The hymen used to be thought of as the barrier to a woman’s virginity. But it’s a myth that’s been debunked for decades now. The hymen is just a thin, superficial layer of webbed tissue that stretches across the opening of the vagina. Usually, there’s room enough in the spaces of the web to allow menstrual blood to flow and to insert a tampon.
Additionally, if a woman is lubricated enough, she can have sexual intercourse and not break her hymen because it’s meant to move with pressure; otherwise, menstrual blood wouldn’t be able to flow. On top of that, any number of occurrences can damage or break the hymen:
- Putting in a tampon
- Riding a bicycle
- A wide range of sports
- A pelvic exam (which doesn’t ordinarily break the hymen, but it could)
A hymenectomy is a surgical procedure that’s performed specifically to remove the hymen artificially. There are a number of reasons that a young woman may have her hymen removed, including:
- To decrease discomfort during sex
- If there is an absence of normal menstruation, called amenorrhea
- Severe abdominal pain during a period
Birth Defects of the Hymen
Normally, the hole in your hymen isn’t much bigger than a finger. A condition called a microperforate hymen occurs when your hymen is rigid and stretches all the way across your vaginal opening with only a tiny hole in the center. This condition causes your period to last much longer than the normal four to seven days because the blood flows in such a small stream. You also may have difficulty inserting a tampon. If the extra thick hymen doesn’t spontaneously rupture from inserting a tampon or break painfully the first time you have sex, a hymenectomy can form a more normal hymen, one with a larger opening.
Another condition is called an imperforate hymen. This condition refers to a hymen that has no opening at all and stretches completely across the vaginal opening. This is sometimes noticed at birth and can be removed early, but you may not notice it until you get your first period. Even normal mucus won’t be able to drain, which is why you need to have your hymen removed.
A septate hymen is one with a band of tissue running horizontally down the center of your vagina. This can interfere with successful tampon use. If you insert a tampon, you’ll find it difficult to remove once it’s full of blood. You can have a total or partial septate hymen surgery to create a more normal vaginal opening or wait until the first time you have sex, at which point it will tear, albeit painfully.
Myths and Religious Beliefs
Many religions, including Islam, Catholicism and Judaism place a high value on a woman’s virginity, which is often measured by an intact hymen. For those young women who have medical problems that require removal of the hymen, an alternative called a partial hymenectomy is an option.
While the entire hymen usually is removed during a hymenectomy, your doctor can leave part of the webbed tissue in place and take only the portion that is interfering with your quality of life. A very thick or rigid hymen may be replaced with a thin layer of tissue to allow for normal menstrual flow. And you’ll be able to abide by your religious principals.
The Hymenectomy Procedure
For a hymenectomy, you’re placed under general anesthesia. To prepare for this procedure, you must closely follow your doctor’s orders. Typically, that includes:
- Preparing to have someone pick you up after the outpatient surgery — the procedure takes between one and two hours, depending on the amount of rebuilding you require
- Ensuring that someone will be with you for the rest of the day — as the effects of the anesthesia can last for up to 24 hours
- Not driving or making major decisions during that time
- Stopping cigarette smoking at least two weeks before the surgery
- Maintaining your aerobic exercises, because the better shape your body is in, the better your recovery will be
- Eating a healthy diet, rich in carbs and proteins to prepare your body for the trauma of surgery
- Taking all the antibiotics prescribed to help prevent infection
When you’re under, your OBGYN surgeon numbs the opening at your vagina. Then the webbing that’s the hymen is carefully cut or cauterized to remove only the portion that you requested — what’s causing you pain or difficulty with your menstrual cycles. The incisions then are sutured with dissolvable stitches.
Potential Risks and Aftercare
A hymenectomy is a very safe procedure with a high rate of success. At the same time, complications can occur, although they’re rare. Some risks associated with the surgery include:
- Bleeding after hymenectomy
- Less than expected results (that is, you still have pain during sex or when you insert a tampon)
- Scarring that requires a second procedure to remove
- Injury to other organs, such as your urethra
- Lingering pain
Once you get home, you must follow your doctor’s instructions just as carefully as you did prior to the surgery to ensure a quick and proper recovery. Instructions may include:
- Applying a topical ointment to your labia to keep it supple and comfortable — and to prevent infection
- Avoiding sexual intercourse for at least six weeks or until you get the green light from your doctor after a follow-up exam
- Not using tampons or douche until you’ve been seen by the doctor
- Using an icepack to limit swelling
- Not taking aspirin or other over-the-counter pain relievers because many can lead to excessive bleeding
- Taking a warm sitz bath two or three times a day to ease your discomfort
- Refraining from lifting anything over five pounds until you’re released from your doctor’s care
Call your doctor or 911 immediately if you:
- Develop a fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit
- Notice a foul-smelling discharge or any abnormal mucus
- Notice a rash
All symptoms should always be evaluated with a thorough consultation and examination by your gynecologist for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan to exclude any underlying serious condition.
Important Reminder: This information is only intended to provide guidance, not a definitive medical advice. Please consult ob/gyn doctor about your specific condition. Only a trained, experienced board certified gynecologist can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.
Do you have questions about Hymenectomy? Would like to schedule an appointment with best in class NYC gynecologist, Dr. Pedram Bral, please contact our office.
Dr. Pedram Bral, Gynecologist (Gynecologist NYC, Midtown)
New York, NY10010
(Between Madison Ave & Park Ave)
☎ (212) 533-4575