How to disclose that I have the hymen from hell?
May 30, 2011 11:14 AM   Subscribe

I'm in my early 20s and female. Recently, during my first adult relationship, found out that I cannot physically have sex (...yet) and will probably need surgical intervention to get that working. How can I handle the dating scene as I work on getting this fixed? In other words: how to one, deal with the fear of being rejected for being "broken," and two, how and when do I tell guys that vaginal sex is totally off the table?

My doctor confirms that I have a microperforate hymen (so small he thinks it was an imperforate that only opened enough to let the bare minimum menstrual blood through). He referred me to a gynecologist to discuss hymenectomy, and said he "very strongly suspected" that a hymenectomy would be what the gyno suggests. Great! except... how do I handle the dating scene until I get snipped?

I mean, I really didn't know, so I'm pretty blindsided by this. I never tried using tampons (my mom hated the idea of them so I never bothered), before my most recent relationship I only dated women and we didn't really focus on the vaginal side of things, and I got myself off fine with my clit so I never bothered with my vagina. I knew my hymen was there but I thought it was still within range of normal, so I wasn't concerned--I could get the tip of my pinky in and thought that was fine. My previous pelvic exams were with doctors who were used to dealing with younger women, so they weren't concerned either.

When my ex tried to bust through it, it was painful for us both, and really not physically possible.

We tried; we failed; the suggestion "push harder" doesn't help.

Dilating? Not working. Still the same size. (My doctor could not even fit his tiniest speculum past the hymen, after months of attempted dilation).

It's one thing to have dated my ex not really knowing that my hymen was impenetrable, but I don't know how to date now that I KNOW there won't be any vaginal sex on the cards. How do I tell them this? When? I know we can have a good sex life WITHOUT this (I have gotten pretty decent at giving head) but it's "no sex" is not exactly a great selling point.

But I want to date. I really want to date. I spent so many years NOT dating that this is sort of messing with my self-esteem in all sorts of ways. I am finally emotionally ready and my body has totally failed me. I feel like I am defective.

It might be a very long wait for me to get snipped, so "just wait a few weeks" isn't really an option. It is a 3-month wait to see the gyno, then who knows how long to get the surgery scheduled.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Why don't you just tell whoever that he'll have to wait until your hymen gets snipped? Seriously, if some dude isn't willing to wait, he's going out with you for all the wrong reasons and you're better off without him.

Also, dating is not about "selling yourself" and this is a temporary thing. I think you should see a therapist.
posted by anniecat at 11:25 AM on May 30, 2011 [20 favorites]

Don't wait three months to see a gynecologist unless there is an extremely specific reason you have to go to that particular person. Great, you got a referral from your primary care physician. If the gynecologist cannot fit you in in a more reasonable period of time (and you are clearly feeling some urgency), find one that can.

On the subject of dating: why not? You're not ready to have vaginal penetrative sex *right now* but that doesn't preclude you from dating someone. Very few people go out on their first date being ready to have vaginal penetrative sex that instant (though most of them for different reasons than you).

If things get hot and heavy, tell yourself (and the gal/guy) that you're "not ready" to have sex, but ... and have fun. You don't need to explain why - it really doesn't matter. And the truth is, it is no different then anyone else. As you know, there are so many fun things you can do with someone that don't involve vaginal penetration. You know that it will be able to happen eventually. Don't let it mess with you that you can't do it now, just enjoy building the sense of anticipation.
posted by arnicae at 11:26 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Vaginal sex isn't the only thing in your tool kit, sex-wise. There are lots of other things to do in bed that are lots of fun and quite satisfying. If a guy really wants to be with you, he'll be just fine with doing those things for a few months until you are able to handle intercourse.

If a guy isn't willing to wait that long for you, you're better off without him. Look at it as a way to weed out the guys who aren't worth a few months of your time.
posted by orange swan at 11:30 AM on May 30, 2011 [8 favorites]

I would suggest that you start by separating the idea of dating and sex. As common as premarital sex is, I submit that lots and lots and lots of people go out at least several times before the subject of sex even comes up.

