I just received the following comment from an expert on the hymen whose study I had quoted in a post I did for the Psychology Today Blogs titled The New York Times Is Wrong about Hymens—But They Are Not Alone:

Dear Paul,

I found your article on hymens to be refreshingly accurate. I am a Pediatrician whose specialty for the past 28 years has been the medical evaluation of suspected child sexual abuse. The article you quoted about adolescent girls with and without a history of consensual intercourse is mine.

There are actually 2 myths about the hymen; one dangerous and one protective for women:

The first and oldest myth is that the hymen always breaks the first time a woman has vaginal intercourse, and will bleed. The second is that athletics or tampons can break the hymen. These are not supported by any evidence whatsoever.

The hymen is stretchy!!! That is why most women don’t bleed after their first time.

There are 3 possible explanations for why tears to the hymen are rarely seen, even in young girls after they have told someone about sexual abuse. The first possibility is that no abuse actually occurred. The second is that there was abuse, but it did not cause any injury to the hymen. The third is that there was injury, but it healed completely by the time the child was examined, to the point where no visible injury could be identified. I end up explaining the myth of the hymen when testifying in cases where the child’s description of the abuse is crystal clear, but the examination shows no sign of injury.

As far as the definition of virginity, there many. What I tell my patients, even those adolescent girls who I’ve examined after a sexual assault (and may actually have signs that the hymen was torn) is that a person is a virgin until they have consensual, awake and aware sex with a person they are in love with.

Joyce Adams, MD