The Mythical Hymen Revealed

As a romance author, I read romance novels, with a particular fondness for the historical sub-genre. But one of those roll-my-eyes moments is when the Hero breaches the mythical maidenhead in a mythical way. 
Correct location of the hymen:

  • At the entrance to the vagina, between the labia minora. You can see it with a mirror by parting the labia majora.
  • It is not located deep inside or near the cervix. If anything way up there rips and bleeds during sex, please see your doctor immediately!
Shape of the *mature* hymen:

  • The most common shape is a crescent located toward the anus, and not a complete barrier across the opening. It is not like the seal over a new aspirin bottle!
  • Even if the membrane covers the entire opening, there are one or more irregular shaped holes for menstrual drainage.
  • Some women are born without a hymen - about .03%.
  • On rarer occasions, the hymen is a solid barrier without these necessary perforations and may require minor surgery to create them.
For those interested in illustrations of normal and rare hymen shapes, visit Healthy Strokes:

Changes with age:

  • From infancy through up to ages two to four, the hymen is thick, pale pink and redundant (sleeve-like, folding over on itself and my protrude).
  • Once a girl reaches puberty, the membrane becomes thin, smooth, nearly translucent and elastic (about the thickness of plastic wrap) and can be sensitive to the touch.
Strength of a woman's hymen:
  • Varies depending upon the thickness and elasticity of this piece of female anatomy. Some women are born with durable hymens that remain even until childbirth. After childbirth, small pieces of the hymen can still remain attached.
  • Yes, though extremely rare, a "virginal" birth is possible -- if people equate purity with the presence of a hymen.
  • The membrane can be eroded (stretched, damaged, or torn) by normal daily activities such as running, walking, horseback riding (astride), bike riding, wiping deeply, and tampon use. In an historical context, this might help explain why a noble woman's accomplishments were sedentary (thighs-together type activities) and why they rode sidesaddle.
  • Masturbation, finger or tongue penetration can also stretch or damage the membrane.
When the fictional Hero assures he can provide the Heroine pleasure without damaging her maidenhead, then he inserts his tongue or a finger or two, he's either ignorant or he's lying.

First penetration bloodletting:
For tips on how to avoid the first time pain and bleeding, visit:

  • Historically, virginal bloodletting was proof of a woman's worthiness as a wife and the marriage bed sheet was put on display.
  • Today, 43% of woman report they did not experience bleeding their first time.
  • There aren't any reliable historical statistics that I could find. But considering that in many cultures this ritual sheet stain could mean life or death for the woman (if she didn't prove to be untouched, she could be cast out, disowned, sold as a slave, or killed), I suspect very close to 100% of the "virginal" brides found a way to bleed on their wedding night.
Did historical mothers pass along secret tips to their daughters to make certain she produced the required sheet stain to save her life?

Did a virginal bride secretly cut herself or have a small container nearby in case if she didn't bleed the required way?

Did she inserted a small device (like a piece of saturated sponge) for her new husband to breach? Is this where the myth of the deep maidenhead came from?

I wonder… Further research is required unless someone out there knows a few sources.

I know women don't want too much reality in their fantasy, but we should at least understand female anatomy. My favorite authors "write this wrong" including Moning and Boyle! But I forgive them.

I'll keep you posted


  1. Very interesting!

    I've read, although I have no idea if it's true or not, that Mid-Eastern women would insert a small membrane full of sheep or goat's blood to make sure the sheets were stained.

  2. Thanks for sharing D'Ann.

    I suspect it is true. If women found ways to deceive their new husbands, I don't think they would write down the secrets for fear of discovery.

    But the information would have been passed on verbally, especially when so much was at stake!

  3. I've also read that women in an Indian harem would know how to fake virginity. Brothel owners also boasted the knowledge of how to repair the hymen. That type of surgery is actually performed today.

    I did research on this topic when writing my third historical because I needed to know how such "faking" could be done to help prove it hadn't been done. (I know that's convoluted.) I was amazed to find the true physical location and promptly re-wrote those parts of books 1 & 2! I remember a lot of writers placed the hymen "deep." Always nice to know the facts. :)

    Great post, Carrie!

  4. Fascinating post! Thanks for putting together all the research for it.

  5. What a great topic. Being a medical professional, it always shocked me that some of the myths and misconceptions about virginity/hymens still live today.

    Great post!

  6. This is so interesting! I hope you'll post what you find out, if you decide to look into this further, about the 'faking' it. A LOT of faking had to be going on, you know?

  7. Loved the post. Everything I always wanted to know but was too lazy to ask.
    Thanks so much for posting this. I truly enjoyed it.
    Teresa Reasor

  8. This is an interesting post and very useful. I actually have one of my characters talke about "faking" it. But the placement of the hymen is something I choose to fudge. It's much more romantic to move it. To me it's just like morning breath or having to go to the toilet in the morning. Yeah these things are more realistic, but who wants there H/H running off to do either before the morning sex scene.

  9. That's always been a pet peeve of mine regarding historical romances, too! I'm glad I'm not the only one. I was really surprised when I was complaining to my mom once (who is a scientist, though in animal physiology) that she believed what they wrote about it being located deep inside.

  10. Oops, I left a few words out of my comment; that should read, "...I was complaining about it to my mom once..." (I hate when I do that!)