

How is it that freaking LIVESTRONG can get this right, and we can't? I am so baffled why this anatomical fallacy remains part of the genre. You'd think we'd know all this by now but NO. I get scenes like this one:


He guided himself into the slick heat between her thighs. But despite her apparent readiness, his entry wasn’t easy. He gritted his teeth and fisted his hands in the quilt, forcing himself to go slow, to give her time to adjust to his size. His muscles ached with the effort of holding back and his heart pounded against his ribs as he inched a little farther, swallowing her soft sighs of acceptance, of pleasure.

He frowned when he felt an unexpected resistance, but before he could begin to comprehend what it might mean, her legs lifted to lock behind his hips, pulling him deeper so that he pushed through the barrier of her innocence.

Royal Holiday Bride, Brenda Harlen, December 2011


He inches along, like you do, and feels some barrier? COME ON NOW. He wouldn't be able to inch into anything, much less feel a barrier of any sort once he was partially in because….

THE HYMEN IS EXTERNAL.

Say it with me here. IT IS OUTSIDE THE BODY.

(Also: not only did this scene follow with the obligatory “If I'd known you were a virgin I'd have done it differently” scene, but the hero says that he “should have realized” [because virginity has a scent?] AND that he “had a right to know.” ON WHAT GODDAM PLANET is her sexual experience within his rights of knowledge or any of his business at all?)

Anyway, back to the hymen. 

I think I need to tell everyone again where it is. 

It is not up the canal by any means! It's not a portcullis halfway to the cervix! It's not a barrier up the valley, a logjam obstructing the path of the river of love, a dam in the reservoir of passion. IT IS NOT INSIDE ANYTHING. 

THE HYMEN IS EXTERNAL.

I don't know why this myth is allowed to propagate but it does, like binder clips in a desk drawer.

DON'T MAKE ME START POSTING PICTURES, PEOPLE. Neither of us wants that.

I've read one of these scenes every time there's a virgin becoming devirginized, and it has to stop. There's too many. This has to stop. It's ridiculous. It's embarrassing. It's biologically incorrect, and insulting to boot. If romance is supposed to depict the female experience in every variety, and if we are supposed to believe these are, you know, HUMANS, everyone needs to quit getting basic biology so very, very wrong. 

I think I'm going to start tagging books I read and review with the words “does not know where hymen is” to create a record of which books contain this biological inaccuracy.

What about you? Does this drive you batty? Have you read a scene like this recently?

 

 

 

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Ranty McRant

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  1. 1
    Jestucker says:

    “DON’T MAKE ME START POSTING PICTURES, PEOPLE. Neither of us wants that.”

    Sure we do… er, well… maybe us male readers do anyways…

    *Yes I’m male, yes I’m hetero, yes I read romance novels… I blame my wife for leaving them around the house to be picked up

  2. 2
    CarrieS says:

    Actually, I wouldn’t mind pictures, or possibly just links, if they were non-purient helpful guides to the vocabulary of bodies.  I had no idea about the hymen.  I find it disgraceful that when I try to teach my daughter proper body part names I have to look them up on wikipedia because I don’t know what’s going on down there. 

    oh, and jestucker, you are not alone – my husband doesn’t read romance routinely but he has actually recommended some for me to review that I had never heard of.  I think a lot of romance would appeal to men if marketed as “action-adventure” or some such.

  3. 3
    Jules says:

    It doesn’t surprise me, really. When I was in high school, they only covered the basics on the female portion of the “Point to the parts”. Actually, I am not even sure they covered the basics because I am almost positive the clitoris wasn’t listed. I sure as hell know the hymen was never shown or really talked about. Maybe in vague terms…

    I am sure not much has changed in 10 years.

    After one of the rants here, I googled it. I wont forget where it is…

  4. 4
    Cakes says:

    The one that really drives me crazy is the heroine who is an expert horsewoman who has been riding since early childhood and still has a hymen of steel.

  5. 5
    Anon for Now as it was TMI :) says:

    LOL I just read one today that had him pause after a few inches (inches!) to feel and push through the barrier. All I could think was my memory must be faulty or I was abnormal because I remembered it hurting way before he got anywhere near inside me. Glad to have this cleared up. I was seriously considering looking it up after the kids went to bed. Now I don’t have to.

    I love this site. :)

  6. 6
    Davi says:

    Thank god, I’m not the only one! It seems like every virgin sex scene I read has the hero and his super-schlong knocking on her cervix before noticing her hymen. Drives me crazy!

