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Keywords:

  • adolescents;
  • content analysis;
  • gender perspective;
  • hymen;
  • virginity

Introduction: This study investigated, from a gender perspective, perceptions concerning the word “hymen” among students in a Swedish senior high school.

Methods: Students answered an open-ended question: What do you think about when you hear the word hymen? The answers were analyzed by using content analysis.

Results: In total, 198 students, aged 17 to 18 years, answered the question. The theme “a fragile biological structure in the female body” described how the vast majority of the girls and 57% of the boys associated the hymen with a thin membrane that breaks during first vaginal intercourse. The theme “a symbol and manifestation of feminine virginity” described the symbolic meanings of having or not having a hymen. The theme “questioning the existence of the hymen” revealed the doubts that some had about its existence.

Discussion: Most of the students associated the hymen with a breakable membrane. This is problematic. It may lead to misunderstandings about virginity or about bleeding during sexual intercourse. Changing these views about the hymen is important to correct such misunderstanding but may be a significant challenge. In modern medical discourse, in health care, and in popular speech, there are few discussions about the hymen as a social construct, indicating that more gender research concerning hymen-related issues is needed.