The curious case of the dissolving hymen, and other adventures

I happened to be watching a short video about the human hymen the other day, which is well worth 7 minutes of your day and as well as deconstructing the hymen as a virginity indicator, it mentioned elephant’s hymens.  Which naturally got me thinking… What other animals have a hymen?

Well…

Lemurs and chimps have them.  Buffalo and cattle.  Manatees and moles.  Seals and toothed whales.  Rats and cats.  Dogs and bush babies… camels, alpacas, hyenas and horses…

Guinea pigs are the owners of that dissolving hymen of the title.  It dissolves when they are fertile, allowing mating to occur and when they aren’t in season, it grows back.  This means that they can only be vaginally penetrated when they can conceive which seems practical.

In elephants, the hymen only breaks when she gives birth, and then it will regrow.  There is a small hole in it for the sperm to get through and be able to fertilise the egg but because of the angles of the vaginal canal, the penis doesn’t perforate it during sex.

The role of the hymen in non human animals seems to be a bit up in the air at the moment but one suggestion, for marine mammals, is that it keeps water and water-borne foreign substances out of the vagina.  In humans, it’s thought that it has a protective purpose, keeping any urine or faeces out of the vagina until the young girl is continent.  As a girl grows, her hymen changes consistency and shape and becomes less of a barrier and importantly, the hymen is irrelevant when it comes establishing virginity, or not.

It turned out there wasn’t really enough to write about animal hymens, mostly it seems because more effort has gone into researching male genitalia, in humans and other animals…  So I figured I would investigate the clitoris.  All female mammals have one although again, it seems like not much research has been done as its unclear whether they can be used to reach orgasm.

“Although the clitoris is not well studied, there is evidence of larger clitorides – yes, this is the plural of clitoris – in animals in which sex plays an important part in relationship building.”
The Conversation

Many mammals have their urethra running through the clitoris like the penis, and many have a small bone in the clitoris to help it become rigid during intercourse.

Dolphins have a large and complex clitoris.  Hyenas have a 20cm one that contains the birth canal and causes a variety of issues with birthing…  They are a matriarchal society and subordinate females lick the clitoris of higher ranking females as a show of submission and obedience.  Males also do this but there is no reciprocal penis licking as males are right at the bottom of the hierarchy.

Like the hyena, there are other animals that have large clitorides which have been termed pseudopenis’s which I think is unfair…  But anyway, animals which have these include the European mole, some lemurs, binturong and squirrel monkeys.  The female squirrel monkeys use theirs to display dominance within their social group.

But it’s not just mammals, there are some other animals that have a clitoris.  This includes ostriches, some turtles, crocodiles, and lizards and snakes even have two of them, known as hemiclitores!

If you happen to know anything more about the hymen or clitoris of animals, let me know!  I would have loved this post to be longer but I really struggled to find out much…

Reading:

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