    Perhaps we could all chip in for copies of Our Bodies, Ourselves to help these authors along. Maybe we’d end up with a heroine that actually menstruates as well *gasp*

  7. 7
    GHN says:

    OMG yes – this annoys me no end. And unfortunately this particular bit of ignorance seems to pop up in most of the book where someone gets her cherry popped. And the annoyance with this only grows every time I read that sort of crap.

    Equally annoying is another very common thing – a description of sexual interest with a description like, her womb clenched or twithced with lust. The only time the womb announces its presence in a way that can be sensed, is when it causes menstrual pain. And BELIEVE ME, sex would be the VERY LAST THING on my mind at such a time!

  8. 8
    Copa says:

    Maybe heroine hymens are all like trampolines and they just stretch and stretch until they can go no further and the guy feels the barrier only when the tramp-o-hymen wants to bounce back?

  9. 9
    ?? keri ?? says:

    CarrieS: I recommend the Scarleteen.com website. It is shameful to say (and so I am very tempted to disassociate my twitter id with this comment!), but I had *no idea* where the clitoris was located until I was 20 years old and stumbled upon Scarleteen for other reasons. Despite being female. (I blame it on inadequate sex education in Catholic school and my mom not realizing I was confused about various things due to said education and euphemistic/unhelpful Welcome to Puberty books and romance novels. Also, you know, growing up in a very religious school and being asexual, which didn’t lend to exploration of that part of my body. Plus, it’s well known that sex ed and whatnot tend to ignore women’s pleasure during sex and focus on preventing pregnancy, so it’s no wonder it doesn’t get mentioned except in passing that it exists.)

    At any rate, ignoring my own ignorance, Scarleteen.com is a wonderful resource for teaching kids (and adults!) about sex and our bodies and everything.

  10. 10
    Lisa A says:

    Meh, this hasn’t bothered me.  To start with, for me there’s no distinct “line” where the vulva ends and the vagina begins, I mean visually what’s “internal” and what’s “external” can depend on if, and how much, the labia is (are?) spread open.  I guess maybe the hymen might in fact BE the “line” but I don’t ever remember feeling (with curious fingers)  or having anything like what’s described as a hymen on my own body.

    Also with the somewhat tapered shape of a penis head, he might not “feel” any constriction until he reaches penetration with the shaft, or edge of the glans maybe? (Mightn’t he be in by an inch or two by then, depending on his length?)  I mean I’m not a guy, I’m just guessing.

    I think the real reason this doesn’t bother me is that I had no “breaking of the hymen” experience when I had my first intercourse, and apparently that’s not uncommon.  So I’m guessing lots of us have no real-life “popping of the cherry” sensation to compare with what’s in books.  There’s nothing in my memory bank that screams, “this description is WRONG!”  lol Plus my mind isn’t usually in analytical mode when reading a sex scene.  For me this is like Sarah saying it wouldn’t bother her for a Porsche to drive up to Almacks.

    My 2 cents.  Now what REALLY bugs me is when people use the term vagina when what they’re really talking about is the vulva (the external bits).  Guys are especially bad about this.

  11. 11
    Ros Clarke says:

    India Grey’s Craving the Forbidden has a heroine with periods. Big heavy, bleeding everywhere, debilitating pain periods. On the page, not politely offscreen.  And a fabulous hero who just about manages to take it in his stride.

  12. 12
    Dani A. says:

    You aren’t alone. I was eighteen before I knew where MY clit was. I always vaguely assumed that it must be in or near the vaginal opening because, well, it would make SENSE to put it there, wouldn’t it? I tried asking my mom when I was twelve, but she got all flustered and I decided never to ask her again, because I could see how uncomfortable she was.

    I also spent most of my teen years petrified that I was deformed. I could only get one finger in, and I was pretty sure a dude was supposed to be bigger than that. I didn’t know that my hymen was still intact, you see. I thought because I COULD get a finger in, that meant I must have lost it somehow (teachers and magazines occasionally brought up how the hymen could get torn doing horseback riding or gymnastics). Nobody ever told me that the damn thing has holes in it. I mean, of COURSE it does, it makes perfect sense, otherwise we would all explode when we start menstruating. But the way it’s talked about I got the idea that the hymen was some solid impenetrable barrier that has to be broken through, and since I didn’t have that, I assumed I didn’t have one.

    Scarleteen was a huge help, but I always preferred books to websites, and the biggest helps to me were Our Bodies Ourselves, which I signed out from the library, and Sex For One by Dr. Betty Dodson, a masturbation manual that I found in a small feminist bookstore. I forget which one had a detailed description of the hymen and the fact that it normally has one or more openings, but I was nearly in tears of relief when I read it. Not deformed, not freakishly small, I had just been poking my finger through one of the perforations in the hymen. And Dr. Dodson’s book had beautifully rendered pencil drawings of the vulva which looked FAMILIAR, unlike the spartan black and white diagrams they used in health class. I could actually find and recognize the clitoris using those pictures. And again, seeing them reassured me further that I was completely normal down there.

