The Sex Myth That Just Won’t Go Away


Edited on 5/23/2019 for medical accuracy and nuance

I spent most of my pre- and post-pubescent years learning about how not to have sex, so learning how to have sex went against my entire physical and psychological conditioning. I got lots of practical advice, but not all of it worked.

Like, “Don’t worry — you’ll figure it out. It’s natural.” (It wasn’t. It just wasn’t. I had to Google it. Multiple times. In tears. Because it wasn’t.)

But the biggest practical sex myth — the one I keep hearing preached to newlyweds like gospel — is that you need to pop the cherry.

You don’t.

You do not need to break your hymen in order to have sex the first time.

Which means you do not need to keep pushing, despite excruciating pain, until something breaks and bleeds.

D-O  N-O-T.

A little discomfort or a little bleeding during virginal intercourse is normal, but that’s a sign to take things slower and do something different, not a sign that things are going according to plan. Your hymen might have torn, but that’s not something to aim for. If you still have an intact hymen (and not all women do), the goal is to gently stretch it, not ram through it. This can occur over the course of several nights through relaxed, lubricated, gentle sex, or in more extreme and persistently painful and bloody cases, a gynecologist might need to take a look.

Many women don’t even have a fully intact hymen on their wedding night. High impact sports, gymnastics, bike riding, masturbation, and tampon usage can all thin and stretch the hymen to an unobstrusive lady part — no sex required. In that case, bleeding and pain often come from an irritated vaginal lining, a lack of lubrication, or too rough or swift penetration. Again: slow down and try something different.

If you’re in pain during sex, stop forcing it. You should not feel pain. Do not try to pop, break, or tear anything. Slow down. Add more lube. More than you think. Do more foreplay. A lot more than you think.

And be patient. It can take several days to relax enough for full, mostly painless penetration.

And if that doesn’t work? Call your gynecologist. Many women do experience painful sex (hymen-related or otherwise) for a whole host of physical and psychological reasons that require expert diagnosis and treatment. Please don’t accept painful intercourse as just par for the course of being a sexually active woman. Don’t doubt your judgment or blame yourself if sex is painful. Pain is a sign that something is functioning incorrectly — not a sign that you’re wrong.

Oh, and if anybody tries to tell you that breaking the hymen represents the shedding of Christ’s redemptive blood? It doesn’t. Because (1) that’s literally not anywhere in the Bible, and (2) the hymen isn’t supposed to bleed during first-time sex. Nothing should bleed. The goal is bloodless sheets and painless sex.

Apologies for the diatribe, but sheesh! This myth needs to die in a hole and never come back again!

What sex myths have you heard?

19 thoughts on “The Sex Myth That Just Won’t Go Away

  1. Jean

    I grew up with comparisons of the tearing of the nuptial hymen to the tearing of the temple veil after Christ’s death. *facepalm* If these men are SO concerned about blood on the first night, they should just stick pins in their penises…because Christ bled and suffered for his bride, the church.
    More women should be speaking up about these stupid, hurtful myths.


    • Bailey Steger

      I didn’t even think of that — if that imagery is true, the *male* should be suffering for his bride, not the other way around. I only recently heard about this comparison and could not believe it!! :/


  2. Ruxee

    Oh, my!
    I have heard COUNTLESS sex myths before I got married and my wedding night ended up in tears of frustration because of that (and most of the honeymoon) – it just hurt like nothing before, and though I didn’t bleed, it was incredibly sore. My husband was extremely gentle and eventually we Googled the topic together and figured it out. But now I tell all my soon-to-be-married-friends that if it hurts, just stop.
    As I live in a very traditional area of an eastern Europe country, there are many old myths about sex – the one you mentioned, the one where if you don’t orgasm from the first time it means God is upset with you for some secret sexual sin in your past (I kind of ignored that one, cause it just seemed so stupid, but some of my friends were really tormented by it), that sex just isn’t worth the trouble if you don’t reach climax, and others that just are not worth mentioning.
    So yea, I guess a lot of stuff just need to be figured out before marriage with a counsellor, or parents, or some close friend, and we should share the knowledge when our turn comes!


    • Bailey Steger

      People seriously taught you that your inability to orgasm was directly related to God’s displeasure with you?? Where do these things come from?

      And your simple statement — stop if it hurts — strikes me as odd. I think my circles, with their emphasis on “do it do it do it for your husband’s sake, no matter what, no excuses,” makes that simple idea so revolutionary to me.


