January 5, 2022, I awoke to a myriad of WhatsApp messages with links to several articles announcing the long awaited and much celebrated “official name change.” The Hebrew papers proudly declared that as of that morning, the term Krum Betullim -loosely translated as “virginal membrane”, will now be called Sha’ar HaNartik – “the vaginal gateway”. 

The Hebrew term Krum Betullim, referring to the hymen (a ring of tissue inside the vaginal canal) has been used for centuries. But it has been the source of miseducation, fear and trepidation for both men and women.

While teaching and working together with numerous brides, kallah teachers, women and men of all ages, it has become abundantly clear to me that other than a lucky well-educated few, most individuals have learnt that the hymen is in fact a “krum” (a full membrane, blocking the internal vaginal canal) and that it’s state of intactness testifies to a woman’s sexual status as a virgin (or to her not being a virgin). Modern medicine recognizes that the hymen is not a separating membrane serving as a partition, but rather a small amount of extra tissue in a crescent or ring-like shape near the vaginal opening that is stretchy and flexible. The tissue does not necessarily “tear” with penetration but tearing or more correctly stretching occurs over time from a variety of sources, including vigorous exercise, tampon use or gynecological exams. Hymens come in all shapes and sizes; some women have more tissue, and in others, there’s practically no tissue at all. Because of these factors, it’s impossible to tell by examining a woman’s hymen if she’s a virgin.

The late term “Krum Betullim” is misleading and harmful. While in Biblical times the blood stain of the marital sheets testified to the sexual purity and virginity of the bride, and carried with it a different monetary value for women with or without a hymen (which was notated in the ketubah), these notions play little part in how we relate today. It is not uncommon that a woman will experience a small amount of bleeding during the first few times she has intercourse due to the stretching of the hymenal ring, but this is by no means a universal experience, nor, as mentioned previously, does it determine her virginal status. By continuing to call this anatomical body part by an archaic name, we perpetuate the myths surrounding it, and give the latent message to young men and women that a woman’s worth is determined by her sexual status.


Both personally and professionally I am delighted and relieved to witness this historical change.  I know that my role as a sex therapist and educator may raise an eyebrow or elicit a giggle or two in social situations — even at the Shabbat table. My husband, five children, son-in-law and daughter-in-law to be, have all gotten used to (it’s a process) the topics I raise or comments I have on the parsha.  My son’s bar mitzvah parasha was “Ki Tetzei” the parsha that refers directly to the Krum Betullim, and to the ritual of finding “virginal blood” on the new couple’s bed sheets (poor kid!). As a result, he was the lucky recipient of a brief “teaching moment on female anatomy” and the fact that this is no longer used as an indication of virginity. While this may have been a Biblical ritual, it is crucial for us, parents, educators and growing adults to recognize the negative messages that can be sent to our children when hearing these terms, particularly teens and young women just beginning to explore their sexuality.

Using anatomically and physiologically correct names for female and male genitals and reproductive/sexual parts enables us to teach reality and to open conversation. Making sure that those names convey positive messages and inspire connection (rather than shame) of our bodies is crucial.

The expressions on the faces of both men and women when I have explained that the hymen is a ring of tissue as opposed to a sealed membrane speak for themselves. The expressions generally take the forms of shock, amazement, and more often than not, confusion and eventually relief. 

I am impressed with the choice of “Sha’ar HaNartik”  as the new name. It conveys a completely different message about this same body part. Rather than invoking the concept of a sealed membrane, “Sha’ar HaNartik” expresses that this is something external that protects us (like every gate), easily opens, and leads to the uterus. It’s not connected in any way to virginal status and bears no judgement or negative overtones. Simultaneously it conveys that like with any important location – a school, a palace, the Beit haMikdash – the vagina has something marking (or protecting) the entrance, as an honored and valuable place.

I am looking forward to the extended use of this new term “Sha’ar HaNartik”, as the opening of new conversation about our bodies and sexuality.