Forgive me if that sounds harsh or off the cuff, but it´s not. For many, many people, dating is for getting to know BEFORE doing and saying incredibly intimate stuff with. Maybe it should be for you as well. So go out and date. You may never get to the point of needing to converse about this with the next person. Or the one after that. Or even the one after that. Find someone you really like and trust before you break out the heavy topics. Because it´s not like we´re talking about NEVER being able to have sex. We´re only talking about having to wait until things have been fixed.

In the meantime, enjoy the heady, sometimes maddening, sensation of anticipation. It really can be a form of fun in and of itself.
posted by Ys at 11:31 AM on May 30, 2011 [9 favorites]

There are a pretty wide range of alternatives, from oral as you mentioned to anal and various kinds of "outercourse". If you can approach it with an open mind and a bit of playfulness (and the confidence and good humor to move forward when you try something doesn't work), the short term absence of vaginal sex should not be a problem.

And I would contend that whether someone can cooperate in making that an enjoyable experience is a pretty excellent litmus test of how good a partner and lover they would be anyway.
posted by idiopath at 11:32 AM on May 30, 2011

If someone can't deal with "I can't do that right now due to a medical condition, but give me a couple of months", then they're not worth your time. You don't need to give any more details. I guess if I was told that, I'd say something like "Alright, no worries. Are you OK?", and respect the woman's privacy and leave it that.
posted by Diag at 11:41 AM on May 30, 2011 [9 favorites]

There have absolutely been periods when I have unilaterally taken intercourse off the table for various reasons, in casual relationships, long term relationships, and encounters you'd be hard pressed to call a relationship at all. It is your body; you do not owe access to it to anyone. Nor do you owe an explanation to any partner outside a commited relationship.

Should someone you care about ask "OK cool; if not now, when?" you can honestly say "Well, not for a few months, at least." Because that is utterly true. You can tell them why if you feel comfortable, but you don't have to unless you want to.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:42 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

When: I would tell a date when you feel that some fooling around is becoming a likely possibility. I wouldn't wait until you're making out in your/their bedroom. Do it more like after you're hanging out, inside one of your places, and things are going well and you think you might want to do some fooling around.

How: I would say something like, "so, I like you a lot and it seems like we might both be interested in fooling around, so I need to tell you first I actually physically cannot have vaginal sex. My hymen is literally impenetrable right now, and I plan on getting a procedure done to fix that soon. In the mean time, we can still fool around in other ways if we want to go there."

At this point your date will probably either a) be confused that you're bringing up sex already, and say something to that effect to which I would respond with something like "yeah, sorry, we don't have to do anything right now. I just wanted to bring it well before we were both worked up so we could talk about it and get any questions out of the way".

Or b) they will have a bunch of questions like "really???" "Impenetrable???" "What about fingers???" You probably know what the questions will be more than I do. Answer them. Remember that they probably do not come out of frustration, but just confusion. I think it's very, very unlikely they'll want to break up just because of something that is out of your control, but getting taken care of in the forseeable future. If they do reject you, they were an ass hole anyway, and you conveniently found out before they hurt you even more. I really can't imagine how monumental of an ass hole someone would have to be to reject you over this. In the scheme of things, its really not that big of a deal. It just potentially makes things really awkward, briefly, at a certain stage.

And about that awkwardness, I can't claim it won't be there. But it's really too bad it has to be. People are taught through movies, TV, and books, how dating and sex are supposed to happen. It unfortunately doesn't include having a sit down before hormones take control where both people say that they do, in fact, want to have sex, or what they want to do. Instead, in media, most of the time both people happen to be on the same page and things work out. Or else they find out they're not on the same page, but things still work out okay. People in the movies and TV hardly ever really have to give consent much thought. So, your hymen takes away your chances of having a really photogenic, ratings grabbing, sexual encounter. Luckily there won't be a film crew there, and on the plus side, you will have a conversation about where things are going that a lot of people skip over because we're taught that's what we're supposed to do.
posted by funnyinternetmemereference at 11:52 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

funnyinternetmemereference makes a good point, but I would say that yeah there are people who won't be OK with talking things over first but they may not be assholes. Most people like things to be spontaneous regarding sex, and like to go with the flow and follow their intuition. Most people don't find discussing things sexy.