  3. Elizabeth Erazo

    I want to add “and more foreplay than your partner thinks! Yes, even if they’re more sexually experience than you.” because, especially if you have a male partner, they are just…clueless as to whether what is happening is comfortable or not, too quick or not, etc. Speak up! Don’t be afraid to say, “Stop”, even if you’re married. You’re not being selfish, its ok.


  4. Adele

    This is information that needs to be out there and I applaud you. You are doing a service by debunking this myth. With that said, I’m going to add one tiny little caveat/addendum/warning/suggestion from my personal experience. The suggestion: you should have your first GYN exam BEFORE you have sex. I think most women do these days, but maybe not all. The caveat: if you do have that exam the doctor will inform you if you are one of the tiny percentage of women who actually do have an intact hymen that occludes the opening as an adult. This is extremely rare, but it does happen. To give you an idea how rare, and how certain I am that it happened to me: at my first exam the doctor said she had never seen one before and asked my permission to bring in a colleague to verify.
    If you are in this small percentage of women, the doctor will offer to break the hymen surgically. Most people will tell you you should definitely do this, and you certainly can, but – here’s the addendum – you don’t have to. There is nothing wrong with accepting your body as it is and proceeding with your first time without surgical assistance. You will not permanently damage yourself or your sex life. If you decide to go this route – this brings me to the warning – double or triple what Bailey said about lube and foreplay and get used to the idea that it is still going to hurt quite a bit. And finally the caveat – yes, it is a myth that it is normal to bleed when you lose your virginity. Absolutely a myth. But there are exceptions. Women who do have an intact hymen are going to have to either break the hymen or have it cut to have sex and there is going to be some bleeding involved. So, if you follow all of Bailey’s suggestions and are as gentle and careful and slow as you can be and still bleed, don’t beat yourself up thinking that you did something wrong, or worse, that your body is defective in some way – it’s not! And one last thing – if you are in this small minority of women, rest assured you can still have sex and, hard as it may be to believe at first, it can even become pleasurable.


  5. Aemi

    Very good advice here. On the foreplay note, my husband and I have come to rejoice in the sexual differences between man and woman. Basically, generally, the man instigates and keeps things moving, and the woman responds slowly and draws out the experience, resulting in much more pleasure for each. Don’t be afraid to whisper, “Not yet,” if you’re not quite ready for the next stage. On the other hand, let your husband’s momentum keep leading you forward. Root yourself in the here and now, concentrate, and focus on your feelings for your husband. They call it “lovemaking” for a reason. :)


  6. Karen Wright

    I’m so sorry Bailey. Thank you for this post and the discussion here is very valuable. I hope more ex-fundie women are able to read all of this.

    A common sex myth in my opinion is that if you do all the right things (and avoid the wrong things), it will guarantee you awesome sex after you say “I Do.” I’ve read too many stories otherwise to think that this is true. Some women, after conditioning themselves since puberty to say “no”, have a hard time just flipping the switch to say “yes” without residual guilt. Some people realize that for them, sex is difficult (have you heard of vaginismus?), regardless of how biblical their procedures were.

    Also, flip side, as a still-single woman, I heard all the talk about how if you aren’t being careful to “save yourself”, you won’t be able to connect to your future husband, you’ll be damaged goods, etc, etc. I believed it all at one time. According to my former standards I haven’t saved myself but it hasn’t ruined my life nor has previous experiences made future experiences less special, actually, quite the contrary. For me anyway. That’s not to say that people can’t get hurt by the decisions they make. Your sexual decisions should not be made lightly, and there is such a thing as bad decisions made with the wrong person. However, good decisions for you might not necessarily be what someone else has mandated for humanity. Your sexual life is made up of decisions that are only YOURS to decide. Don’t be ruled by fear.

    Finally, (or have I already crossed the TMI line for everyone??) masturbation is not a sin, and it doesn’t cause health problems, weird growths on your body, or insanity. It can be really helpful in a lot of ways, especially for women. Knowing how your body works is actually a good thing.

    Aaaaand that’s basically all I have to say on this topic.


