By Marawa Ibrahim
When I was 15 years old, I realized that I had torn my hymen… two years earlier, at 13.
During those two years, I had been getting a grip on periods... or rather, experiencing the rites of passage many women have taken before me – making pads out of toilet paper, using tampons for the first time, going swimming with tampons for the first time, and tying jumpers around my waist when I had really leaked through my clothes (not the 5 million times I thought I was leaking through my clothes only to discover a truly minute drop of blood in my knickers).
I decided that pads felt gross. That period pain was the WORST. That the euphoric feeling of renewed life once my bleeding was over was GREAT – but I debated in my head if it was really worth the pain and suffering prior – and that maybe that’s why I felt so relieved when it was all done.
I had always been into sports, climbing trees as soon as I realized I could, and roller-skating at the age of two. When I was 15 and debating hardships overcome by young women, one of the discussions was around why girls of some religions were not allowed to partake in sports. In fact, they were discouraged and actually prevented from exercising in general. As a sporty kid, this infuriated me – I was OUTRAGED!
WHY would you prevent girls from doing sports?! Men and women need to exercise! It’s an important part of life! Then someone at school told me: “Well, it’s to protect their hymen – if girls run around too much they can tear their hymen without even having sex – and then they are not considered to be virgins anymore – no blood on the wedding night sheets means you ain’t a virgin."
This was news to me. I don’t know what it says about my education, but my understanding about bleeding on the sheets had always been that it was to do with when a woman was married, she had the joys of being torn open on her wedding night to look forward to.
What was this new hymen theory? I had never even heard of a hymen before - I did some very pre-internet research: sealed sections of teenage magazines, my mums medical books. But there was very little to be found. What I did find got me this far– there is a bit of stretchy holey tissue just inside the vagina that can’t always handle a penis and so it needs to stretch and usually tear to make it work – resulting in some blood loss.
THIS HORRIFIED ME. Another injustice against women – to get to the pleasure first we had to go through some serious pain in the most sensitive place?!
Then I remembered the discussion about women not being allowed to do sports – the various activities that could bring on ‘losing your virginity’ to a gymnastics class, dance class, horse-riding adventure instead of your future husband.
Somewhere in there, I suddenly had a very clear flashback.
I was 13 years old in a gymnastics class. I was wearing a navy blue leotard. I had been practicing split leaps over and over again, trying to get them high as a gazelle, leaping through the air. I was hot and sweaty and full of adrenaline.
I lined up for another split leap – I told myself this was going to be the best one, the highest, with my legs reaching above and beyond 180 degrees, which is what every young rhythmic gymnast wanted. So I took off down the length of mat, I aimed high, and I used every single interconnected fibre and muscle of my body to send myself flying through the air as I kicked my legs out in opposite directions, willing them as far away from each other as I could.
At this moment – at the peak of my jump – I was suddenly pierced by a sharp, gasp-inducing pain from my core. I came crashing back down and when I looked up, I saw stars. Confused, I walked around a bit trying to work out if I had hurt myself, and then I realized that my pants felt wet – UGGGGGGHHHH.
I had only been getting my periods for around a year, but I just seemed to always have disasters. Furious, I went to the bathroom where my worst fears were confirmed. I was bleeding, and aside from my knickers and a little piece of lycra, there was NOTHING to protect me. I was so mad. I was having such a good training session and this new “being a woman” thing was really getting in the way – and the searing pain had really put me off pushing myself.
I found my tracksuit pants and spent the rest of the training session doing things half-assed and being miserable about all these new responsibilities. How was I going to be able to trust my body again when suddenly it was doing things without consulting me first?
The next day there was no more blood. Even the night before, there was no more blood. With a new distrust of my body, I still wore a pad for a day or two, but there was nothing, so I chalked it up to the mystery of this whole new system that had taken over my life. Some spotting here, some cramping there... it took years for me to feel like I could safely leave the house in white pants without fearing a potential accident.
Two years later, there I was researching stories of girls that tore their hymens riding a horse, kicking a football, and I realized I hadn’t got my period at all that day – I was literally tearing myself a new one – via the most extreme and beautiful split leap I had ever managed to get off the ground.
I sat back, elated, at the age of 15, and I thought: Well, there you have it. The last mystery of your life solved, now, you know everything (AH YOUTH!).
I started to think of my hymen in a new way, I started to think that it was the glass roof, the cotton wool, the last piece of childhood that now torn, I could now be free to push myself further – make those split leaps higher! Move faster! JUMP JUMP JUMP!
Now that I knew what had happened, I felt free! I felt strong again. But the more I read on the subject, the more FURIOUS I became. Stories of girls being forced into having hymen reconstruction surgery! Or blood capsules you can shove up your vag before sex to give the illusion of a torn hymen. I thought about how many young girls didn’t get to play sports because of these expectations. I thought about how many virgins were thrown out after their wedding night for appearing to not be virgins. Imagine having sex with someone for the first time, only to be accused of being a fraud.
Like so many things related to ~lady parts~, hymens are another mystery surrounded by so much misinformation. They are even less measurable than ‘the first time I got my period,” as so many girls and women don’t know whether they tore it or if it just stretched, if it was during sex or not... So, this is my story!
Feel free to use it as a way to start this conversation with a friend! You never know what you might learn and it is so important to actually talk about – the truth is so much more important than the myth!
People around the world still believe that hymens are tied to chastity but clearly that's not the case. Did you grow up with any misconceptions surrounding women's health that you now know to be false? Share them with us in the comments!
Marawa Ibrahim holds the world record for 200 hoops at once, and 12 world records in total. She has performed everywhere from North Korea, Somalia, Russia, Paris and beyond. She came 3rd on Arab's Got Talent, and was a semi-finalist on BGT & AGT. In New York, she played Josephine Baker for 6 months to rave reviews. Marawa also is the proud owner of 4 pairs of high heeled roller skates. Her book The Girl Guide is out with Harper Collins now!