But there are certain considerations (like this one) which make calling a timeout and hashing things out neccesary. Not everyone has the skills to successfully do this in a sexual context. But the people who do also tend to have the skills to be a good partner in many other ways as well.
posted by idiopath at 12:04 PM on May 30, 2011

What Darlingbri said, but I think there are two issues here. The first is the question of how to disclose, and that's quite straightforward - you tell someone, if it comes up, that vaginal sex is off the table, if they press you you tell them, and if they choose to be a dick about it fuck 'em (well, not literally).

I think the other issue is dealing with your distress at learning you have this condition, there is a treatment, and that you aren't going to be appropriately treated in a timely fashion. Perhaps what you should be focusing on is a way to see a gynaecologist more quickly, and to get the surgery done sooner. Let's leave moral language about sex alone: your sexuality is valuable and important. This is a legitimate problem and you deserve treatment, so you can date, not date, have one night stands, not have one night stands, get married, live in a great polyamorous commune, wherever your heart (and other parts) lead.
posted by nerdfish at 12:11 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you need to be as clear and straightforward as possible, at some point after making out but before pants might come off. Until the making out happens, don't even worry about it, and shelve your anxiety about it as much as you can and proceed as you would otherwise on early dates so your dates get to know YOU and not someone who's being overshadowed by their anxiety. If things look like they're going to go straight from making out to pants off, call a time out and have the conversation later.

And yes I think you need to say something like "look, this is kind of embarrassing for me, but penetrative sex is not physically possible for me because of my hymen right now" and not something more vague, because if I were a guy and you just said "sorry, no sex right now for 'medical' reasons but maybe in a few weeks/months" my mind would start going all kinds of places, particularly STDs. I would get kinda squirmy if I thought you were on a course of antibiotics for chlamydia or something but wouldn't say it outright, not because STDs are inherently shameful but because I expect the people I sleep with to be pretty candid with me. Your reason is emphatically NOT THAT and in general it's good to err on the side of too much info with your potential partners.

Also, totally sell the "but you'll get lots of head!" angle if it comes up. Of course you don't owe your partners anything to make up for a lack of penetrative sex, but some people really like oral and will be thrilled with the prospect of it being the main course and not a side dish.
posted by slow graffiti at 12:25 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

how to one, deal with the fear of being rejected for being "broken"... I am finally emotionally ready and my body has totally failed me. I feel like I am defective.

You are not broken (no, not even "broken"). You are not defective. You and your body have not failed at anything. This is the most essential starting point. You have a medical condition that A) says nothing about you as a human being or as a woman, and B) is fixable. That's it. Remove all moral or personal judgments from it in your mind. You are not your hymen, nor your ability to have penetrative vaginal intercourse; therefore, there is nothing wrong with you.

This culture constantly bombards us, women and men alike, with unrealistic (and unhealthy) images and messages about how PERFECT our bodies have to be (or we've failed) and how ATTRACTIVE we must be (or we've failed) and how READY TO HAVE SEX we have to be at any given moment (or we've failed). This sets up a lot of harsh, negative self-talk in our heads about everything that's supposedly wrong with us. So my suggestion (in addition to seconding the suggestions upthread about seeing if you can see a gynecologist sooner) is that you gently work with trying catch and reverse the negative self-talk you are experiencing. You are not broken; you are whole. You have not failed; you are getting a problem fixed.

How would you speak to your very best friend on the face of the earth if she were dealing with the same issue? Now speak to yourself that way.
posted by scody at 12:29 PM on May 30, 2011 [27 favorites]

Despite what American pop culture and certain sex columnists would lead one to believe, not all guys are so sex driven that sex is their #1 priority and they run away in horror from any situation where their libido won't be serviced to the max.

So, I think the guy you pick to date may have more of an effect on how easy this situation is to deal with, then words you use to talk about it, etc.


