Grown GRRL Sex Ed: Vaginal Anatomy and Physiology (with photos)
Class is in session:
**This lesson will be for any person (regardless of gender) with a vagina. We will be discussing the anatomy of the penis in a later installment, don't worry.
Today, we will cover the structure (known as the anatomy) and function (the physiology) of the vagina and other related sexual characteristics. This is definitely a refresher. We'll talk more in depth about the topic in the next post.
Here's some general info and a few tips for self-exploration (for pleasure or science sake...up to you):
Vocabulary Words: Vulva, Mons Pubis, Labia Minora and Majora, Glans and Clitoris, Clitoral Shaft, Vestibular Bulbs, Bartholin's Glands, Urinary Opening, Vaginal Opening, Hymen, Vaginal Walls, G Spot, Fornix, Cervix
The appearance, shape, and size of genitals vary from person to person as much as the shape and size of other body parts. There is a wide range of what is considered normal. Observing your own body can help you to learn what is normal for you.
This includes all the external organs you can see outside your body. The vulva includes the mons pubis (Latin for “pubic mound”), labia majora (outer lips), labia minora (inner lips), clitoris, and the external openings of the urethra and vagina.
The vulva is not the vagina. The vagina is inside your body. Only the opening of the vagina an be seen from the outside.
Pubic hair covers the soft part below your belly button called the mons. You can feel the pubic bones beneath the mons pubis.
Labia Majora and Labia Minora
The fatty tissue of the mons pubis also continues between your legs to form two labia majora, the outer lips of the vulva. The hair-covered labia majora are also fatty, and their size, color and shape differ considerably among women. The labia majora surround the labia minora (the inner lips of the vulva). The labia minora are hairless and very sensitive to touch.
Glans and Clitoris
Starting from the front, right below the mons, the inner lips join to form a soft fold of skin, or hood, over and covering the glans, or tip of the clitoris. The glans is the spot most sensitive to sexual stimulation. Many people confuse the glans with the entire clitoris, but it is simply the most visible part.
Extending from the hood up to the pubic symphysis, there's a hardish, rubbery, movable rod right under the skin. It is sometimes sexually stimulating when touched. This is the body or shaft of the clitoris. It is connected to the bone by a suspensory ligament. You cannot feel this ligament or the next few organs described, but they are all important in sexual arousal and orgasm.
Starting from where the shaft and crura meet, and continuing down along the sides of the vestibule, are two bundles of erectile tissue called the bulbs of the vestibule. The bulbs, along with the whole clitoris (glans, shaft, crura), become firm and filled with blood during sexual arousal, as do the walls of the vagina.
Both the crura of the clitoris and the bulbs of the vestibule are covered in muscle tissue. This muscle helps to create tension and fullness during arousal and contracts during orgasm, playing an important role in the involuntary spasms felt at that time. The clitoris and vestibular bulbs are the only organs in the body solely for sexual sensation and arousal.
The Bartholin’s glands are two small rounded bodies on either side of the vaginal opening near the bottom of the vestibule. They secrete a small amount of fluid during arousal. Usually you cannot see or feel them.
The inner lips attach to the underside of the clitoris. Right below this attachment you will see a small dot or slit. This is the urinary opening, the outer opening of the urethra, a short (about an inch and a half), thin tube leading to your bladder.
Vaginal Opening and Hymen
Below the opening of the urethra is the vaginal opening. Around the vaginal opening you may be able to see the remains of the hymen, also known as the vaginal corona. This is a thin membrane just inside the vaginal opening, partially blocking the opening but almost never covering it completely.
Vaginal coronas come in widely varying sizes and shapes. For most women they stretch easily—by a tampon, as well as a finger, a penis, or a dildo. Even after the hymen has been stretched, little folds of tissue remain.
Walls of the Vagina
The walls of the vagina may vary from almost dry to very wet. The vagina is likely to be drier before puberty, during breastfeeding, and after menopause, as well as during that part of the menstrual cycle right before and after the flow. It’s likely to be wetter around ovulation, during pregnancy, and during sexual arousal.
**Normal/Not Normal** Vaginal and cervical fluid (discharge) are normal. However, any of the following may indicate an infection or another problem. Contact a healthcare provider if you experience:
Green, gray, or dark yellow discharge
Significant change in the amount or consistency of discharge
A strong odor unusual for you
About a third of the way up from the vaginal opening, on the anterior (front) wall of the vagina (the side toward your abdomen), is an area known as the Gräfenberg spot, or G-spot. Many women experience intensely pleasurable sensations when this area is stimulated. There are differences of opinion over whether the G-spot is a distinct anatomical structure or whether the pleasure felt when the area is stimulated is due to its closeness to the bulbs of the clitoris.
These muscles hold the pelvic organs in place and provide support for your other organs all the way up to your diaphragm, which is stretched across the bottom of your rib cage. Kegel exercises may help to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
Only a thin wall of mucous membrane and connective tissue separates the vagina from the rectum. If you were standing, your vagina would be at about a 45-degree angle to the floor. With your finger you may be able to just feel the deep end of your vagina, or the fornix.
A little before the end of the vagina you can feel your cervix. The cervix feels like a nose with a small dimple in its center. The cervix (from the Latin cervix uteri, meaning “neck of the womb”) is the part of the uterus or womb that extends into the vagina. It is sensitive to pressure but has no nerve endings on the surface.
The uterus changes position, color and shape during the menstrual cycle, as well as during puberty and menopause, so you may feel the cervix in a different place from one day to the next. Some days you can barely reach it. The vagina also lengthens slightly during sexual arousal, carrying the cervix deeper into the body.
The dimple in the cervix is the os, or opening into the uterus. The entrance is very small. Normally, only menstrual fluid leaving the uterus, or seminal fluid entering the uterus, passes through the cervix. No tampon, finger, or penis can go up through it, although it is capable of expanding enormously for a baby during labor and birth.