Vaginal Health


Hymen - some women may not be born with one

[This article originally appeared on Ferne Health and has been republished with permission.]

There’s a lot of confusion and myths circulated about women’s health, and one common misunderstanding of female anatomy is the hymen.


Illustration by: @justforsensation

The hymen is a remnant tissue just inside the opening of the vagina. It's left over from a vagina formation during its embryonic development. Lots of people associate the hymen with virginity and assume the hymen “breaks” when you have penetrative sex for the first time, but is it true?

Misconception 1: Everyone who has a vagina has a hymen

Many people think the hymen totally covers the opening of your vagina until it’s stretched open, but that’s not usually the case. For most women, it’s a membrane covering the vagina opening that naturally has a hole to allow period blood to come out. But some other women are born with little hymenal tissue or without the tissue at all! Not everyone who has a vagina would have a hymen, so don’t trouble yourself finding it.

Misconception 2: Hymen completely covers the opening of vagina

If you do have a hymen, it would come with a hole that’s big enough to allow period blood and the usage of tampons. In some rare cases, though, some women have hymens that cover the entire vaginal opening, or the hole in their hymens is so small that it would interfere with sex or tampon usage. In these cases, they would need to see a doctor to remove the extra tissue. 

Misconception 3: Hymen indicates a woman’s virginity

Many people believe that the indicator of virginity is an “intact” hymen, and some women would even seek for a hymenoplasty or hymen repair surgery in order to prove their virginity. However, having a hymen and being a virgin is not the same thing. Some people are born with hymens that are naturally open, and many activities, such as cycling and swimming, can stretch the hymen. You can’t tell if someone has had sex by the way their hymens look or feel.

Misconception 4: You will bleed when stretching your hymen

Many people believe there should be blood after the first sexual intercourse. However, the hymen is a membrane that can be stretched with minimal or no injury. It only has a few blood vessels, so even if it's torn, it may not bleed significantly. Forced penetration and lack of lubrication may cause lacerations to the vaginal wall, both of which are most likely to be responsible for the “blood-stained bedsheets,” rather than trauma to the hymen.

Misconception 5: Hymen can be seen or felt

The hymen is a membrane inside your vagina, so it’s impossible to see your hymen yourself even with a mirror and a flashlight. It’s also nearly impossible for your partner to feel it during penetration, or feel it by fingers. Stretching or tearing the hymen might hurt some people, but most people won’t feel it happen at all.

In conclusion, the state of your hymen — or lack thereof — has nothing to do with whether you’ve engaged in sexual activities. On top of it, the idea of virginity means very different things to different people. So there is nothing to worry about!

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All You Ever Wanted to Know About Vaginal Discharge

Vaginal discharge is probably something that's less talked about than periods. Those sex ed classes taught us about puberty and menstruation (at the very least on a basic level), but vaginal discharge has never been discussed. That may leave you wondering: Is my discharge normal? And what the hell is this stuff?

It's completely normal to have vaginal discharge; every person with a vagina produces it. Changes in vaginal discharge can even help you identify if something is wrong down there.

What is Discharge?

Vaginal discharge is a substance produced by the female reproductive system that comprises mostly water, micro-organisms and vaginal cells. The glands in the cervix and walls of the vagina are "activated" by the hormone estrogen to shed old cells and flush them out in the form of a sticky mucus.

Vaginal discharge can vary from person to person, and also depends on where you are in your menstrual cycle. Most women experience vaginal discharge at some point, but some women have it more often or in larger amounts than others.

What is the Purpose of Discharge?

In terms of cleanliness, your vagina is pretty low-maintenance. It has self-cleaning abilities, producing fluids that cleans up old cells and unwanted bacteria, and flushing them out of the body as - you guessed it - discharge. This helps to prevent infections and keeps your vagina clean.

Is My Discharge Normal?

Most women have vaginal discharge, but the amount of discharge produced is different for each woman. Some have a little discharge now and then; some have discharge every day. What's "normal" for you can change several times throughout your life, due to factors like pregnancy and menopause. It can also vary throughout the different stages of your menstrual cycle.

Other than the amount of discharge produced, the odour and colour may differ as well. Normal discharge should be a clear to milky-white colour, and have a familiar musky scent. In between periods, you may experience clear, slippery and odourless discharge that suggests ovulation.

Abnormal Discharge Cheesy Odour
A cheesy odour is not normal.

Abnormal Discharge

The following changes in your discharge can indicate a problem:

  • change in odour (especially an unpleasant odour)
  • change in colour (especially greenish, grayish, or anything looking like pus)
  • change in texture (such as foamy or looking like cottage cheese)
  • vaginal itching, burning, swelling, or redness
  • vaginal bleeding or spotting that is not a menstrual period

Here are some types of abnormal discharge and their causes.

 Type of Discharge Possible Causes Other Symptoms
Thick, white, like cottage cheese Yeast Infection Swelling and pain around the vulva, itching, painful sexual intercourse
Green, yellow or grey in colour, frothy, has a bad smell Trichomoniasis Pain and itching while urinating
White, yellow or grey in colour, with a fishy odour Bacterial vaginosis Itching or burning, redness and swelling of the vagina or vulva
Cloudy or yellow Gonorrhea Bleeding between periods,urinary incontinence, pelvic pain
Bloody or brown Irregular menstrual cycles, or less often, cervical or endometrial cancer Abnormal vaginal bleeding,pelvic pain

 

If you have abnormal discharge with other symptoms, please see your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor will most likely ask you several questions about your medical history, your symptoms, menstrual cycle and sexual activity. Your doctor will also give you a full-body physical exam, and examine your pelvic area.

Avoid scented soaps
Avoid scented soaps in the vulva area.

Tips to Prevent Infections

Practicing good hygiene is the best way to prevent infections that lead to abnormal discharge. Here are some tips:

  • Wear breathable cotton undies, and avoid overly tight clothing
  • Avoid scented soaps and feminine products
  • Wipe from front to back to prevent bacteria getting into the vagina and causing infections
  • Don't use douches as they can remove useful bacteria
  • Keep the vulva area clean by washing regularly with mild soap and warm water

Don't be grossed out by your vaginal discharge. It's normal to have discharge, which helps to keep your vagina clean, and acts as an indicator when something might be off down there.

  

If you use pantyliners daily to catch discharge, why not get cloth pantyliners? Our Eco Femme Pantyliners come in a 3-pack and are perfect for everyday use. They're more comfortable than disposable liners that tend to bunch up in the middle. You're also reducing waste and saving the Earth at the same time!

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