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The hymen is a membrane that surrounds or partially covers the external vaginal opening. It forms part of the vulva, or external genitalia, and is similar in structure to the vagina. The hymen does not seem to have a specific physiological function or purpose. In children, a common appearance of the hymen is crescent-shaped, although many shapes are possible. Normal variations of the hymen range from thin and stretchy to thick and somewhat rigid; or it may instead be completely absent.
The hymen might rip or tear the first time a female engages in penetrative intercourse, which may cause temporary bleeding or slight discomfort, but sources differ on how common tearing and bleeding after first intercourse is. The hymen can also stretch or tear as a result of various other behaviors; for example, it may be lacerated by disease, injury, medical examination, masturbation or physical exercise. For these reasons, the state of the hymen is not a conclusive indicator of virginity, though it continues to be considered so in certain cultures. Although the hymen does not regenerate itself after it is torn, it may be surgically restored in a procedure called hymenorrhaphy.