    • Bailey Steger

      I’ve unfortunately had to become very familiar with vaginismus, as many of the newlyweds I knew struggled with symptoms. :(

      Your comment is so good, and got me thinking that the Christian sexual ethic needs to get refocused on being wise and pursuing wholeness for oneself and one’s relationships, rather than mandating a list of dos and don’ts that may or may not prevent problems for all people and may or may not promote healthy, loving relationships for all people. After all, every commandment goes back to “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” — which might allow for masturbation, kissing before marriage, going on multiple dates with multiple guys, and whatever other taboos Christian purity culture erected.


  7. korie

    I think one of the biggest things to remember about sex is that everyone is so different, and it isn’t beneficial to compare yourself to someone else. My husband comes from the more conservative background. When we got married, I totally expected him to be a “typical” guy ready to have sex all the time. According to him, he just felt so weird seeing a girl naked that it took him a few months to get used to everything. And I hate foreplay. Lol.


  8. ChrisW

    Wake up church! Attributing religious symbolism to poor biological understanding ENABLES ABUSE. I mean, good grief, yesterday I read a rant about an article giving advice on how not to have pain during anal sex, and the ranter (understandably, though I have many differences with their worldview) complained that all this did was encourage women to put up with something they didn’t enjoy and encourage men to insist on it. In other words, the “it’s OK because…” is a line that perpetuates patriarchy.

    Bailey, good grief, I thought I had it bad enough given I was in a loving relationship, but I never thought of *trying* to break my hymen deliberately. How awful that women might think this is what they have to do.

    A couple of thoughts: 1) did you ever get round to reading my open letter to the evangelical couple considering sex therapy?
    Or my post on how to have great sex for the rest of your life?

    2) Emily Nagoski has written a lot about the hymen in “Come As You Are”. It’s brilliant. She starts by saying “everything you know about the hymen is wrong”. I didn’t believe it to begin with, but she was right.


    • Bailey Steger

      Yes! And attributing spiritual or relational meaning to enduring unnecessary PAIN, sexual or not, is also a recipe for abuse. That’s such a needed observation.

      Yes, I’ve read and loved your two posts!!! And I’ll look up Emily Nagoski’s pieces. Sounds fascinating.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. A

    I was scrolling through your archive and found this article. I know that it’s a super old post now, but I still wanted to add my thoughts. :) Apologies for the mini-essay that follows, haha.

    I understand why people are so eager to downplay the importance of the hymen. Because an intact hymen *used* to be thought of as a reliable indicator of virginity, and “breaking the hymen” used to be seen as an unavoidable part of first intercourse—and we now know that that’s not necessarily true—sex educators are now trying to de-emphasize the hymen. I see a lot of articles debunking purported “sex myths” about the hymen, confidently reassuring young women that their hymen is really not that important, that its status indicates nothing about their virginity, that it probably broke/disappeared on its own after that one afternoon of horseback riding in fifth grade, and that losing their virginity is probably uncomfortable because they or their partner are “doing it wrong” and not because of their hymen.

    These articles mean well, but they contain overgeneralizations that verge on untruths because they ignore the experiences of women like me, who have experienced dyspareunia that is entirely attributable to—you guessed it—the hymen. They shift blame for bad sex onto the woman and/or her partner, instead of acknowledging that in some cases, the woman’s body may really be the problem.

    When I got married last year I was unable to have sex without excruciating pain. Foreplay, lubricant, different angles, taking it slow—nothing helped. And yet I was convinced—because I’d been reading articles dismissing the hymen’s role in painful sex—that I and my husband must be Doing Sex Wrong, and if we just relaxed, kept trying, and eventually got better at sex, the pain would disappear. Of *course* it wasn’t my hymen, because, as everyone who’s *truly* enlightened about sex knows, hymen-related dyspareunia is a “sex myth.” It just *couldn’t* be my body’s fault, I thought. *I* must be the one to blame. I must not be sex-positive enough, relaxed enough, aroused enough, or in touch enough with my own body. I felt like a frigid failure, a prude who was subconsciously sabotaging her own sex life.

    An experienced OB-GYN took one look at me and told me that my hymen was, in fact, the problem. It was too thick and resistant—a common condition known as “tight hymenal ring.” The terrible stabbing and burning I was feeling during sex was the stiff hymenal tissue being pulled tight. It simply wasn’t elastic enough to accommodate penetration without pain, and I would need either surgery or progressive dilation therapy to correct the problem. It had nothing to do with my attitude towards sex, degree of arousal, or knowledge of sexual technique. My hymen was the only thing holding me back.

