On the list of psychological dangers presented by poorly written romance novels (e.g., the fetishization of virginity, the romanticization of abusive stalker vampires), the portrayal of the actual devirginification process itself doesn’t necessarily hover right at the top. But as a writer and a pedant, good God do I get cheesed off by anatomical inaccuracy. And while I’m not aware of scores of young women having penetrative sex for the first time and saying, “Whoa, whoa, whoa–that is not how it was in Fifty Shades of Grey!” (although they may well be out there), I feel the record should be set straight.
Officially, for the record, and for future reference: In the vast majority of female bodies, the hymen is not halfway up the vagina. It’s maybe a centimeter in there, it’s thin verging on transparent, and it generally comes pre-perfed. I’m sorry if the mundanity of female anatomy has spoiled your dramatic deflowering scene.
(Note: None of this is to make any comment on the actual process of losing one’s virginity or on the concept of virginity at all. While many see PIV sex as the exclusive puncher of one’s v-card, virginity is purely a societal construct and thus lacks any real, objective signifier.)
In the world of heteromance novels, though, the hymen’s usually the thing, and there’s pretty consistent boilerplate for the scene in which our innocent, sheltered protagonist loses hers: She feels an awful tearing deep inside or a pinching that wasn’t as bad as she expected, or he encounters an obstruction halfway in about which he’ll interrogate her after they’re done with the tender lovemaking. Or he gets to a certain point insider her and then has to stop and ask her if she’s okay and strokes her hair off her forehead until she assures him she really does want to do this, and then he busts through her maidenhead like the Kool-Aid Man, and she’s ouchy for a bit and then ends up coming rainbows by the time he’s finished.
Most significantly, it’s that point, the breaching of the tollbooth halfway down Ladycavern Turnpike, that signifies her loss of virtue–if Innocent Maiden were to tell Lusty Pirate that she didn’t want to do it after all, he could back out and she’d still be a virgin. In romance novels, having only half a dick in you isn’t enough to make you filthy and unmarriageable.
Writers, prepare to have your ignorance lovingly but violently ruptured by teen sex-ed site Scarleteen, delivering an illustrated overview of the hymen–referred to as the “corona” by Swedish health educators in acknowledgement of the fact that it’s not really a tough, solid membrane guarding the gate between Lower Vagina and Upper Vagina. Scarleteen also has a handy list of sex misconceptions (from the hairy palm to the blackout orgasm), as well as an interview with noted virginologist Hanne Blank looking at the concept of virginity throughout history, the discovery of the hymen, and fun facts to know and share. (Did you know that guinea pigs have hymens? I mean, until they start gettin’ down, the cuddly little skanks.)
Scarleteen: Let’s pop the proverbial cherry and get it out of the way. The hymen: What is it, really?
HB: … I like to think of the hymen as a door frame mounted in a doorway that stands on the spot where “external” stops and “internal” starts. You can’t go in or out of that doorway without passing through the door frame. The hymen is exactly the same. It is part of the entrance to the vagina. Nothing can enter or exit the vagina without going through it.
Scarleteen: Does it need to be “broken?”
HB: The hymen will sometimes be abraded or torn during intercourse because it is being stretched further than it has been before, but not always. … The big reason a hymen doesn’t have to be “broken” is that unless it happens to be an imperforate hymen (see above) it already has a hole in it. Hymens exist because the vaginal opening forms. Nothing needs to be “broken” in order to create that opening–it was already there before the woman was even born.
Scarleteen: What does the hymen have to do with virginity?
HB: Not much, necessarily.
In summation: Romance novelists: If your standard for virginity is hymen-based, once your Lusty Pirate is halfway in, that sucker’s as good as gone. Halfway up the vagina, L.P. will encounter nothing but more vagina. If you want to show how tender and caring and respectful he is–even for a privateer who kidnapped her for ransom and revenge on her father for taking everything that was precious to him and leaving him with nothing but this scar and a heart full of bitterness, but who now has fallen in love with her despite his efforts to stay distant and cold–have him start with lots and lots of oral sex and a goodly amount of lubrication. It’s not hearts and flowers, really, but your Innocent Maiden will thank you for it.