Sexual Etymology: Hymen and Orgasm

by Jason Stotts

In this week’s edition of Sexual Etymology, we’re going to be looking at “hymen” and “orgasm.

Hymen – 1615, from Fr. hymen (16c.), ult. from Gk. hymen “virginal membrane, thin skin.” Originally any membrane; present specific meaning begins with Vesalius, 1550. Hymeneal “wedding hymn” is 1717, from L. hymenaeus, from Gk. hymenaios “belonging to wedlock, wedding, wedding song,” from Hymen, Gk. god of marriage, represented as a youth carrying a torch and a veil. (hymen)

So, hymen is obviously very similar in meaning to its original definition.  One interesting thing to note, though, is the connection of hymen to marriage.  This connection is almost ubiquitous in ancient cultures (even in some modern cultures) as a sign of a girl’s virginity.  This, of course, is rather strange as they are easy to break and are more often broken by a non-sexual activity, than by a sexual one.

Orgasm – 1680s, from Fr. orgasme, from Gk. orgasmos “excitement, swelling,” from organ “be in heat, become ripe for,” lit. “to swell, be excited,” related to orge “impulse, excitement, anger,” from PIE base *wrog- “to burgeon, swell with strength” (cf. Skt. urja “a nourishment, sap, vigor,” O.Ir.ferc, ferg “anger”). The verb is attested from 1973, originally and usually in reference to a woman’s sexual climax. Orgasmic is attested from 1935. (orgasm)

Orgasm also has a very clear progression and a very similar meaning to its original meaning of excitement and swelling.  We’ll contrast this with ejaculation, which we shall take a look at next week.

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