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My culture insists on virginity: did I break my hymen with masturbation?

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prince_12 asks:

I hope you would be able to answer my message as soon as possible. It is very urgent. I have passed through the site and decided of asking you some questions maybe you could help me. I am an Indian girl. My age is 26 and I never had ever sexual intercourse because it is against our traditions here. A girl is not allowed until she is married. I never ever masturbated using machines or finger. I never ever touched my area down before. I even never knew anything about girls and guys masturbation. Here we are not taught about sex issues. I entered accidentally one of the sex sites and most probably out of curiousity about a new thing, depression, and much free time. I started chatting dirty(no voice) with these guys and I watched some. I never did this before in my whole life really. I noticed that i gave water from under when I chatted dirty or watched a guy and I become very jelly like down there. I really never knew this is masturbation i am really ignorant about that. I did this only about two months but I chatted and masturbated several times in a day.

Heather Corinna replies:

prince_12's question continued

Really I am very ignorant that this is how the girl masturbate. I chatted with several guys two days ago, and now i am very worried about my body. Until this moment, I still feel jelly like and watery from down inside for no reason. I am not chatting for two days and I still feel very jelly and watery from down. I also feel very hot from down. Also, I am entering bathroom many times in one day. I got very worried and afraid about my body. Why the water did not stop? Why do I still feel jelly like down? Why entering bathroom many times? Am I suffering an infection or something? I am very afraid about that. Also, Another important question came to my mind: May a girl break her hymen only from chatting dirty many times in a day for a month or two month. Really I never did this my whole life and I am very frustrated and afraid. I don't want what I did out of ignorance, curiousity, and depression and only for a two month period affect my health negatively or break my hymen. Please tell me I did not break my hymen. And please tell me whether i should visit a doctor to see why i still give water from down or not? Is it a big problem? I am very afraid really and frustrated and not sleeping. I hope you answer my questions quickly it is very urgent. Thank you a lot in advance.

Before I talk about anything else, I want to address a couple things right off the bat in the hopes that you will feel some quick emotional relief, and can let go of some of the fear and panic you've been living with.

What you experienced -- that "water" or "jelly" -- when you were chatting was most likely vaginal lubrication. When people with a vagina get sexually excited, when we get turned on, usually the vagina will start to self-lubricate, becoming more wet than usual. For those who get excited and choose to masturbate or have genital sex with a partner, that lubrication is part of what makes any kind of sex feel good. And because our vaginas clean and adjust themselves over cycles of several days at a time, it's possible to get very lubricated one day, and a couple days later still find the consistency of your vaginal discharges is a little bit different. Changes in lubrication like that are not causes of vaginal infection.

I have yet to hear anyone define the loss of virginity as a woman getting excited, looking at or touching her own anatomy or talking about sex with others. I also have not generally heard anyone say that someone who masturbates is not a virgin, even in very traditional cultures or communities.

In cultures, communities or individual ethics where virginity is a big deal, what people usually mean when they talk about who is and who is not a virgin is who has or has not had a sexual partner. Usually when people say someone is a virgin, they mean they have not had any sexual partnerships. In some cases, they may allow for someone having had sexual partnerships, but not penis-in-vagina intercourse. In other words, a great deal of the time, people who espouse or subscribe to virginity as an idea define a virgin as someone who has not had penis-in-vagina sexual intercourse primarily, or more broadly, as someone who has not done any kind of genital sexual activity with a partner.

Virginity isn't a medical condition: in other words, it has nothing to do with body parts or how yours may look or be. In medical reference books, we won't find a definition of virginity like we'll find for dermatitis or a given nerve or muscle, because virginity is neither a medical condition nor is it anatomical (a body part).

Those who think virginity is about the hymen, or that the hymen can show us who has and has not been sexual need to understand that that is simply not an accurate measure of who has or has not had sex, and the idea that it is is very outdated, and based on ignorance of women's bodies. The hymen -- now called the corona -- is folds of thin, flexible membrane just inside the vaginal opening most have at birth. It gradually wears away over time through puberty and adulthood (through our normal vaginal discharges, menstruation, because of hormones, physical activity and yes, also with vaginal sexual activities), with or without any kind of sex. For sure, vaginal sex can speed up that process, but most people who have had vaginal sex once or twice will often still have at least some of their hymen. There are even women who have given birth with parts of their hymen still remaining before a delivery (birth), and still remaining after delivery. Even when a woman's hymen is mostly worn away, small bits of it always remain.

Most people who have started menstruating and been through some of the process of puberty will not have fully intact hymens anymore, even if they have not had any kind of sex OR masturbated. If the corona was not at least somewhat worn away -- if small openings in it had not started to form -- then a young woman would not have any menstrual flow, because it would be trapped behind that membrane. That can happen, but it's rare, and when a hymen is that resilient, it often will not wear away with intercourse, either. Women with very resilient coronas need to have a minor surgery in order to engage in intercourse.

The hymen also actually doesn't usually "break" at all, nor do most women bleed with first-time intercourse from a "broken" hymen. In other words, it is not usually all there, then through one action is all open, unless someone gets a severe genital injury or someone is forcibly raped, or has a partner for intercourse who is exceptionally rough with them. Even in those cases it won't often "break" though parts of it may get torn in ways it would not otherwise. Instead, it gradually wears away, like water wears away the surface of a rock over time. But I can absolutely assure you that getting excited and chatting did not have any impact on your hymen.

