If I could wave a magic wand and—*poof*—make the entire world stop caring about one thing, it would be the state of any given person's hymen. This teensy piece of tissue, usually no more than a few centimeters in diameter, is the subject of so many (sexist, slut-shamey, virgin-shamey) rumors, and the real kicker is it's not something most people ever see or notice in their lifetimes.
The big hymen myth—the one I heard over and over again as a pre-teen, before I even knew that sex was anything more than passionate kissing—was that the first time a woman has sex, it breaks (or, more colloquially, "pops"), which is painful and causes a lot of bleeding. While bleeding and pain are accompaniments of first-time sex for some people, they're not a guarantee, and definitely nothing down there does any popping.
Your hymen is just a thin piece of membrane that sits about two centimeters inside the vaginal opening, says Dr. Rebecca Brightman, an ob-gyn in New York. It has no purpose, its existence is baffling to doctors and scientists, and it's widely considered an evolutionary mystery.
Everyone would be better off if they stopped believing in the unnecessary myths surrounding the hymen. The less mystery there is around vaginas, the better sex is, and the healthier people with vaginas are. Here are five myths about the hymen that deserve to be squashed, once and for all.
Myth #1: The hymen breaks when you have sex.
There's a little bit of a truth to this, but for the most part, it's a myth. The hymen doesn't break so much as it stretches or tears, says Brightman. And for a lot of people, the hymen actually tears before the first time they have penetrative sex.
"Tampon use, and just regular activities like horseback riding, gymnastics, and riding a bike can disrupt the hymen," Brightman says. Because the hymen is so thin, and sits so close to the vaginal opening, it's delicate and susceptible to tearing during childhood.
Myth #2: When the hymen is torn, it bleeds and hurts a lot.
Brightman says this is true for some people—just as all vaginas are different, all hymens are, too—but not everyone. Some people don't notice it at all when their hymen is torn, and others may feel a bit of discomfort and notice light to moderate spotting. If you experience severe or persistent discomfort, or heavy bleeding, Brightman suggests calling your doctor or ob-gyn's office for an exam.
Myth #3: The hymen is torn once, and then that's it.
This isn't a one-and-done thing, as Brightman says. You might tear your hymen a bit when you insert a tampon the first time, and then tear it some more when you insert something bigger—like a penis, a few fingers, a vibrator, et cetera. This explains why you might see some bleeding not just the first time you have penetrative sex, but the first few times. It's all totally fine and normal.
Myth #4: If someone's hymen is torn, that means they've had sex.
No, no, a million times no. Or, as Brightman puts it, "Not at all, not at all, not at all."
Anyone who tells you some garbage about how you can tell if a woman has had sex depending on if she bleeds after is lying to you, and doesn't know what they're talking about. As Brightman explained and as you've literally just read, this little piece of tissue can tear in so many ways—many of them not at all sexual.
Myth #5: The hymen grows back if you don't have sex for a long time.
You can't see this, but I'm rolling my eyes so hard. Once the hymen is torn or stretched open, it stays that way, according to Planned Parenthood. Even if nothing goes inside your vagina for 50 years, that sucker isn't closing back up. "Re-virginization" isn't real.
Follow Hannah on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.