1. Stay away from the guys who would be really upset at the idea of going 3 months without sex. Their desires don't make them bad people, but just make them incompatible with this situation. I think no matter what you do, this situation will be much more difficult if it's with someone who's really upset by it. And there's no need to date them because not all guys care a ton about sex. Some guys aren't even that into it at all.

2. Date someone who likes you as a person and cares about you. If someone likes you and cares about you, and isn't super sex driven, it won't matter how you disclose it. They'll be nice about it and supportive.

3. Date someone who is into YOU, not just looking for someone to date. They'll stick with you through the things you have to deal with, rather than just looking for the next best thing when issues come up in life.
posted by Ashley801 at 12:36 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

If we were dating, I would want you to tell me. Not on the first date, but after we progressed to a certain level of physical intimacy. At a neutral time, not while we were getting all hot and bothered. Say that it doesn't mean we can't do other things and that it's something you're going to have taken care of -- if I liked you, I'd keep seeing you and just wait for that one particular thing.

But, I would also wonder why you were waiting around for 3 months to see a particular doctor, with a likely wait beyond that for surgery.

You're NOT broken, and no decent person is going to think that. Now, if waiting around for months and months for PIV sex is something a particular guy isn't willing to wait around for, that's impossible to predict and is a risk you're just going to have to take.
posted by J. Wilson at 12:50 PM on May 30, 2011

Mod note: From the OP:
"About referral wait time--in my city/country, you actually do NEED a referral to see a gynecologist for things that are not of immediate, pressing concern. Average wait time from referral to appointment is 4 months; if you include the wait time for the referral to go through, that's exactly what I had.

tl;dr Choosing a gynecologist out of a phone book isn't an option, and even then, gynecologist wait times are up throughout the board unless you are pregnant. Which I am not. For obvious reasons.

Additionally, since hymenectomies are done in-hospital here, it would definitely be more than a 3-month waiting period to get a OR booked for it. People I know with similar problems waited a year after being approved for surgery, so I'm looking at 15+ months."
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:51 PM on May 30, 2011

It won't matter to the right guy. I'd bring it up when the issue of exclusivity comes up. Just a, "hey, just so you know, I'm physically incapable of having full sex right now. We can do pretty much everything else though *wink*"

If it helps, I'm on the other side of this. My boyfriend is incapable of having sex until he has surgery on his frenulum. We've been dating 10 months with no penetration. It's totally possible to have a great relationship with no piv sex, you've just gotta find someone understanding.
posted by daysocks at 1:37 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

I hope you've seen this recent post on the blue, which is dealing with a similar sort of situation.
posted by pised at 1:56 PM on May 30, 2011

I had to have an hymenectomy. The only reason it was an issue was because I wanted to have piv sex and my boyfriend felt bad that it wasn't possible. He was totally fulfilled without it though. We broke up for unrelated reasons, and the next serious boyfriend I had was post-hymenectomy. Guess what? It turned out I wasn't really into piv sex. He didn't care either. We had non-piv sex, and he was happy with that. Again, we broke up for unrelated issues, but honestly, the only problem my hymen/lack of interest has caused is my awkwardness about it. So go ahead and date, and don't worry about being 'broken' because you're not.

(I like daysocks way of bringing it up - make it a flirty, sexy conversation instead of a heavy, sad one.)

You didn't say that you were worried about the procedure, but just in case you are: it was a completely painless, easy-peasy procedure, at least for me. So don't worry about that aspect, either.
posted by (Over) Thinking at 3:59 PM on May 30, 2011

anniecat: "dating is not about "selling yourself""

Or, an equivalent but different construction: dating is very much a matter of selling yourself, and you can sell yourself on more persuasive points than a well-formed hymen. I give you my word as a heterosexual man, I have never, ever looked at a woman and found my thoughts turning inexorably to her hymen. It's really not a common concern.
posted by d. z. wang at 5:02 PM on May 30, 2011

Whoa, time-out! A TRUE gentleman wants to get to know YOU, not your vagina.

