What is a Hymen?Next let's be reminded that hymens are all different (like all our other body parts) -- there are several hymenal types. A (usually very thin) membrane of skin that covers all or part of the vaginal introitus, or opening, the hymen is usually associated with the loss of virginity and vaginal insertion. We hear about virgins who bleed because their hymen has been torn and broken, and it's a pretty common belief that you can tell upon examining a woman whether or not she's a virgin based on the state of her hymen.
Lesbians have many kinds of virginity loss, of course. Some may never engage in vaginal insertion. In fact, this is true of some heterosexual women. Some lesbians will consider their first sexual contact with a woman a loss of virginity even if nothing goes into their vagina; whatever the sex consisted of, that's she's had it with another woman is enough to make her consider herself no longer a virgin, whereas other lesbians figure they remain virginal throughout life because they haven't had sex with a man, even if they are very active with women. However you define virginity, insertive sex with fingers or a sex toy or other object is likely to either break the hymen, if it covers most of the vaginal opening, or at least stretch it out.
However, the big "if" here is IF it covers most of the vaginal introitus. Many hymens don't. If you'd like to have a look at five hymenal variations.
When a hymen has a circular or crescent-shaped opening (the latter is the most common), there's generally enough room for a tampon or a finger, and these hymens often stretch and even tear just from activities like dancing, gymnastics, and horseback riding. Fooling around and masturbating may well do it, too. Some have such flexible hymens that they'll stretch without bleeding or pain. Some women choose to stretch out their hymens themselves, so they'll have less possible discomfort to deal with when they finally do have penetrative sex with someone else. (The terrific site Go Ask Alice from Columbia University explains how.
Different Types of HymensImperforate, microperforate, and septate hymens also exist (a septum is a band of tissue, and a septate hymen has a band down the middle and has two openings). Imperforate hymens completely cover the vaginal opening, which becomes an issue when a young woman starts to menstruate. Generally she'll have the hymen opened by a doctor (it's minor surgery). Microperforate and septate hymens may stretch or tear without needing a doctor's involvement, unless the hymenal tissue is especially dense.
If a hymen hasn't been stretched or torn by a woman's athletic or solo activities, it's possible that it will break during her first time with a woman lover, depending on what kind of sex they have. There might be some pain and/or bleeding, though these tend to be bigger issues for women who have denser or thicker hymenal tissue. It's also possible none of this will happen at all, since so many women's hymens are flexible and partial to begin with. I've heard once in my career about a lesbian whose hymen was so substantial her girlfriend just couldn't get inside her - unusual though not impossible - but most women's experience will be more anti-climactic, as far as "lesbian cherry popping" is concerned. And if you're at all worried about it, hopefully it will help to know that arousal helps mask pain and discomfort -- so even if you do have a hymen to break, you and your lover should take your time and get into it, and the process will be more comfortable (not to mention hot and fun) than it would be otherwise. And don't forget the lube!
Carol Queen, PhD
Staff Sexologist, Good Vibrations