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And more with the popping of cherries.

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Katie asks:

I am very confused about "popping my cherry". I have previously read that everyone has to have their cherry popped, but then again some say that there is no skin thing. If not, than why does it hurt when you have sex for the first time or why do you bleed?

Heather Corinna replies:

Hey, Katie.

Well, in most women there is a "skin thing," at least at the beginning, and that's the hymen. But it rarely is "popped" or needs to be "broken" by sex.

The hymen is a very thin membrane that, when we're girls, covers the vaginal opening. It's right there in front, so when we have one -- or even part of one -- with the simple use of a hand mirror, we can take a look at it. It doesn't have any nerve endings of its own, though it's connected to the vaginal opening, which does have nerve endings.

As we get older, and start puberty, the hymen starts to slowly and gradually wear away, through a whole lot of things: via hormones (namely estrogens), vaginal fluids and menstruation, general physical activity, tampon use, masturbation and yep, partnered vaginal sex. When it first starts to wear away, we get what are called "micro-openings" in that membrane: very small openings, or tiny holes, in that tissue. Over time, those holes become bigger and bigger, and eventually, in most women, the hymen wears away so much that only tiny portions of it remain, just behind the vaginal opening.

Like anything else on the body, the hymen can vary between women. For some, that tissue is a bit thicker than for others; for some, that hymen is more resilient -- or tougher -- than for others. For a minority of women, the hymen doesn't wear away as it should at all, in which case vaginal entry or intercourse will be all but impossible, and for those women, attempts at such WILL generally be very painful because of the hymen, and they'll need to have a very simple and painless procedure done called a hymenectomy, by their doctor.

But for most women, by the time they become sexually active, at least some of that hymen will have worn away. On top of being a thin membrane, it's also very flexible, so plenty of women with a partial hymen -- and women who are at least in their teens will almost always have only a partial hymen, not a fully intact hymen -- vaginal entry or intercourse isn't painful just because of their hymens. For some, it might have more to do with the hymen than others, especially if some wearing away of that membrane is happening during vaginal sex, because, again, that can pull on the vaginal opening around it uncomfortably. No matter what, vaginal intercourse isn't required to "break" the hymen, and if it is very roughly broken in one fell swoop, it's likely due to injury or to vaginal sex that was very rough or forced.

But the hymen is only part of the picture when it comes to pain with intercourse, and for a lot of women, it's none of the picture at all. If a woman is nervous or fearful, if she's not highly sexually aroused, if she's not lubricated enough or using enough extra lubricant, if she doesn't want vaginal intercourse at all, if her partner isn't gradual and gentle and being sure to include plenty of other sexual activities most women find more satisfying than intercourse -- all of those are the most common reasons for pain during intercourse, and very painful intercourse is more likely to be due to those things than to a "cherry."

Bleeding can happen because of wearing away of the hymen, but it also can happen due to lack of arousal and lubrication or a partner being too hasty or rough.

But it should also be mentioned that some women don't bleed with first intercourse and some women also don't experience any sort of pain at all.

I've included some previous advice on this issue, as well as a few articles I think will make you an expert on all things cherry.

written 08 Jul 2007 . updated 22 Jan 2014

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