What is a hymen?

Great question! The hymen (sometimes called the vaginal corona) is a thin bit of skin that covers part of the vaginal opening. It doesn’t have any particular purpose, and is probably left over from fetal development. Some people think that you can tell whether someone is a virgin by looking at the hymen, but that actually isn’t true! In fact, virginity isn’t a medical concept at all. Different people have different ideas about what virginity is and isn’t. We talk more about that here.

Here’s what you should know about the hymen.

You can find the hymen 1-2 cm inside the vagina. It’s often half-moon or petal shaped, but can look lots of different ways. Some hymens are thicker, while others are thinner. Some hymens are larger, while others are barely there. Some people don’t have a hymen at all!

If you have a vagina, you may be able to feel your hymen with your fingers—just wash your hands first! If you want, you can use a handheld mirror to check out what it looks like, too. Remember: it’s completely normal to be curious about your body!

During puberty, hymens become more elastic (or stretchy), kind of like a hair tie or rubber band. When objects or body parts (like tampons, toys, fingers or a penis) are inserted into the vagina, they can stretch the hymen. Sometimes, this can feel uncomfortable. Whether this is true for you depends on your unique hymen.

Now that we’ve talked about what the hymen is, let’s talk about what it isn’t.

  • The hymen does NOT cover the whole vaginal opening. Think about it—if that were true, blood wouldn’t be able to leave your vagina during your period! In the rare case that a hymen does not have a hole or space, it is actually considered a medical condition. This is called an imperforate hymen, and can lead to pelvic pain and pressure since there is no opening for blood to flow out during your period.
  • Because of this, the hymen cannot be “popped” the first time someone with a vagina has sex, or inserts something into their vagina.
  • No one—including sexual partners and doctors—can tell whether you’ve had sex before by looking at the hymen (or any other body part, for that matter).

You may have heard that the hymen tears the first time someone with a vagina has penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex, making them bleed.

While this can happen, it’s actually not that common. Hymens can tear when anything (not just a penis) is inserted into the vagina, or during physical activities like gymnastics, bike riding, or horseback riding. Many people’s hymens NEVER tear! Instead, they just stretch.

It’s more common for people with vaginas to bleed during sex because there’s not enough lubrication. When there’s not enough lube, friction during sex can make tiny tears in the vagina that bleed and cause pain. However, no one has to have a painful sexual debut! Go slow, use lube and communicate with your partner. Learn more about whether it’s common to bleed or feel pain the first time you have sex.

Still have questions about your body? If you’re 10-22 years old, call (212) 423-3000 to get confidential, comprehensive healthcare at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center—all at no cost to you.