    Bad anatomy in romance isn’t just aggravating, it’s probably causing real harm and anxiety to people who don’t know better and think that the books are right and somehow it’s their bodies that are wrong.

  13. 13

    Thank you! They hymen is my biggest pet peeves in romance novels. All the trauma, angst and page count over a little piece of external skin and most writers still can’t get it right.

  14. 14
    TaraL says:

    Count me as another who isn’t really bothered by this.

    Bodies vary, nerve-endings vary, penis sizes and shapes vary. Things that are essentially the same can feel completely different to different people.

    Pardon the TMI, but my personal experience was that things didn’t really start to hurt until we’d gotten going a bit, so when the pain hit, it FELT like it was inside me. When I read a medical description of the hymen a few years later, I was pretty sure it was written by a man who didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. I didn’t really believe it until I read it in a few other places, and there’s still a part of me that thinks, “No, that’s a description of YOUR hymen. Mine was nothing like that!”

    So, I figure if a loss of virginity scene is written from the heroine’s point of view, it’s describing what she’s feeling, not what is happening to her body from a medical point of view. As such, it can be pretty varied and I’ll still buy it.

  15. 15
    Riwally says:

    As for me, it doesn’t bother me that much.  Literary license by the author, perhaps?  My own personal experience in life with my virginity:  I wasn’t able to use tampons because I couldn’t get it any further than my vulva, ergo, the hymen was “right there”.  I did often wonder how women could have periods with a hymen in tact.  Just got an anatomy lesson.  Now I can rest and quit loosing sleep now that I have solved that sweet mystery of life.

  16. 16
    SO says:

    I read Our Bodies, Ourselves and I looked at my hymen when I still had it. I’d have said it was internal, because, as Lisa A, pointed out, there’s no obvious line where the vulva ends and the vagina begins and where that line might be wasn’t what I was looking at or paying any attention to. 

    Also, my hymen survived tampons and I didn’t feel it ‘pop’ when I had sex for the first time, although I did have a few drops of blood on the sheets, so, I suspect it didn’t ‘pop’ on my lover’s first thrust, but ‘wore out’ in the course of activity.

    So, I have no problems with any hero or virgin who thinks the hymen is in the vagina, as long as they think it is at the entrance or ex-virgins who feel some hymen breakage at some point past the first touch of penis to vaginal entrance.

  17. 17

    I’m with TaraL.  But personal experience has influenced my writing virgin sex.  By the time it started hurting the first time, I was thinking “Seriously?  Is that thing still here?” Because, if it was right on the front door step, I’d have thought that some of the early messing around and experimentation would have gotten it out of the way.
    So maybe, for some of us, it was made of rubber bands.  Or else, we were doing it wrong…

    One more thing to work through in therapy in 2012.

  18. 18
    Jennifer Phyfe says:

    I had no idea where my hymen was when I had sex for the first time, but I do remember taking anatomy & physiology in college and thinking, “Well, hell; all those romances led me astray.”  I do have to throw in that it’s gotta be better for the guy to know of a woman’s innocence because my first time, I think, could have been so much better if I hadn’t kept that a secret (or, you know, if I had waited until my body was as ready as my attitude thought it was). He didn’t know to go slowly, so the pain was just a big blur to me – I couldn’t have told you where he was when it started.

    Oh, and may I just say that “a logjam obstructing the path of the river of love” screams to me of a whole ‘nother orifice.

  19. 19
    Meoskop says:

    This could turn into my favorite thread EVER!

  20. 20
    Carin says:

    Honestly, I had no idea where the hymen was until I read this today.  I’m fairly sure my hymen was gone before I ever had sex, because I certainly had no pain or anything like that.  So reading the virginity stories in romance all seemed pretty off to me – very different from my experience.

    I’m off to check out scarleteen, though.  It sounds interesting.

  21. 21
    Asia Morela says:

    TaraL, I hear your argument about personal experience, but I think these scenes are problematic because they are *always* from the hero’s POV! Which, in itself, constitutes a risk, as authors are generally women and therefore, have no idea what it must be like for a man to have sex with a virgin whom they didn’t know was a virgin. The woman feels pain, but it’s the man who feels the “barrier” itself.

  22. 22
    Diatryma says:

    My favorite terrible hymen scene has a line where the hero says or thinks that she is technically still a virgin… while his penis is inside her vagina. 

    I mean, I usually put a footnote on ‘virginity’ because it doesn’t really exist, and that’s so much weirder and worse.  The hymen is not a bulkhead in the vagina.

