The hymen – only a myth

2006-08-28 14:56

There is no such thing as the hymen. It is only a myth, say Carola Eriksson and Monica Christianson, midwives and doctoral students at Umeå University.

– Many studies have been conducted that suggest that the hymen does not exist. And yet this idea lives on, stubbornly, according to Eriksson and Christianson.

Carola Eriksson and Monica Christianson are doctoral students in medicine at Umeå University, and they are also connected to the school of gender studies there. Carola Eriksson is doing research on the fear of childbirth among women and men, and Monica Christianson is studying sexual risk behavior among young adults. Besides their doctoral studies, they have started a study of the hymen.

– Last year, we received funding from the Gender Forum of our county for a study of young adults’ experiences and conceptions of the hymen.

‘They have now finished, but not yet evaluated, a pilot study of two hundred young adults in Umeå who wrote down their associations around the word ‘hymen.’  Eriksson and Christianson are planning a much larger study at three high schools in the towns of Umeå, Skellefteå and Lycksele. Their interest in this issue arose a few years ago, when Carola Eriksson and Monica Christianson participated in a graduate course in which the existence of the hymen was discussed.

– Even though we have both worked as midwives for many years, neither of us have ever seen a hymen.

When they looked for literature on this matter they found several studies showing the same thing, that is, that the hymen does not exist. This led to a study of the literature, which was published as a chapter in the anthology, Body and Gender in Medicine (2004).

– Last summer we participated in the Swedish radio program, ‘Gender.’ Soon after this, a gynecologist who had published a study in the Swedish Medical Journal got in touch with us.

Her study had showed the same thing: the hymen is a myth.

– Even though this knowledge has existed for a long time, old notions are living on.

The gynecologist who contacted us thought that times had not been ripe for this knowledge when she published her study. But the question is if times will ever be ripe, for religious, political, and economic reasons. Countless people make money from adding a few stiches in the vaginal openings of young girls. You can even buy ‘man-made’ hymens from the Internet. Therefore, according to Carola Eriksson and Monica Christianson, information is crucial. There are so many young women who worry unncecessarily about the hymen.

– There is no membrane, but just a vaginal opening. This means that you cannot see if a woman has had sex or not.

Author Lena Olson
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