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Your Vagina: What You Should Know

The vagina is the opening that is located directly below the urethral opening (that is where you pee from). The opening is called an orifice, as are other openings in your body. Directly outside of the vaginal opening are the labia minor, the smooth inner lips of the vulva. Outside of the inner lips are the labia majora, the fleshier outer lips that are typically covered in hair.

Females tend to know less about their genitals than males because they cannot see them as easily - fairly obvious. There is nothing wrong with using a mirror and taking a look at what is “down there”. It’s easy to see if you put a mirror between your legs and look, especially if you are trying to insert a tampon for the first time.

The clitoris is a sensitive organ and it's function is probably to provide sexual pleasure (otherwise it has no function). It’s often so concealed that it may only to viewed when the lips of the vagina are separated. It's a small roundish "nob" at the top of the vulva. It is structurally connected to the labia minora or inner lips of the vagina. The visible glans of the clitoris, which is hooded by a prepuce -- (formed by the meeting of the labia minora) -- is only the outward and visible part of a much more extensive structure of erectile tissue. The clitoral structure surrounds and extends into the vagina. The structure contains erectile tissue, very similar to the male penis, so when a women gets sexually aroused, it engorges with blood. The clitoris is densely packed with nerve endings, while similar in number to the penis, they are much more concentrated and closer together.

The role of the clitoris in orgasm has been the subject of heated controversy for years. There is even controversy as to its pronunciation, whether it should be 'clitt-oris' or 'cli-toris'. Dictionaries vary and some list both as correct. However, this infers to some that this variation may cause hesitation in referring to this organ openly while speaking to others, (even to your health care provider). The anatomy of the clitoris was first described in 1559 by Renaldus Columbus of Padua, who claimed that previous anatomists had overlooked the very existence of “so pretty a thing”.

When a woman is sexually aroused, the vagina begins to produce lubrication to assist in penetration. Your bartholin glands produce that lubrication. Most vaginas are only four inches in length, regardless of what your friends might have told you.

At the top of the vagina is what kind of feels like a semi-hard round ball. This is your cervix, the 'neck' of your uterus. Your cervix can feel hard during some times of your monthly cycle and softer at other times. If you push the tip of your nose and feel what they feels like, that's kind of what your cervix feels like most of the time. In the middle of the cervix is a small round opening, called the os, that leads to the uterus. The os is the small opening through which menstrual blood flows from the uterus into the vagina. This is the same small opening that expands during childbirth. This is also where cells for a pap smear will be taken to make sure they are healthy. Many females have very sensitive cervixes, some do not.

Keep in mind that the vagina is a 'potential' space, it's not "open" all the time as it looks in the anatomy illustrations you may have seen. The walls of the vagina are normally in contact with each other. In other words, they are touching unless something is inserted between them. The vaginal opening is normally closed. It’s important to realize that the vagina isn't a hole or cavity inside the body. When something enters the vagina, the body will make room for it.


How To Care For Your Vagina

The vaginal walls are continually producing secretions necessary to provide lubrication, to cleanse the vagina, and to maintain the proper acidity to prevent infection. You will notice during different part of your menstrual cycle that your vaginal discharge will vary, (see Menstrual Cycle for more on that).

The vagina tends to be fairly acidic (sperm tend to be more alkaline, btw). The vagina is a naturally self-cleansing body part, so douching isn't necessary to keep the vagina clean. Some women chose to use a vinegar and water douche after the end of their period, but this is not necessary. Women who like to douche, however, should do so with products that are unscented. It is not normal to have a vagina that smells like a field of flowers and can you imagine the chemicals used to create that "fragrance"... not good for you at all. If you have a 'strange' odor from you vagina, see a gynecologist please!

Wash your vagina when you shower or bath with a gentle soap or cleansing bar. Don't over-do-it as you can irritate the sensitive lining and it is not a pleasant feeling, but it will heal. I’m sure you’ve seen many TV ads for products that claim to care for your vagina, most are not necessary, unless you have a vaginal infection.

It's often hard for girls to believe that a baby can fit through that canal, but it can stretch (and tear) and they do. Of course, let’s not forget that the vagina is where you have vaginal sexual intercourse or oral sex (cunnilingus). For information on the the infamous “G-Spot”, see that article.


Q. Are vaginal secretions normal?

A. Of course. It's normal to have secretions at times of the month other than your period. These secretions keep the vagina clean, help prevent infection, and provide lubrication during sexual arousal and intercourse. You may notice clear sticky discharge about 2 weeks after your period. This is very normal and is a sign that you have ovulated. (Which may come in handy when you want to get pregnant.

If your discharge itches, burns, smells bad or changes color, you should see a health care provider promptly since you may have an infection. Don't stress over it, not all infections are STDs and even virgins get yeast and bacterial infections.

When in doubt or worried, see a gynecology, or practitioner. No one can diagnose anything via the Internet.


Q. Why is my vagina so dry?

A. At one time or another all women experience vaginal dryness. Before you feel sore, in pain, and or frustrated with yourself, you should know that normal estrogen fluctuations often cause vaginal dryness. Some women believe that vaginal lubricants are only for women who are not sexually aroused, or who are going through menopause, or if they are not very sexually experienced. Lubricants are for all of those reasons and for masturbating too. Vaginal dryness often occurs during your period, if you are stressed-out, and if you are using a condom with no lubrication! Yes, vaginal dryness can cause painful sexual intercourse. Make sure you are using the right amount of lubrication, especially when using a condom.

Antihistamines and other medication (some antidepressants) can dry out your vagina too. In general, if it driers out your mouth, it most likely will dry out your vagina.

Author: Amy Otis of Sex Ed 101, founder of BeingWoman.net and several other health-related web sites for teenagers.

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