  23. 23
    Jill Sorenson says:

    It doesn’t bother me.

    First of all, her sexual history is relevant. So is his. I’d want to know if my partner had been having protected sex, unprotected sex, or no sex at all. Losing your virginity should also be as painless as possible, ideally. That means having a gentle partner, who might not know you’re a virgin unless you tell him (or her). Why is this information “none of his business”? Come on. It’s not about his right to know, it’s about women conveying their needs to partners. More of this, please.

    As far as the hymen goes (ha), in the above excerpt, “inches” can mean “moves forward” in a less literal sense. I felt as though my own hymen was inside. I felt considerable pain when I lost my virginity. We all have difference experiences and different bodies. While I agree that the hymen isn’t a solid barrier way up in there, female parts vary as much as penis size. They just aren’t as visible or as celebrated.

  24. 24
    TaraL says:

    “I think these scenes are problematic because they are *always* from the hero’s POV!”

    @Asia Morela – We must be reading very different books because I’d estimate only about 10% of the romances I read these days have the “virginity loss” scene from the man’s POV. And nearly all of the old skool romances I read back in the day were told from the female POV.

  25. 25
    MN says:

    I’ve never had menstrual pain, but I’ve given birth, and I have seen men who caused my uterus to do what felt like a double somersault. It’s nothing like pain when it happens.

  26. 26
    Qmanh says:

    The first time I had sex, I asked my bf(now husband) am I bleeding? Am I bleeding all over?? Did you break the hymen?? He, being in medical school, explained that some women lose the barrier without knowing it while growing up.  But heck, I learned the
    position of the hymen through romance novels.  And now that I’m almost 40, I finally learn where it it actually located! Now I’m off to quiz him and see if HE knows that it’s external :))

  27. 27
    Vicky says:

    “It’s not a portcullis halfway to the cervix!”  LMAO.

  28. 28
    cbackson says:

    I’m totally referring to the hymen as The Portcullis from here on out.  Drop the portcullis!  The Normans are at the gates of her Castle of Love! 

    I, too, find this hilarious, and I can’t dismiss it as “literary license” because it seems to recur in every book.

  29. 29
    ?? keri ?? says:

    I feel a lot less embarrassed now, thank you! But I had the same idea about the logical positioning of the clit – especially with all the talk about the G-Spot on magazine covers in grocery stores back in the ‘90s.

    Regarding the hymen, though, I did actually know exactly where it is located and everything, despite the non-mention of it (except for that it can be stretched out/torn by athletics and so on). I always chalked the cherry popping descriptions to it being stretchy and taking a bit before it would tear, like pantyhose that catch on a splinter or nail and stretch a ways before the snag drags open. A bit like comment #8, actually.

    There do seem to be some very ingrained clichés regarding loss of virginity scenes that have nothing to do with reality, or perhaps started realistically but have since been deformed to what we now know. I’ve read porn from the early 18th century (1721ish?) that I’m fairly certain describes the hymen tearing after the penis has gone in a bit…but it was kind of euphemistic, and I can’t remember exactly which one it was, so there’s no way to verify.

  30. 30
    PamG says:

    TMI warning!

    Personally, the term that gets me is “mucous membrane.”  Sometimes this website makes me feel abnormal, not because of my experience but my inability to distinctly recall those first times and watershed moments that are supposed to live forever in memory.  So I don’t remember the details of the first time worth a damn.  Maybe because it was dark, anxious and in the back seat of a Corvair.  Course it’s the same guy 40 yrs. later so I suppose things may have blurred a bit over the years.  Maybe I’m just freakin’ old.  (See also breastfeeding)

    What I do remember is my mom giving a book to explain the facts o’ life.  I barely read the sex part because at that point I was going to be a nun, but the menstruation part, oh yeah, I remember that because of that word: mucous.  From the time I read that till my first period, I envisioned waking up one morning with panties full of snot.  Blood was such a relief.

    The point of this disgusting and irrelevant memory is that I think that when we read things or perhaps hear things as well that are emotionally fraught and perhaps physically a little scary, we may self edit or over-focus on details.  How-to or, in my day, how-not-to books about sex are in themselves a little anxiety inducing.  I much prefer fiction and am happy that my daughters could explore through romance novels, and while I’d prefer that the information was accurate, I think an incorrectly placed hymen between two people who desire each other is far less harmful than the concept that say… rape is o.k. if you really love her by page 217.

    Incidentally, my girls never got the birds ‘n’ bees book.  We were pretty open while they were growing up.  Fortunately, they never asked me, “What’s a hymen, Mommy?”

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