For years, my friend was unable to insert a tampon and didn’t know why. If you have similar experiences, this article is for you!
Feeling as if you are the only person in the world with your symptoms, or not being able to understand why your body is behaving in a certain way, is scary for any person at any age or stage of his/her life. I recently spoke with someone who wanted to make sure her story was told, and other young women had information on a condition that is otherwise noticeably absent from online women’s health communities; hymenectomies and imperforated hymens.
First, some background information.
About one in 1,000 women have a fully imperforated hymen, where the hymen is completely closed and she is unable to menstruate or insert anything into her vagina at all. Partially perforated hymens are more common among young women, who are often unable to insert a tampon or a finger, but still able to bleed.
There are two procedures used to treat imperforated hymens:
1. Hymenectomy: Removal of the full hymen – done under anesthesia.
2. Hymenotomy: Expands the opening of a hymen that isn’t fully ruptured – can usually be done in a normal doctor’s visit under local anesthesia.
Question: When did you first realize that there was something different about your vagina?
Answer: When I first got my period and tried to put in a tampon, I couldn’t get it in, no matter what I tried – slim tampons, KY Jelly, etc. People kept telling me that probably, my muscles just weren’t relaxed enough and my poor mother assumed forever that I was just doing it wrong, or that she was trying to teach me wrong. It was very frustrating for both of us! I especially hated how I couldn’t swim or do other things when I had my period. I remember a particularly bad night right before I left for summer camp, when I made my mom try to help me put a tampon in for three hours. No success. My period and my inability to use tampons caused me plenty of embarrassment during camp that summer.
Question: How did you decide to do something about this problem?
Answer: Well, because I had never heard anyone else talk about similar experiences, for a long time I just accepted that I wouldn’t be able to use tampons. Finally when I was 18, at the end of a routine check-up I mentioned my frustrations to the doctor. She tried to put a Q-tip into my vagina and said that it was a very small hole, but if I visited a gynecologist, they could just snip and fix it very easily! This turned out to not really be true.
[Author’s Note: The doctor probably assumed that my friend would only need a hymenotomy, rather than the full surgical procedure.]
Question: What happened when you went to visit the gynecologist?
Answer: He said it looked like my hymen was just not open at all and I would never be able to put in a tampon or have sex until I had surgery to remove the hymen. I was very weirded out because no one had ever mentioned that this condition existed.
Question: How did the doctor explain the procedure to you?
Answer: He explained how he would snip a piece of hymen and move tissue. He actually said something like “I’ll try to make it as natural as possible down there,” which I thought was very weird. I certainly didn’t completely understand what was going to happen to me, but I scheduled the surgery.
Question: What was your surgery experience like?
Answer: I was given total anesthesia, and afterward I woke up and nothing hurt at all. Everything was fine except that when I stood up to leave, a lot of blood came out of my vagina. The nurses said it was normal and gave me a pad, which sort of felt like it was defeating the purpose because the whole point of the surgery was never needing to use a pad again. But the next month, I had my period and was able to use a tampon!
Question: How do you feel about the whole experience when you look back on it now?
Answer: Really, I was lucky that I hadn’t tried to have sex before that surgery, because it wouldn’t have worked! And I think that really would have just been frustrating and confusing to me. Honestly, my biggest regret is that I didn’t ask a doctor about it any sooner, because I could have avoided many years of anxiety and embarrassment.
Thank you to my interviewee for sharing her fantastic insight!
If you have questions about hymenectomies or have had similar experiences, please don’t hesitate to ask questions/add comments below. And more importantly, don’t hesitate to talk with your doctor – it is part of being an empowered woman!