I flat out refuse to date anyone who is looking for sex. I'm saving that for marriage. My body is the only physical possession I have which no one can take from me. Thus, it is the last possession I have to give. Before you blow me off, I'm NOT a fundamentalist religious type, not a virgin, and have had plenty of dating relationships, with the longest lasting 3 years (sexually active). It's just that I've found when the sex starts in a relationship, the emotional growth stops.

So after many strange if not awkward refusals to sleep with someone, I've finally found a soulmate. Someone who loves me for ME, not for my naughty bits or bedroom prowess. And we're getting married soon. Which is good, as I don't know how much longer either one of us can wait with the sexual tension building. BUT that's also making things very fun and interesting. :)
posted by OTA at 9:22 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Waiting three months is not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. Some people wait years to jump in the sack. Don't feel like you have to tell the guys you will be dating what you told us, if you're not comfortable doing so. That's pretty personal, and nobody's business but your own.

Get out there and enjoy getting to know the person you're dating. Don't worry about the sex thing for awhile. Guys who are worth your time won't mind waiting, and won't need you to give them some sort of excuse. It's perfectly acceptable to say you want to take things slow, and that's that.
posted by sunnychef88 at 9:38 PM on May 30, 2011

As you can see from my posting history, I have been, and still am, struggling with these exact same issues. While in exactly your spot a year ago, I met my most wonderful SO from my previous post. He is still my SO. And he has stuck by me through it all with the utmost patience and love. I absolutely, completely, wholeheartedly, understand what you mean about feeling defective and having this mess with your self-esteem. Don't let it. Heed Scody's wise words above. Do not let this make you feel like I did, like you are any less of a woman or that your body still isn't worth celebrating in all its sexiness, or that you somehow aren't worthy of love because of it. Hymen or no, dates or no - the only thing that really matters is that YOU love YOU. As my mother likes to say, be your own best friend. Love yourself, and treat yourself well.
And any guy who cannot deal with it or gives you a hard time is not the right guy. Period.
I have been so grateful for the help of both a sex therapist and a "regular" therapist in getting through this. I don't know if you need such resources or if they're available where you are, but I think they are probably very valuable. Memail me if you like.
(You can still have an incredible sex life without the P in the V - trust me.) ;)
posted by bookgirl18 at 9:36 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sex doesn't have to be a part of dating. I wish it hadn't been a part of my past relationships.

As it has been for many others, the language used in your post to describe yourself and your view of relationships is troubling to me. You are not broken just because you can't have penetrative sex. You are someone with dignity, value and worth and that exists regardless of your health or relationship status.

I can say this from experience (my own and from hundreds of students I've advised) that any relationship built on sex will not be satisfying or long-lasting. I can also say that any guy/girl who would break up with you over this is not worth your time. Find someone who is not interested in you for what you offer but for who you are. There are lots of people out there who love their partners despite or for what makes them unique. If you have to sleep with them to keep your relationship, it's not worth it. Seriously.

Good luck with the procedure and with your future relationships!
posted by guster4lovers at 11:38 AM on May 31, 2011

"I have gotten pretty decent at giving head"

Pretty sure that most men would be content with that in the interim.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:11 PM on May 31, 2011

"It's just that I've found when the sex starts in a relationship, the emotional growth stops."

This isn't true for everyone, though!

Nth everyone who says it's best to separate sex and dating for the time being - no matter how frustrated you might be. If anything, you might want to know the first person you have penetrative sex with well enough to trust them, or you might feel like you just want to carry on as though it's not really a big deal and you don't want to be treated any differently once you've been snipped - but seeing someone a few times and getting to know them will help you decide which of these you want. And anyone who will dump you because they can't sleep with you right away is an asshole.

Sex is a part of relationships, whether you place importance on it or see it as another way of getting to know someone or is someone who prefers to wait until marriage. And sex means more than penetration - there are many couples who, for whatever reason, have to find other ways of getting it on (for example, a friend of mine didn't have penetrative sex as he was a blood donor and over here one can't give blood if they have had anal sex with another man.) But unless you just want a purely sexual encounter, it's not the only aspect of dating at all! don't think of it as a 'selling point' - you're not offering services, you're looking to find someone you want to spend time with.
posted by mippy at 3:35 PM on May 31, 2011

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