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The Female Anatomy: Do You Really Know Your Vulva?

22 November, 2022

Girls, we have a problem here. It seems that our private parts are so private that even we can’t name them. According to research, 70% of women can correctly label male bits but only a third can correctly label female bits. That’s because what society calls the vagina is actually the vulva, which has led to widespread confusion. 

If the word ‘vulva’ feels cold and anatomical to you, well, that’s just because it’s been locked in a fridge of shame and oppression for years and years. Time to re-educate ourselves and reclaim our bodies. 

What is the vulva?

First up: the vulva. Your vulva is all the parts you can see, namely the mons pubis (the mound on top of your pubic bone, where pubic hair grows), the lips (labia majora and labia minora), your clitoris and the external opening of your vagina and urethra. 

We can only see the external opening of the vagina — the vagina is the internal tube that leads from the external opening in the vulva, right up inside to your womb. 

So, now we know what the vulva is, let's visit the individual parts. 

Where is the clitoris located?

The pea-sized nub that you see at the top of your labia is the highly sensitive glans of the clitoris — but it’s just the tip of the iceberg, not the whole thing. Did you know that the rest of the clitoris extends back into your body and spreads like a wishbone on either side of your vaginal canal? And did you also know that it is made up of erectile tissue too?

Women can orgasm from stimulation of the externally visible glans clitoris, or from penetration whereby the clitoral erectile tissue around the vagina is stimulated, or not at all. 

What is a labia?

Labia means lips. There are the labia majora (your outer set of lips) and labia minora (your inner set of lips). Sometimes the inner labia are longer than the outer labia, and sometimes the outer are longer than the inner. Sometimes they’re symmetrical; sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re shaped in a way that the glans clitoris is visible; other times not. You get the picture.

It’s all normal and beautiful — and still, an online magazine poll showed that almost half of women have concerns about the appearance of their vulva. Enter the labia liberation movement that we’re seeing right now. 

Pubic hair grows on the outer labia to act as the first line of defence against foreign invaders, ​​preventing dirt and bacteria from entering the vagina. 

The inner labia minora are more sensitive than the outer labia majora thanks to their rich blood supply, and they swell when you’re feeling turned on which can increase their sensitivity. If you spread your inner labia apart, you find two holes: the tiny urethral opening where you pee from, and the opening to the vagina.

The vaginal anatomy

Your vagina is the tube that leads from the vulva to your womb. At the opening of the vagina is the hymen. The hymen is just a tiny bit of extra tissue around the edge of the vaginal opening that’s left over from how the vagina forms during embryonic development. For some, it’s practically non-existent. For others, it partially covers the vaginal opening. 

It’s a myth that the hymen remains ‘intact’ like some kind of seal on a water bottle until it’s broken during vaginal penetration, rendering it a physical marker of virginity. It’s impossible to tell by examining a woman if she’s a virgin. 

If you put your fingers inside the external entrance to the vagina then you feel the vagina. It is covered in ridges and is highly elastic. 

Where is the cervix located?

If you explore your vagina deep enough you will meet the cervix, which has been described as feeling like a nose. We prefer to compare the cervix to a ‘hard doughnut’. 

Sometimes, like before your period, the cervix is easier to feel because it is lower, and at other times of the month, it may be out of your reach. 

The cervix is the entrance/neck of the womb. When you have a smear test (or a cervical screening) done, cells are swabbed off the cervix. A speculum is put inside the vagina and opened so that the cervix can be seen and some cells brushed off for testing. 

The womb

Your womb or uterus is about 7.5cm long and 5cm wide, and shaped like an upside-down pear. Most tip forward, and some tip backwards. 

Extending from each side of the upper part of your womb is a fallopian tube, and at the other end of each tube are the ovaries. 

Where are the ovaries located?

The ovaries are two almond-sized glands that lie just beneath the end of each fallopian tube. They produce eggs, which are released at ovulation during each cycle, as well as hormones such as oestradiol, progesterone and testosterone

Even if your ovaries are functioning perfectly normally, your hormones can easily get out of balance due to exposure to chemicals in the environment, stress, poor diet and ageing. 

If you have symptoms such as mood swings, fatigue or low sex drive and you suspect that you might be suffering from a hormonal imbalance, get in touch with us today.

Phew! That’s a lot of information. But we need to end the confusion and shame around the language around the female anatomy and start celebrating our bodies. 

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