(AFAB = Assigned Female At Birth)
Get acquainted with that wonderful thing between your thighs.
Our relationship with our vulva can sometimes be complex, and while it can unlock so much pleasure, to some people it can be a source of a huge amount of shame and pain. Knowing our anatomy can empower us to understand our bodies better and give us the confidence to own our vulva.
When most people talk about the vagina, what they are actually referencing is the vulva.
The vulva is the outer part of the female reproductive system which includes the outer and inner lips, (aka the labia majora and minora), clitoral hood, clitoris, vestibular bulbs, vaginal vestibule and the vaginal opening. Vulvas are incredibly diverse; they can be different colours, shapes and sizes. One side could even look different to the other. Society and in particular the porn industry, has created an idea of what a vulva ‘should’ look like, when in reality they all look different and all are beautiful.
Check out our page 'Vulva Not Vagina' here to learn about why using the right terminology is so important!
The labia majora are what lots of people call the ‘outer lips’. They are thick skin parts that are usually covered with pubic hair and run from the mons pubis to the anus. They contain sweat glands and are mostly made of muscle.
The labia minora are the ‘inner lips’ that run from the clitoris to below the opening of the vagina. When sexual arousal occurs, both the labia can swell in response. Some labia are long, some are short. Most people have one labia minora longer than the other. Some people have very pink labia, and some people have very dark brown labia.
Whatever the shape, colour or size of your labia, they’re all normal. Vaginal Vestibule The vaginal vestibule is the part of the skin between the labia minora. It surrounds the urethral and vaginal opening.
Head to the wonderful Lydia Reeve's page to see all types of labia!
The Vaginal Vestibule
The vaginal vestibule is the part of the skin between the labia minora. It surrounds the urethral and vaginal opening.
Our clitoris is the mother of all things pleasure. While previously thought to only contain up to 8,000 nerve fibres, according to the queersurgeon it could contain more than 10,000. It is this concentration of nerve endings that can make the clitoris extremely sensitive. The clitoris has one job: to give pleasure.
The external part of the clitoris has many names; the pea, the bean, the button, the clit and many more. The scientific term is the clitoral glans and it generally sits at the top of the vulva. It is the most visible part of the clitoris and is partly covered by the clitoral hood, a skin fold that protects the clitoral glans. Like the labia, the clitoris and clitoral hood can vary in many sizes, again all of which are normal.
The internal part of the clitoris is generally hidden. It is made up of the body of the clitoris, the crura and the vestibular bulb. The body of the clitoris is attached to the glans of the clitoris which then splits into the vestibular bulb and crura of the clitoris.
The vestibular bulb and crura have erectile tissue which swells and expands during sexual arousal. The swelling of this tissue causes lubrication of the vagina. Note - lubrication is not always a sign of sexual arousal, and lack of does not mean you aren't aroused. The clitoris continues to grow throughout our lives, this means it could be two and a half times the size when you’re in your 90s!
What a lot of people may not know, is that the clitoris and penis are derived from the same embryonic tissue. Meaning until the penis was exposed to certain hormones in the womb it was a clitoris too!
Check out our page here to learn more about the clitoris!
The Bartholin’s glands are responsible for producing the fluid that helps lubricate the vagina, this often happens when we are sexually aroused but can happen when we are not sexually aroused as well.
The vagina is the passage of muscle that lies between our vulva and cervix. It is formed of vaginal tissue and has an opening just below the urethral opening. This opening is where the blood comes out during menstruation, discharge comes out daily, but also where we put in fingers, sex toys, penises, and menstruation products. The urethral opening is the hole in which urine comes out. People often use the word vagina to describe the vulva; they're not quite correct. We want to embrace all of what our vulva, vagina, and clitoris are; not just narrow it down to one passage between the vulva and the cervix.
The vagina is composed of different layers of tissue. The first layer is the mucosal layer which is the same tissue as the one we get in the lining of our nose, stomach or mouth. The second layer is a smooth muscle which causes the vagina to contract and relax. The third layer called the adventitia, is rich in collagen and elastin. This is the layer that lets the vagina expand and contract during penetrative sex or childbirth.
Fluids are released into the vagina, such as lubrication during times of sexual arousal (also times when we are not sexually aroused) and we can absorb fluids or medications through the vagina.
The Internal Reproductive Parts
The uterus, sometimes known as the womb, is a muscular organ that plays a role in menstruation, fertility and pregnancy. During our period, also known as menstruation; the uterus lining sheds if pregnancy has not occurred and this is what causes the bleeding. If pregnancy occurs, the uterus will grow to accommodate the growing fetus. If we are sexually aroused, our incredible uterus moves to elongate the vagina, this allows our vagina to accommodate sex toys, penises, fingers and more!
The Fallopian Tubes
The fallopian tubes are the passage between the ovaries and the uterus, their main function is to carry eggs from the ovaries to the uterus.
The ovaries are amazing, oval-shaped glands that sit on top of the fallopian tubes. They store eggs and produce important hormones such as progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone. These hormones contribute to different parts of the menstrual cycle. Once puberty has started, the ovaries will release an egg monthly. If this egg isn’t fertilised by sperm, it will cause a period.
Finally, it’s important to note that although all of our reproductive parts come in all shapes, colours and sizes, if any part of your body is causing you pain, irritation or something just doesn’t feel quite right down there, we advise you to seek advice from your medical provider.
The cervix is located at the neck of the uterus (aka the womb) and looks like a spongy doughnut. Not everyone's cervix is located in exactly the same place, so sometimes it can be difficult to locate. The cervical opening is a hole that opens and closes to let blood out, sperm in and can produce lubrication. If you have an IUD or Hormone IUD, it sits at the top of the cervix.
The cervix acts as a barrier to the internal reproductive system, so objects such as tampons, or sex toys can’t get lost up there. Generally, the cervix does not feel much pain, so it's incredibly important to keep up to date with your cervical smears!
This piece was written by Dr. Rachel
"I'm Rachel and I'm a doctor with a special interest in all things sexual and reproductive health. I'm particularly passionate about reproductive justice and empowering people with the knowledge to take control of their sexual and reproductive lives.
I currently live in Latin America working on various volunteering initiatives as well as writing for Cliterally the Best!"
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