Of course, the tricky part when it comes to a realistic conception of the vagina is convincing other people, particularly in cultures or communities where that idea is still pervasive and part of traditions (for instance, they may do Kukari ki Rasam in your area), and where the truth about female bodies is kept secret or rarely discussed. However, even in cultures where this idea can still be widespread, there are people questioning and opposing it and other dubious, sexist or harmful ideas about or approaches to virginity. For instance, in India, your National Commission for Women very recently questioned an action that was based in virginity beliefs and ideals. And international human rights organizations like Amnesty International -- made of people of all cultures -- have also spoken out in the past about virginity "tests" performed in some areas, particularly when performed publicly and/or by force.

Virginity, as we explain here often at Scarleteen, is an idea, and like many ideas, it tends to differ among people.

I don't know how you define virginity, nor can I know how anyone you marry or how your family or community may define it. I'm afraid I can't tell you how I define it, because personally, I don't. The idea of virginity is not one I myself ascribe to or espouse because, in short, a) it often considers rape to be sex, stating rape survivors are not virgins b) it doesn't take people who are not heterosexual or who have sex lives without intercourse, even after marriage, into account and c) it's something that puts a character value or judgment on a person, usually only a female one, based on their sexual history alone, which I am not comfortable with and do not feel is respectful of people in my view.

But I don't hear people defining masturbation as being about chatting -- in person or online -- or looking at something sexual, nor stating those things have anything to do with virginity. While those things can be part of what someone looks at or takes part in when they masturbate, masturbation is defined as touching one's own body in some way for sexual gratification. In other words, if you were not touching yourself during all of this, you were not masturbating. If you were touching yourself seeking sexual gratification -- in other words, you touched your own body in any number of ways because you felt the sexual desire to, and it felt sexually good to you to do that -- then that was masturbation. Here's one link that talks about ways that women masturbate if you want more information on that to get a better idea of what that often involves. But just getting wet from sexual excitement, just talking or looking at pornography or some kind of sexual video, those are both things which, by themselves, most people do not define as masturbation.

I don't know why you're going to the bathroom several times a day, but it is unlikely to be related to any of this. But if you feel you are urinating more often than is usual for you over several days or longer, and if urinating feels in any way painful, or if your vaginal discharges have radically changed lately (in color, in how much of them there is, or in scent), you certainly might consider a visit with your doctor. Women sometimes develop genital infections without having had any kind of sex at all, or without getting sexually excited. Infections like yeast infections or bacterial infections can happen just due to vaginal imbalances due to the way we have eaten, a soap we washed with, douching, or changes in the weather or our hormonal or insulin levels. In the case you do have an infection like one of those, I can assure you it had nothing to do with the experiences you're so worried about and feeling ashamed of, so you also shouldn't feel you need to tell a doctor about them if you don't want to.

I can't tell you what is or isn't okay sexually when it comes to your culture, both because any one culture often has several different ideas or standards, and also because the kind of culture you're in is so different than my own. Whatever I know about your culture is not the same as being part of it, so I have not had your same experiences, nor have I, as a Western woman far outside that culture, felt the same fears and pressures you do. I also can't tell you how much or how little to choose to stick with your cultural standards: that's always going to be a choice each of us has to make for ourselves, and we're the only ones who can know what the right choices are for us. But it is a choice. There are a lot of things here in the Western world that are pervasive I don't cotton with or sign on to, and while I certainly have more freedoms than a woman in a culture that's more restrictive to women, you likely do still have at least some options yourself.

But what I can say, and I say with respect for all cultures, is that I think it makes a lot of sense to identify and question double-standards, like the idea that it's okay in a given culture for males to think about sex or masturbate before marriage (or during or without), but not for women. I also think that however our cultures differ, you and I can probably agree that there's nothing positive or of real benefit to you or anyone else in your feeling fearful and ashamed about your body or your sexual feelings and curiosities. It's normal for people of all cultures and genders to be curious about sex, and it's normal for people to have sexual desires and the desire to explore sexual curiosity in many different ways. I don't think you have anything to be ashamed of.

You'll want to figure out for yourself what you feel good about and don't so you can decide what you're comfortable doing from here on out. Did you were doing with the chats and watching videos leave you feeling good enough during those times and afterwards that you want to keep doing that? Or, did how you felt during and/or after leave you feeling a way you don't like? How do you feel about whatever cultural traditions and ideas you want to be part of work or don't with what you've been doing? When you think about all of that, you can figure out if this is something you still want to do or not. My view may well differ from yours or from that of some in your culture, but in my opinion, if you feel good about a sexual chat or about masturbating, and those are things you want to do, there isn't anything wrong with doing those things, nor do they have anything to do with a marital relationship you are not yet in or with your character or how "pure" a person you are or are not.

I also think we can probably agree that if any of us are being held to certain standards by others, the very least we deserve is to be informed of what, exactly, those standards are. So, if you want to stick to your community standards about virginity until marriage, but aren't clear what that all means, what I'd suggest is finding someone who you trust and feel is knowledgeable in your community and ask them to explain to you what they think it means, and what the standards you are being held to, or are asked to abide by, are. I know that it can be scary to ask those kinds of questions, and not everyone is open to answering them or will answer them without judgment, but I bet you can think of someone -- an aunt, maybe, an older sister or a nurse -- who is a good and safe person for you to ask, who will answer you without shaming you.

I'm going to leave you with a few more links that relate to the things you have asked here, and I hope they and my answer here will leave you feeling comforted, able to get some rest and able to be kind to yourself.

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