Virginity Unmasked

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.

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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?


This entry was posted in On Only Scandal Will Do, On Research, On Writing, On Writing Historical Romance, Only Marriage Will Do and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Virginity Unmasked

  1. I actually wrote a love scene back during my Star Wars fan fiction days with both the hero (well, he was more one of the villians because he ended up becoming a the worst Sith lord in history) and the heroine being virgins. He was Luke Skywalker’s son and the heroine was another Jedi. Anyway, I couldn’t be overly explicit, but it was still a challenge to write. The story eventually gained me the reader voted honor of being named Best Romance in 2006.

    I actually remember that bladder of blood thing being used in John Jakes’ North and South. After Ashton Main screwed about half of her cousin Charles’s West Point class, she needed to appear to be a virgin for her wedding bed.


  2. Ha, well tell me something I didn’t know. That’s quite handy since I have one of these coming up very soon. Thanks for sharing this bit of info, Jenna.


  3. fiona mcgier says:

    I hate reading books where the woman is a virgin and totally enjoys her first time! That wasn’t MY experience, nor was it that way for any of the women I’ve ever discussed this with. We all agree that you have to keep at it, and eventually you will enjoy it with a man, versus being able to pleasure yourself quickly and easily.

    I wrote one book that included a flashback to when the heroine and hero had their first time together. He was done in a half-second and she was in pain and wondering when the good times were going to start. But they spent the night together, and by the 3rd or 4th time, she was having a bit of fun. After that, they both did.

    I think pain the first time is usually more attributable to the lack of experience on both their parts on how to relax and arouse the female, who will understandably be anxious, especially if this has been taught to her as a huge, big deal, the “losing of her virtue.” In my personal case, I didn’t “lose” it so much as I gave it away as soon as I could, because I couldn’t wait to start having the “big fun” my Mom had told me about, as opposed to what she called “a pale imitation”, which was masturbation. In my case, since I had been having such a great time alone, I was anxious to see how much better it could be. It actually took years of dedicated practice with many volunteers before I had a better time with a man than by myself. But the practice paid off when I met a man with the same drive to succeed! We’ve been together over 30 years!


  4. I didn’t know all this about the hymen. Great research. I’ve bookmarked this and the site you referenced. Virginity is a charged topic for many cultures. Don’t even mention all the poor women whose hymen was broken by something other than sex, like horseback riding.


  5. Ray G says:

    I have taken enough A&P I should know this. I even had training in doing GYN exams at sea. Until just now I had never received this information. I have been wondering, with all the crazies out there how many man who wanted a wife who was a virgin have gone off the deep end thinking his virgin bride had lied to him over just this myth. In cultures where virginity was required for religious reasons, how many women were considered unworthy because of this belief.

    This gives a new twist about virgin birth. How could you tell?


    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      We’ve found out a lot more than was known in the 18th or 19th centuries but the myths persist. So yes, virgin birth is a possibility though highly improbable. But I’m sure women who were virgins were shamed and reviled on their wedding nights when they didn’t bleed, simply from the ignorance of the times. There’s apparently quite a business these day in surgical hymen repair. Fascinating subject as you’ve all agreed. Thanks for coming by, Ray.


  6. Great research girl. Wow! I definitely feel more educated on the subject now. lol Since I write YA, I don’t get too descriptive with my sex scenes 🙂 But this is good info to have!


  7. Squick Warning – maybe TMI for some.
    Not sure how much detail we want here, but mine was about an inch in. I also believe it may have been septate (divided) because of the issue I had with tampons. Had to go to one side or the other, couldn’t go straight in, and the difficulty I encountered was when the tampon half-way inserted. Of course, the labia can sometimes be swollen during menses, so the depth I felt could have been because of that. Very interesting article, Jenna. I bookmarked it. I love this sort of research, and even have a book on how to give physical examinations. I do think that size and placement of the hymen can vary from person to person as well as the thickness. I wrote my virgin heroines (and up until now all of them have been virgins) based on my own experience with a little poetic license. I’ve usually had the hymen placed in the heroine’s body at the hero’s first knuckle, which probably is just a little past the labia. (TMI? Hey you asked.) Sensation-wise, I didn’t separate my labia from my vagina, which is probably why the placement of the hymen appears to vary. Hmm. Probably should give this comment a warning up front. Don’t want to squick anyone out. Thanks for posting.


  8. Brenda says:

    I love reading about first times, but not writing about them, lol.
    What a cool post, Jenna.


  9. Carrie-Anne says:

    I love writing a good first-time scene, whether it be the first time for both, the first real time for a woman who’s not physically a virgin but never had consensual sex, or the first time for the guy but not the woman. I have one character (who’s going to make her belated sexual debut) in the second, hiatused book in my contemporary historical family saga, with a first-time experience based on mine. I was glad to know I wasn’t the only one who’s had the problem with an extremely thick hymen. We weren’t successful till the eighth occasion we tried, but by that point, I no longer considered myself a virgin because of everything else we’d done. It was a good thing my guy had been an antique virgin too and had only had one partner before me!


  10. D'Ann Lindun says:

    Good info to have, thanks!


  11. Lindsay says:

    In one regency I wrote I didn’t have a deflowering scene since I’ll be submitting it to a sweet publisher. With other regency I don’t have to worry about the love scene because the heroine is a widow having only been married about a year before her husband is killed. But, that’s not to say I won’t have love scenes between her and the man she falls in love with, I’ll just keep them to a minimum and let the readers imagination fill in the blanks


  12. Sheri Fredricks says:

    Ha! You’ve been more meticulous than I in writing your deflowering scene. Not that women were particularly vigorous in the regency time, but exercise can sometimes tear the hymen. Even horseback riding. Your research and sharing it here will help many, including myself. Thank you!


  13. Sue says:

    well that was fascinating. I’m looking forward to that particular book. and I agree about accuracy 😀


  14. Karen Wilson says:

    In my historical I have a first time but only wrote about the pleasure because well, that’s what she’s thinking about. LOL I also tend to the sweet side in love scenes. They are pretty mild


    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      I do tend to write on the spicy side in my historicals–I was inspired by Lisa Kleypas, who writes fantastic love scenes. My erotic works are a bit hotter, but they don’t involve virgins so I haven’t worried about a first time there. There’s a level of heat for every reader’s and writer’s taste. You just have to find yours. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, Karen!


  15. LOL. I freely admit that, although try to be meticulous about everything else, I move the hymen because it gives my heroes more opportunity to soothe and comfort my heroine.


  16. Afsaneh says:

    I have a deflowering scene coming up in my work in progress but don’t plan on delving too deep with the details (er, with the anatomical details, I mean.)
    I will probably focus more on the sensations of her first time.
    Thank you for the details though, I’ll need to keep this in mind. I value accuracy.


    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      It’s hard to strike a balance in these scenes between focusing on the pain, the excitement, first time sexual arousal and logistics! LOL When in reality I’m not sure–in the heat of the moment–the woman thinks about too much except the heat of the moment. 🙂 Thanks for coming by, Afsaneh!


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