The Real Purpose of the Hymen

Debbie says:

Since I heard Dr. Jen Gunter speak in September, I’ve been wanting to write about her, but I haven’t had a chance to read The Vagina Bible, so I didn’t have a good topic … until I found this fabulous 7-minute YouTube video in which she talks about the hymen: truths, myths, evolution, and humor.

If you don’t know Dr. Gunter’s work, she’s a relentless crusader for facts about women’s health, and she crusades in a delightful no-bullshit tone which is remarkably appealing. Her goal in this talk is to debunk both the the belief that an intact hymen leads to bloody sex which demonstrates virginity. She disposes of that quickly and efficiently.

The hymen has few blood vessels. I know; I’ve operated on them. And they often don’t bleed even when cut with a scalpel.

Watch the video to see her eviscerate the evolutionary theories that connect the existence of hymens to the institution of marriage. She added some details to my knowledge, but basically so far, she’s on familiar ground for me. Then she gets into what I didn’t know.

“if the hymen were, biologically speaking, all about marriage, … why do cats have hymens? Why do dogs have hymens?” (Also, she tells us, horses, camels, buffalo, and elephants.)

I did not know dogs and cats had hymens. I had somehow assumed that, like menstrual cycles, hymens were pretty uniquely homo sapiens. It turns out, however, that the human hymen is a rigid organ until we are about 3 (presumably this varies for different species), and after that it becomes more elastic, and gets out of the way. “This,” Dr. Jen says, “is because the hymen has served its purpose  protecting the infant vagina from urine and feces.” Once the person is continent, the hymen becomes like baby teeth, no longer needed.

Because she’s Dr. Gunter, she can’t leave us without tying her science into where the patriarchal myths come from:

So what about those bloody sheets? … If sex is twist-a-nipple-and-stick-it-in, or if it’s rape, then you get vulvar and vaginal lacerations. Sexual incompetence and sexual violence is what brings bloody sheets, not a disrupted hymen. …

I would like to remind everybody that virginity is a social construct, and please keep biology out of it.”