So many women get anxious about their first time. This is because they don’t know how their vaginas actually work. We’re here to debunk some common misconceptions about “popping your cherry”.
With terms like “popping your cherry” and “deflowering” describing a girl losing her virginity, is it any wonder that so many women feel anxious about their first time?
The phrase “popping your cherry” originally comes from the 19th century and is to do with the “ripeness of the cherry” and the fact that it is ready for plucking. The analogy to a woman’s virginity is that she has reached an age where she is ready to have sex for the first time.
For thousands of years, it was thought that you could tell if a woman has had sex by inspecting the hymen. Even today, some parts of society continue to laud virginity as a sacred thing and an essential trait for a woman to be allowed to marry or even be allowed to be a member of the community.
In 2013, a high school in Indonesia tested their students’ virginities until graduation – if their hymen wasn’t intact, they would be thrown out of school.
Dr Swati Jha, a Consultant Urogynaecologist in Sheffield, says: “A research study looked at a cohort of young women, the average age around 20. Even though this group of women had never been sexually active, their hymen was still not intact half of the time.
“Another study compared the hymens of young women, between 13 and 19 years of age, who had been sexually active to those who hadn’t been sexually active. The results are the same as the first study, which showed that half the time, even when there was sexual activity, the hymen was still intact.”
Most people have no idea of how vaginas work. It is a commonly held belief that the hymen needs to be broken the first time you have sex. However, sexual intercourse does not necessarily mean that it will tear or break.
In some cultures, the show of blood after sex is an essential test for virginity, even though this does not prove you have been sexually active. Nobody, except a woman herself, knows whether she’s a virgin.
In reality, the hymen is a thin, elastic membrane that sits either right outside the vagina or just inside it… sort of like a hair scrunchy. It doesn’t cover the entire vagina, and it doesn’t need to be popped or broken. In fact, a fully covered vagina is a very rare condition.
Dr Jha explains: “I tend to see women who present problems with the hymen. For example, when it completely covers the vaginal opening, so that they don’t ever have periods, or when the hymen is very stiff and tight, thus preventing things from going inside. In these cases, a small operation may be necessary.”
For most women, however, the first time you have sex, you’re just stretching that membrane. Hymens can come in a variety of sizes. If your partner is too rough, the membrane can tear. Fortunately, its elastic nature means that it usually stretches and shouldn’t hurt if you’re having regular sex or masturbating.
“In some girls, during sex, the hymen will break down,” Dr Jha explains, “in others, it will stretch – but there are no hard and fast rules about this. In some, it will tear. That is why some girls experience bleeding. The tearing of the hymen is a sharp, sudden pain that should settle.”
She adds: “In terms of the bleeding, during the first sexual encounter or sex at any other time, it tends to be quite minimal. Sometimes it can be quite heavy, but again that comes down to the individual types of hymen that different women have. If the hymen is very thick, it will bleed more. If it’s very thin, it will bleed less. And in some cases, there won’t be blood at all because the hymen just stretches out of the way.”
It’s not unusual for the first time to hurt. This can be purely because you don’t know what to expect; you’ve got a vagina which has never been stretched before. It’s a bit like when you go on the treadmill for the first time and decide to do 10k – you’re going to ache at the end of it.
Dr Jha explains: “It is usually impossible to prevent a small amount of pain during your first sexual encounter. But after the first couple of ‘episodes’, that goes because the vagina has been adequately stretched. The pain is not directly to do with the hymen breaking, though it may have been a contributory factor.”
There are some ways to reduce pain during your first time:
- Go slow and gentle – it’s not a race
- Lots and lots of foreplay
- Try fingering for a while before you plan to have sex (to get the stretching going)
- Use lube – even if you can get very wet on your own