People sure attach a lot of importance to a variable developmental byproduct, don’t they?

You want some really good information about hymens and virginity? The Swedish Association for Sexuality Education provides it. It’s definitely a better source than some embarrassingly bad 1980s movie romp about eager teenagers trying to lose their virginity, that’s for sure.

Virginity – what does it mean?
Discussion of virginity revolves around whether a person has ever had sex. In most people’s minds, the main question is whether or not someone has had vaginal intercourse.

Virginity is a vague concept based on perceptions and myths, chiefly concerning female sexuality, that RFSU (or Scarleteen!) would not wish to endorse. For one thing, virginity is often associated with a heteronormative view of sex restricted to vaginal intercourse between man and woman (in other words, insertion of the penis into the vagina). For another, in many languages and cultures, virginity is synonymous with innocence, the opposite of which is guilt. There is no guilt involved in having sex, and no need to feel guilty about it. What’s more, such myths are used against women in particular; for instance as an excuse for spreading rumors and committing sexual assaults.

We sometimes receive questions about how to know whether or not you are a “virgin.” You are the only person who can decide that. Different people have different ideas about which sexual acts constitute a “loss of virginity.” Some people restrict it to vaginal intercourse, while others count other activities as well.

Is it possible to see or feel whether a woman has ever had sex?
No. Looking at a penis or a vagina, it’s equally impossible to tell whether that person has ever had sex. Neither a gynecologist nor a sex partner can tell whether you’ve had vaginal, oral, anal or manual sex (unless you have become pregnant or contracted a sexually transmitted infection). No one else can detect whether you’ve had sex.

Good to know. Unfortunately, now I’m torn between “Ha ha, you can’t tell if I’ve lost my virginity” and “Why the fuck should anyone care?”

Also interesting: the explanation for why humans (and other animals) have hymens in the first place.

When a female fetus is growing during pregnancy, her internal reproductive organs and her vagina develop separately from her external reproductive organs (the labia and so forth). The vagina starts out as a solid cord that runs from the body wall to the uterus. Between the fifth and seventh months of gestation, that cord slowly hollows out and turns into a tube. But it still doesn’t have an opening to the outside of the body — it ends at the body wall. Finally the body wall starts to disintegrate at the point where the vagina meets it and an opening forms in the body wall, and becomes the orifice (outlet or opening) of the vagina.

What the hymen is is whatever remains of that body wall cling to the inside of the opening of the vagina after the opening forms. It is the “leftovers” of the sheet of flesh that used to separate the internal genitals from the external ones before the vagina had an opening. The opening(s) in the center of the hymen are the entrance to the vagina.

I like to think of the hymen as a door frame mounted in a doorway that stands on the spot where “external” stops and “internal” starts. You can’t go in or out of that doorway without passing through the door frame. The hymen is exactly the same. It is part of the entrance to the vagina. Nothing can enter or exit the vagina without going through it.

Developmental byproduct theory for the win.


  1. says

    Neither a gynecologist nor a sex partner can tell whether you’ve had vaginal, oral, anal or manual sex (unless you have become pregnant or contracted a sexually transmitted infection).

    It is possible to get pregnant without having had sex (artificial insemination). Some STIs can be gotten also in other ways without having sex.

  2. rq says

    There’s a great book called The Vagina Bible by the fantastic Jennifer Gunter that is a marvellous source of education on vaginas and other topics of sex- and reproduction-related things about body parts usually labelled as female anatomy.

  3. ck, the Irate Lump says

    Adam Emily Ruins Everything had a nice spot on this on their TV show, too:

    The hymen being used as a ‘virginity’ detector has a lot of really dire consequences for women, so this myth really needs to die.

  4. suttkus says

    So much for ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny. I mean, we knew that already, but it’s a rather nice example of how the idea doesn’t really work.

    I look forward to hearing how this disproves evolution in some future creationist rant.

  5. brain says

    @2 rq:

    about body parts usually labelled as female anatomy.

    What does “usually labeled as” means?

  6. brain says

    John Morales, you are good at tautologies. Now that you enlightened everybody with your wisdom, fuck off.

  7. brain says

    @kitty and the previous asshole: why do you feel the urge to answer a question that was not directed to you, with useless remarks that do not contribute in any way to what I was asking?

  8. John Morales says

    brain, I do like to be helpful, and my response was utterly apposite and accurate, as well as every bit as genuine as your question.

    Perhaps the uselessness of the answer reflects the uselessness of the question.

    (Or: you are transparently unsubtle; it was obvious that wasn’t a real question)

  9. brain says

    Wmdkitty: I asked a question, yes. Only, not to you or to the other racist dumbass. You cannot read (or understand), that’s your problem

  10. blf says

    brian@5, Re @9 & @12, To whom — specifically — is the question @5 being directed? There are four replies, plus the OP, preceding the original question @5, so since you’ve rejected all subsequent replies by others, it must be either poopyhead or one of the first four commentators. So then, who, specifically? Replies along the lines of it’s obvious are not an answer for the simple reason it’s not obvious — as this reply, and others preceding it, show.

  11. brain says

    @13 blf:

    To whom — specifically — is the question @5 being directed?

    hint: read the first five characters of comment @2.

  12. brain says

    yes, blf,you have no need to apologise for that, just live with your condition the best you can.

  13. brain says

    By the way: I just fed my two pets usually labeled as cats. They ate a lot of stuff usually labeled as cat food, then went out doing what is usually labeled exploring in what is usually labeled my garden.

  14. brain says

    Sometimes I jack off. Does this disturb you? I am sure you never do it: you are so afraid of it that you have to say instead “jaq off”. Or maybe “the act usually labeled as jaquing off but that I never never ever do”.

  15. brain says

    Morales jaquing off by posting links on jaquing off. You truly are the master of self- reference. Fuck off.

  16. John Morales says

    Here’s some lexicon for you, little brain: cisnormativity; gender essentialism; transphobia.
    Which is the stuff rq was obliquely repudiating.

    (As I noted, you are transparent)

  17. brain says

    Morales, you already proved yourself a racist ignorant that spits out bulls hit on topics he doesn’t know and doesn’t care to learn about.

    So rest assured, whatever you write is just noise I don’t waste my energies on.

  18. John Morales says

    Heh. The word you sought was ‘ignoramus’ — “ignorant’ is an adjective.

    So rest assured, whatever you write is just noise I don’t waste my energies on.

    You say one thing, but you do another.

    (Squeak, little chew-toy! Squeak!)