Morality and Virginal Membrane
Anastasios D. Kalantzis, Surgeon Urologist-Andrologist
The term "virgin" typically means someone who has never had sexual intercourse (in women, more specifically, when there has never been penis penetration in her vagina).
It is widely believed that a woman loses her virginity when a penis enters her vagina and the virginal hymen is rupture. However, for the most part, being a virgin is not about whether a woman's hymen is intact or broken.
In Greek Mythology, Hymen was the god of marriage ceremonies. There are various versions in the ancient traditions and myths regarding Hymen: in the most prevalent, he is the son of Dionysus and Aphrodite or of Apollo and one of the Muses. He was celebrated in the ancient marriage song called Hymenaios. His name is derived from the word hymn, while the god was the representation of hymn. In art he is represented as a beautiful young man wearing a garland of flowers on his head and holding a burning torch in one hand. He is generally presented taller and more serious than Eros.
In most societies, since the man started walking in an upright position, therefore the female genital organ ceased to be in common view, the vulva was, has been and still is a taboo, a forbidden organ accompanied by magic and superstitious connotations.
In contrast, in other societies it was an object of worship, viewed as a source of life or pleasure and sometimes it was artistically depicted in great detail. Very characteristic are the otherwise highly stylized and abstract Cycladic idols, in many of which the pubic triangle is clearly carved, while in some the slit vulvar is also visible.
Due to the fact that the vulva is covered by labia majora and is not visible, it is considered dark and mysterious. Furthermore, because the female genitalia, in contrast to the penis and testes, are internal, in the older times women were considered "incomplete" compared to men.
Sigmund Freud developed a theory regarding sexuality. He maintained that at the age of 4 to 5 years, the girl develops "penis envy" (Penisneid) when she sees that men or boys have an "extra" piece of equipment. Quite expectedly, this theory has been disputed repeatedly.
Anatomically speaking, the vulva comprises of the mons pubis, or mound of Venus, the labia majora, the labia minora, the clitoris, the vaginal plate, the sinovaginal bulbs and the greater vestibular glands.
In the center of the vulva there is the opening of the vagina which is covered by the virginal hymen, a thin circular membrane, a fold of the mucosa which bears blood vessels and nerves and has an opening of approximately 1½cm opening, which the menstrual blood passes through.
The size of the hymen opening is small in childhood, while in puberty and adolescence it becomes wider allowing insertion of up to two fingers without being teared.
The thickness and elasticity of the hymen varies among women. It also has variations regarding the diameter and morphology of its opening and, depending on its form, also differences regarding the density of vessels and nerves are observed.
The virginal hymen has usually one opening; it is however likely to present variations, with two openings (septate hymen) or multiple small perforations (cribriform hymen). There may also be variations regarding its composition, whether it is thick (fleshy) or elastic. The fleshy hymen will produce more blood during first intercourse or will rapture more difficultly. The elastic hymen, due to its delicacy, may not rupture during intercourse as it can be pressed inside. In such case, there won't be any visible bleeding. What is more, there is a percentage of women, approximately 10-15%, whose hymen does not rupture but until the time of labor.
Normally, after the first sexual intercourse, the hymen ruptures in one or more places, with the presence of some small blood stains which are usually mixed with the vaginal secretions creating a pink fluid. If the hymen is fleshier, a small quantity of blood may be observed for one or two days. The quantity of the blood is always small and does not create risks of massive bleeding.
In the rare cases when the hymen is stiff and inflexible, it may be imperforate and cause difficulties in the sexual intercourse. In this case it can be cut with a simple surgical operation and local anesthesia by the doctor.
Larger amount of blood may be caused mainly by awkward movements of the sexual partner, who, frequently express their inexperience or their hastiness for fear they might lose their erection. Similar reactions which impair the first sexual intercourse may come from the woman, and these are usually the result of fear, anxiety or poor psychological preparation for the "first time". The rupture of the virginal hymen may cause minor pain or burning sensation.
Very rarely can the first penetration be as painful as described in various reading materials or by older women in the family or friends with prior experience. Much graver is the nuisance from local contractions caused by the fear, anxiety and angst that derive from social and moral concerns and boundaries which connect virginal hymen with morality.
In the vast majority of cases, the rupture (breaking) of the virginal hymen occurs during the first sexual intercourse, in other words with the first penetration of the penis in the woman's vagina, or with the penetration of any object into the vagina, or with the fingers during sexual foreplay.
Sometimes, however, virginal hymen rupture is observed caused by childhood and adolescence activities, such as physical exercise/gymnastics, dancing, bicycle riding, horseback riding or other sports, by falls and injuries in the playground, by the use of tampons or even during masturbation.
In many conservative societies, the virginal hymen rupture must be combined with the post-nuptial intercourse. In the Middle East and the Latin America such principles are still in effect, which has as a result young girls with their virginal hymen rupture by any cause face serious social and family matters, especially when they decide to marry in their countries. Since "honor killings" are still carried out in these countries, such a condition may even cost them their lives!
In contrast to the western societies, in the Greek society there still are some minorities who function and live under the influence of these customs, but in the majority of the Greek population this taboo tends to be obsolete.
The reconstruction and restoration of the virginal hymen (hymenorraphy) is a surgical operation which aims to protect these women from family and social condemnation and decrial, and most of all protect their own life.
The operation lasts approximately 30 minutes and can be performed also in the doctor's private practice, with local anesthesia.
The operation pieces together the hymenal remnants, achieving re-infibulation of the hymen tissues with absorbable sutures, so that, during intercourse it will be ruptured, accompanied by the small amount of "desirable" bleeding.
An artificial virginal hymen was manufactured in Kyoto in 1993. Later, in 1995 it became famous in Thailand. Today the use of this product is widespread in the entire southeaster Asia and the countries of the Middle East.
According to a recent BBC report, an Egyptian intellectual, Professor Abdul Mouti Bayoumi of al-Azhar University asks for death penalty for anyone who imports such products, claiming that their supply is equivalent to the promotion of perversion, which is punished by death according to the Islamic Sharia.
Regarding this outdated, obsolete and monstrous view, Bayoumi's compatriot and nobelist author writes in his book "Sugar Street" that "even if nations are overturned and eras pass, fate will always give birth to a woman who will mind her own business and a man who will persecute her relentlessly".