Hymen


Image Caption : Fimbriated Hymen within Female External Genitalia: Medical visualization of a fimbriated hymen within the context of the female external genitalia. The hymen is a piece of membranous tissue that edges the vaginal orifice to varying degrees. It comes in many different shapes and sizes, the most common being annular, fimbriated, lunate, and septate. The hymen almost always has an opening wide enough to allow for unimpeded menstrual flow, but occasionally can cover the entire vaginal opening (an imperforate hymen), and must be surgically corrected. Bleeding which can occur during a woman's first sexual intercourse is usually the result of the disruption of the hymen.

External Female Genitals

The external female reproductive structures are referred to collectively as the vulva (Figure). The mons pubis is a pad of fat that is located at the anterior, over the pubic bone. After puberty, it becomes covered in pubic hair. The labia majora (labia = "lips"; majora = "larger") are folds of hair-covered skin that begin just posterior to the mons pubis. The thinner and more pigmented labia minora(labia = "lips"; minora = "smaller") extend medial to the labia majora. Although they naturally vary in shape and size from woman to woman, the labia minora serve to protect the female urethra and the entrance to the female reproductive tract.

The superior, anterior portions of the labia minora come together to encircle the clitoris (or glans clitoris), an organ that originates from the same cells as the glans penis and has abundant nerves that make it important in sexual sensation and orgasm. The hymen is a thin membrane that sometimes partially covers the entrance to the vagina. An intact hymen cannot be used as an indication of "virginity"; even at birth, this is only a partial membrane, as menstrual fluid and other secretions must be able to exit the body, regardless of penile-vaginal intercourse. The vaginal opening is located between the opening of the urethra and the anus. It is flanked by outlets to the Bartholin's glands (or greater vestibular glands).

The Vulva

This figure shows the parts of the vulva. The right panel shows the external anterior view and the left panel shows the internal anteriolateral view. The major parts are labeled.

The external female genitalia are referred to collectively as the vulva.

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The hymen is a crescent-shaped membrane that surrounds or partially covers the external vaginal opening. It forms part of the vulva, or external genitalia, and is similar in structure to the vagina. Physiologically, the hymen does not seem to have a specific function or purpose. In children, although a common appearance of the hymen is crescent-shaped, many shapes are possible. Normal variations of the hymen range from thin and stretchy to thick and somewhat rigid; or it may also be completely absent.

The effects of sexual intercourse and childbirth on the hymen are variable. If the hymen is sufficiently elastic, it may return to nearly its original condition. In other cases, there may be remnants (carunculae myrtiformes), or it may appear completely absent after repeated penetration. Additionally, the hymen may be lacerated by disease, injury, medical examination, masturbation or physical exercise. For these reasons, the state of the hymen is not a conclusive indicator of virginity.


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