- Vagina: functions
- External female anatomy — a.k.a. what is a vulva?
- Vulva anatomy: types
- Vagina anatomy
- Beauty in diversity — shape, colour, and smell
- Vaginal size — does it matter?
- Why some people have problems with taking pleasure in sex?
- How the vaginal makeup influences the quality of sex?
- Does the vagina return to its original state after childbirth?
- Vagina: hygiene — what you should pay attention to
- Vagina: health problems
Knock, knock! It’s Your KAYA team here! We feel that you should know that we’re always striving to make our articles inclusive but sometimes research gets in our way. Unfortunately, in order to remain 100% reliable we’re forced to stick to the binary labelling put forward in the research we’re backing our texts with.
We tend to forget how important our most intimate body part is. We belittle its role or give the subject a wide berth. Out of shame, fear. Well, you know us by now — such words do NOT exist in our dictionary ;)
Procreation — the penis enters the vagina through the vaginal opening during sex. The ejaculation of the former might lead to conception.
It’s the crown jewel of the reproductive system — due to its properties, vagina allows for natural childbirth.
It’s the outlet for menstrual blood during periods. These are not a piece of cake (which you may need to dulcify the PMS). Read our article about menstruation to find out more about the process.
Depending on the intensity of the period, menstrual blood has different colours. This is the result of vaginal anatomy. During spotting the blood is dark purplish because it flows down the vaginal walls and clots. When the bleeding is intense, blood becomes bright red. If blood clots appear — it’s a sign of very heavy menstrual bleedings.
External female anatomy — a.k.a. what is a vulva?
Vagina is the last, internal stop of the female reproductive system. People often use the term to refer to the entire female intimate area, including the external parts going by the name of vulva, which consists of:
labia — minora and majora. Their job is to protect the birth canal from mechanical trauma and various infections;
clitoris — highly innervated and sensitive organ. It’s the most erogenous part of the body. Research says that direct stimulation of the clitoris is the most common way of reaching orgasm during sex;
mons pubis — placed just above the pubic symphysis. It functions as protection of the pubic bone during sex.
For a woman the looks of her labia may engender lots of insecurities (especially during intercourse). Their abnormal structure might result in pain during sex (tightness usually related also to pelvic floor muscles), so it’s not only a matter of appearance. Not every asymmetry translates to an anomaly. Besides, the looks of the vulva are treated differently in numerous cultures. In medical jargon, for instance, there is a label for labial hypertrophy: “Hottentot apron”. The term was derived from an African ethnic group in which such appearance of the vulva was perfectly natural and even desired.
The outer lips (as labia majora are also known) are two longitudinal cutaneous folds. Their external fragment is bulgy and covered with skin under which glands and hair follicles reside. In turn, their inner part is moist and less dished. In young people, labia majora are more tightened and grind together. With age, they might become more loose (after childbirth or due to a natural collagen loss).
These are thin, hairless cutaneous folds visible after lifting away the outer lips. Typically, they should be pale red or pinkish. An atypical structure of the inner lips is a situation in which the labia are disproportionate towards each other. The inner ones stick out past the outer ones.
Vulva anatomy: types
Saying that each vulva looks differently isn’t revelatory. We all know that our bodies are unique and one of a kind. However, there are some interdependencies allowing us to classify vulvae into some representative types.
“Ms. Barbie” — a vulva in which labia minora are almost completely concealed by labia majora, rendering them practically undetectable (similarly to other private parts, which is analogous to the build of the popular doll).
“Ms. Curtains” — a type in which enlarged inner lips seem bigger because they peek out from the outer lips. It might cause discomfort and pain during sex. This is why many people decide to undergo labiaplasty. It relies on altering the size of the labia minora.
Popular “Ms. Puffs” — a type in which labia majora conceal labia minora which become almost undetectable. If they’re not entirely covered, this type is called “Ms. Horseshoe”; “Ms. Puffs” is similar to “Ms. Barbie” but in this type the vulva is simply bigger.
Asymmetry — a quite common phenomenon. It is usually concerned with the inner lips, less frequently asymmetric are the outer lips.
The vagina constitutes an extension of the birth canal. It has a tube-like shape and is made of two walls — anterior and posterior. They are about 3 millimetres thick. The anterior wall of your vagina is equipped with the famous G-spot. It’s one of the most sensitive and erogenous areas of the body in AFAB people (Assigned Female at Birth). It’s counterpart in AMAB people (Assigned Male at Birth) is prostate. The G-spot is a sort of Holy Grail of sexuality. Its stimulation provides the greatest pleasure and satisfaction during sex. It’s a bulgy area of about 1.5 cubic centimetre. It's placed 2 to 5 centimetres off of the opening of the vagina.