    I did a little more reading and found out that the hymen doesn’t disappear after an intense masturbation session, a pelvic exam, or an afternoon of exercise. (Why would any organ disappear without being mechanically worn away or removed somehow? Looking back, it seems silly that I ever believed that a significant amount of internal tissue would just evaporate from a young woman’s body after a workout.) Over a woman’s lifetime, parts of the tissue may thin, stretch, tear, break, or wear away, but in most cases, the hymen remains as a ring of scar tissue and/or a collection of skin tags, known as the “hymenal ring,” “hymenal remnants,” “hymenal tags,” or similar.

    Anyway, I know you meant well by writing this post, but please do a little more research before making sweeping generalizations about dyspareunia like, “If you’re in pain during sex, stop forcing it. You should not feel pain. Your hymen is not resisting you. It probably disappeared a long time ago that one time you attempted to do cardio.” I *was* in pain during sex, and my hymen *was* the only thing resisting me, because it *did* need to be broken/stretched. I ran, hiked, swam, and rode horses during my teens and twenties, and yet my hymen did not vanish during an afternoon cardio session. Tissue inside the vagina does. not. just. disappear. when you exercise or have a pelvic exam.

    I understand that the hymen used to be unduly elevated as a virginity symbol, and “popping the cherry” was (and still is, sometimes!) incorrectly seen as a necessary step during first intercourse. But we don’t need to overcorrect by downplaying the hymen so much that we ascribe sexual pain entirely to other sources, like inexperience or insufficient relaxation. The idea that sex initially hurts because a woman or her partner are “forcing it” and don’t know how to have sex correctly is a misleading generalization. Some women’s anatomical quirks mean that, without corrective surgery or physical therapy, they will experience dyspareunia even during the most relaxed, skillful, and romantic sexual encounters.

    If I had known this before I got married, I would have seen a doctor immediately upon experiencing pain. Instead, I put myself through the trauma of trying intercourse again and again, because I believed that my hymen couldn’t possibly be the problem. I was so sure that *I* was somehow to blame for my pain. Once my husband and I figured out how to relax and Do Sex Right, I thought I would be able to enjoy myself.

    Of course, I’m not blaming this one little post for my misperceptions about the hymen! But it’s part of a larger trend that I do find frustrating. I think presenting a more nuanced picture of the hymen and its potential role in dyspareunia would be helpful to people like me. I’m mostly commenting on the off chance that someone reading this post will be helped by hearing my experience. Maybe I can save some other woman from going through the pain I had to endure before figuring out my problem!


    • Bailey Steger

      A, I appreciate your corrective. I was not aware of hymenal dyspareunia, and I see how incorrect and dismissive the one paragraph you quoted was to your experience. In fact, I wrote this before I accepted the fact that I had my own brand of hellish physical sexual dysfunction. Relaxation and lube wasn’t working for me either, and it’s a slap in the face to have it implied that something is wrong with YOU instead of a common dysfunction. I suppose I was directing this article at people who insisted that sexual pain is a necessary rite of passage, rather than a sign that something is wrong. I will update it to reflect the information you shared with me.


    • Bailey Steger

      A, if you’re still around, I removed the offending and appallingly unscientific lines and rewrote part of the article. I’d love your feedback. I’m grateful you spoke up and corrected my understanding (or rather, lack thereof).


      • A

        Yes, I think it’s much better with those edits! Thank you for listening to my experience—which I’m afraid came across as an overly harsh corrective in my original comment, so I do apologize for that—and taking the time to re-word those things. And I really do understand what you were going for when you wrote the original version of this article—it’s frustrating, as you said, that people imply that nightmarishly bad sex is a “necessary rite of passage” for virgins. Women shouldn’t just grit their teeth and bear excruciating pain because “everyone has to” their first time!

        I’m so sorry that you have had to experience sexual dysfunction, too. It’s such a miserable experience, when something that’s supposed to be pleasurable ends up being so painful. It stirs up some very complicated emotions and, for me, at least, has somewhat soured my perspective on sex and my feelings towards my own body. I sincerely hope that you’ve been able to make some progress towards healing and normalcy. (I’m still very much a work in progress myself!)


      • Bailey Steger

        Thank you, A! You absolutely were NOT harsh in your initial corrective. I felt no judgment from you, only facts, passion, and honest, respectful, much-needed criticism.

        And thank you for your well wishes. I’ve recovered physically, but the mental barriers….*sigh* Here’s to recovery, for both of us!


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