As an author of historical romance, I find myself preoccupied with rather odd things to research at times. Bathing, as I’ve commented on in an earlier post, ways to execute people, symptoms of the Bubonic Plague. You know, fun stuff. :)
When I was writing the second book in my House of Pleasure series, Only Marriage Will Do, I came to a point where a woman is accused of having had her virginity repaired after an indiscretion. I’d read that such things have been done throughout history and while researching this fascinating subject, I ran into some other information that raised my eyebrows.
Most historical romance authors, except for those who write sweet or inspirational works, have at some point written a deflowering scene. Married or not, the virgin takes the plunge and makes love for the first time with the hero. So, at what point does the deflowering take place?
Where is the hymen, that historical measurement of a young girl’s virgin status, located on a woman’s body? Until I did my research, I believed that it was a membrane that stretched across the vagina, about a quarter of the way into it. I’d read many romance novels where the hero penetrated well past the opening before encountering this little barrier. He could even change his mind, back out, and have her still remain a virgin.
Well, not to burst any bubbles, but it ain’t necessarily so.
The hymen is actually a membrane that surrounds the opening to the vagina. Here’s a diagram from The Marriage Bed that shows where it is. According to A Hymen Primer for Romance Writers, “It’s maybe a centimeter in there, it’s thin verging on transparent, and it generally comes pre-perfed.” When a man inserts his “manhood” for the first time, the membrane tears, there’s a little pain and likely some blood. But it’s right there at the opening–there is no going back in reality. If smaller things–like fingers– are inserted, the hymen likely won’t tear. It’s already perforated to varying degrees in the center, so it will accommodate some things.
When I read about this, I went back and changed my deflowering scene in Only Scandal Will Do. I do like accuracy.
But then I began to wonder, “How did the “half-way-up-the-vagina” position come to be so popular? More research ensued. And led me back to my original question, “How do you repair a hymen?”
Today it can be done with surgery or “fake hymens.” In the 18th century and before most likely a small bladder of animal blood was inserted into the vagina of the non-virgin. When the man entered the woman he would encounter the bladder about half-way up the vagina, rupture it, cause the blood to flow and voila, a virgin is deflowered. There are other methods as well, but this is probably the one that gave rise to that particular myth.
Hymens are actually a poor indicator of virginity. For instance, a hymen may actually be present, yet a woman may not bleed the first time she has intercourse. “It is highly elastic and in most cases perfectly capable of stretching enough to fit a penis without tearing. In most women it doesn’t show any obvious changes after penetration, so there is no way to determine by the state of the hymen whether a woman has ever been penetrated by a penis or not,” according to Dr. Pisaster in her article The Cherry Myth. Bleeding is often caused not by the hymen tearing, but by lack of proper lubrication.
So my research paid off. I’m more informed about women’s anatomy and the placement of the hymen. Will this help me write a hotter love scene? I’m not sure, but when my virgin is deflowered, I hope everyone will be satisfied.
Have you read or written a love scene where the heroine gets deflowered? How did you approach this delicate subject? Does accuracy count here, or is poetic license allowed?