The vaginal opening is located in the vaginal vestibule, next to the opening of the urethra. From the outside, it’s surrounded by labia minora. The opening is closed off by the hymen (also called the virginal membrane) which forms already in the 5th month of the foetal life. We distinguish the following types:
It’s a thin fold of mucosa whose functions are related more to a cultural concept and the perception of sexuality rather than its specific role in the organism. In most people, hymen covers the vaginal opening only partially. It’s usually breached during first sexual intercourse. It may also be torn when applying a tampon or during intense exercise. This moment is referred to as defloration. Culturally speaking, it’s connected to losing one’s virginity. This, for many people, is a turning point in the development of their sexuality.
The structure of the upper part of the vagina, near the uterus, changes and its shape is starting to resemble the letter H. In the uppermost part the body of the uterus is located, in which sperm is gathered and beside which lies the womb.
A vaginal wall is characterised by a three-layer structure comprised of:
external membrane — made of connective tissue, which in the upper part becomes denser;
muscular coat — made of smooth muscles intertwined with connective tissue. The border between the muscular coat and the mucosa is fuzzy. This results from the arrangement of the vaginal venous plexus forming a tiny protrusion;
mucosa — it has a greyish red colour and numerous folds and wrinkles. They normally smoothen with each childbirth. In addition, the mucosa is divided into two layers: lamina propria (composed of elastic fibres) and vaginal epithelium (nonkeratinised stratified squamous epithelium).
Desquamating vaginal epithelium and the cervical mucus form a vaginal discharge which moisturises the membranes of the vaginal walls. It’s whitish and contains about 5 per mille of lactic acid. It's produced by the microbes constituting the natural bacterial flora of the vagina.
Beauty in diversity — shape, colour, and smell
We got to know the anatomic makeup and the inside looks of the vagina. We know what it’s made of and what functions it performs in the organism. You didn’t expect we’d stop at that, did you?! ;)
The vulva comes in a variety of colours — pink, raspberry, purple, even brown! These discrepancies, however, are nothing to be worried about. What may be troubling is an intense, red colouring outside the vagina. Especially if it’s accompanied by itching, sting, or labia pain. It’s often the result of an infection, wearing inadequate, tight underwear, or pads and pantyliners containing plastic.
The smell of the vaginal discharge depends on the mucus coming from the cervix. It contains exfoliated vaginal epithelium and bacteria. These factors might cause a slightly sour odour, although not an entirely unpleasant one. Keep in mind that the cervical mucus is dependent on the phases of the menstrual cycle. If it begins to bother you or you notice any abnormalities (be it in colour or smell of the vagina), visit your gynaecologist in order to rule out any possible infections.
Vaginal size — does it matter?
Many people often wonder if the length of their vaginas might influence the quality of sexual intercourse and orgasm. Or if its insufficient length might negatively impact their experiences during labour. Let’s find out!
Vaginal length usually oscillates between 6 and 8 centimetres. However, similar articles claim that the numbers range from 7 to even 15 centimetres.
Vaginal makeup allows for its considerable stretching and widening. This is invaluable during natural childbirth for the baby to be able to squeeze through the vaginal opening.
The arousal caused by sexual stimulation also causes the vagina to elongate. So even a well-endowed partner can easily fit inside a vagina.
Why some people have problems with taking pleasure in sex?
Vaginal length is a personal matter and may vary from one person to another. Experiencing sexual satisfaction and pleasure does not only depend on the makeup of the genitalia but also on mental conditioning. The fear of unwanted pregnancy, traumas, or other personal experiences might cause involuntary contractions. This might impede penetration through a then tight vaginal opening. Another reason for lame sex life might seem trivial at first. We’re talking about insufficient stimulation of the clitoris and other erogenous areas. Reaching orgasm is thus possible not only through penetration.
How the vaginal makeup influences the quality of sex?
Vagina is an innervated and extremely sensitive organ. Its walls are nourished by the vaginal artery which is a branch of the uterine artery. Vaginal nerves come from the uterovaginal plexus. Such placing makes the vagina touch-sensitive and, with proper stimulation, might provide you with orgasms.
With the increase of sexual arousal the vaginal length and appearance change. In the second phase of intercourse, following the arousal and sexual excitement one, called plateau phase, the engorgement of the genitalia happens. The labia and clitoris become bulging and the inside of the vagina even more moist under the influence of the naturally produced lubricant.
The aforesaid vaginal length usually has little impact on the quality of sex life. In some cases the vaginal makeup might exacerbate the sensations during intercourse. People with shorter vaginas may experience pain during sex if the parter’s penis is uncommonly large or is used incorrectly ;) Reversely, the vagina may be too loose, especially after childbirth or improper suturing of perineal lacerations.
