2. The first time you have intercourse, the hymen must break.
People with vulvas who are planning to engage in penis-in-vagina intercourse are often told that the experience will be painful and bloody because the hymen has to break — AKA “popping your cherry.” The truth is, this does not have to happen at all.
First of all, not everyone engages in this kind of sex. Second of all, not everyone who does engage in it even has an intact hymen by the time they do (see myth #1). Thirdly, if your hymen is intact and you want to have penis-in-vagina intercourse, you can stretch it rather than break it. This can be done by inserting a finger, then two, gradually increasing the amount you put inside the vagina.
Bleeding is not inevitable. One study found that only 37% of women reported bleeding the first time they had sex. More could probably avoid it if they gradually stretched it out, went slowly, and used lots of foreplay and lube.
Read: It Took Way Too Long but We Finally Have a Vagina Museum
3. The hymen is responsible for any pain and bleeding that happen during first-time intercourse.
While it may seem natural to attribute pain or bleeding during first-time (or second-time or third-time) intercourse to the hymen, there are actually more often other culprits to blame, such as emotional discomfort or lack of arousal, both of which can lead to dryness or tight vaginal muscles.
“Any blood with first penetration is more likely due to general vaginal tearing from lack of lubrication than to damage to the hymen,” sexologist Emily Nagoski writes in her book Come as You Are. Clitoral stimulation, lube, and a partner you trust can all help with this.
It’s also important to know that pain during sex, especially if it continues, can be a sign of a medical condition like vulvodynia, pelvic floor issues, or endometriosis (especially if combined with period pain). So, you should talk to a doctor if you have severe or enduring pain during sex.
Read: Pain During Sex? It Could Be Vulvodynia
4. Your hymen defines your virginity.
Not only does the hymen not tell you whether a vagina has been penetrated — it cannot tell you whether someone is a virgin, because virginity is a social construct. Even those whose vaginas have been penetrated by a penis may consider themselves virgins, for example, if the penetration was not consensual. Or they may simply not identify with having “lost their virginity” because they don’t subscribe to the concept. Some find the whole idea problematic, as it’s been used to judge people’s (primarily women’s) “purity.”
Furthermore, someone may consider themselves to have lost their virginity from activities other than penis-in-vagina intercourse. For example, someone with a vulva who has had oral or manual sex with another person with a vulva may consider that to be the instance in which they lost their virginity. The typical definition of virginity is based on heteronormative, cis-normative assumptions.
Virginity is a concept, not a physical reality, so you get to define it however you want.