Does the vagina return to its original state after childbirth?
Natural childbirth is possible due to the vagina’s elasticity and extensibility.
After natural childbirth the vagina is usually reddish, swollen, and loose. Obviously, it stems from the bearing down of the child’s head and body trying to emerge through the birth canal. The exceptional looseness continues for about 6 to 8 weeks.
The vagina regenerates and might return to its original diameter (which is usually between 2 and 3 centimetres). But the process is influenced by:
labour conditions (how long the bearing down lasted, whether there were any problems, etc.),
weight and height of the baby,
possible perineal lacerations (it’s a common procedure during labour, especially if it’s the first one. It may delay the regeneration),
the number of childbirths,
Kegel exercise (both before and after childbirth).
You might also like our article: When is it OK to ask if someone's pregnant?
Vagina: hygiene — what you should pay attention to
The bacteria constituting the bacterial flora produce lactic acid. It's responsible for keeping the acidic balance inside the vagina. Normally, vaginal pH oscillates between 3.6 and 4.5 in people in the reproductive age. To keep the appropriate balance you might want to take good care of your vagina. Simply, lower the risks of getting unpleasant infections.
How to take care of proper hygiene?
Wash your private areas 1 to 2 times a day. During menstruation, it’s advisable to do it more often. Preferably with every pad or tampon replacement. It’s recommended to use subtle intimate washes with lactic acid. Remember to avoid scented products and intrauterine douches. Instead of cleansing it, they may cause dryness of the uterine lining and rinse off the necessary lactobacilli. Vagina can cleanse itself, so every intervention is not only redundant but may also backfire. Intimate washes are to be used externally. Apply it gently on the labia.
It’s advisable to check the material our underwear is made of. It should be natural and breathable. Synthetics might cause painful and unpleasant irritations.
The same goes for pads and pantyliners. It’s recommended to pick products made of organic cotton. Synthetics don’t allow your skin to “breathe” and may irritate it.
It’s also important to maintain a healthy diet and supplementation of products containing active cultures of bacteria. Try not to eat an excessive amount of sugar as it may contribute to yeast infections, for instance.
Vagina: health problems
Remember that your vagina is a unique environment, so you should really take care of its health to avoid any problems. Keep in mind that, in order to receive proper health information, you should always consult your gynaecologist. Here are some health conditions and their symptoms which you might suffer from if you neglect to take care of your vagina’s health.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs). They used to be called venereal diseases. It's a group of infections contracted during unprotected sex. They include: HPV, HSV, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, syphilis, and many others. The best way of protection against them is the use of barrier birth control.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). It's an infection of one or more female reproductive organs. It might affect the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. The infection is caused by bacteria and attacks the vagina and uterus. It gets through when the cervical canal is open (during menstruation or after childbirth). The symptoms appear a few days after infection and include abrupt spastic pain in your underbelly and growing pain during intercourse. The pain can radiate to your arms and legs. The treatment relies on antibiotics and intravaginal medicines.
Vaginitis. It's caused by bacteria or results from a yeast infection. Its development depends also on the hormone levels. The symptoms of vaginitis are: vaginal discharge, sting, itching, and sometimes pain. The treatment depends on the type of vaginitis and should be determined by a gynaecologist.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV). It results from changes in the environment of your vagina. The decrease in lactobacilli and increase of bacteria levels might result in an unpleasant odour. The treatment of BV relies on antibiotics, creams, and gels applied locally.
Vaginal cancer. It’s a rare type which afflicts mostly women between 45 and 65 years old. The risk factors are the HPV and prior cancers of the reproductive organs. The symptoms might include: spotting, bleeding, vaginal discharge of foul smell, bleeding after sex. The basic treatment is radiotherapy or surgical intervention if the location and size of the bump allow for it.
Vaginismus. A condition which is connected more to the mental health rather than the physical one. Vaginismus is a type of sexual dysfunction which causes the opening of your vagina to tighten. This hinders any type of penetration. There might be additional gynaecological causes, but the treatment relies mainly on psychotherapy and… masturbation!
It’s obvious that no one is born with an exhaustive knowledge about vaginal health. If we wish to avoid a sexually transmitted infection, vaginal cancer, or simply don’t want to deal with the symptoms of the aforementioned conditions, we can invest some time to investigate the best ways to service our precious vaginas.
Photographer Laura Dodsworth has taken pictures of 100 vaginas and interviewed their owners about their relationship with their vaginas. A collection of beautiful photographs accompanied by cute, touching, and sometimes shocking and painful stories has been pieced together. The album constitutes a wonderful manifesto of diversity, a celebration of one’s body, and the respect and gratitude we should extend to it.
Share your stories with us: what’s your relationship with your vagina? What do you call it? :)