Ladies, our health matters. Not just while we are pregnant or having a health issue, but all the time. Knowing your body and how it functions is an investment in your health.
“Communities and countries and ultimately the world are only as strong as the health of their women,” said Michelle Obama
Not all women are medical professionals or scientists, but all women deserve to know their bodies. It’s time we get to know our intimate area more intimately. We’re going to break it down for you with a quick anatomy lesson of your vagina for you to V all you can V.
Get To Know Your V
You’ve probably seen an anatomical picture of the female reproductive system. You know, the one with your ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, etc.
It’s a great visual, but we’d like to go a step further. Because the vagina and female anatomy are for more than just reproduction. To help a sister out, we’ve provided three pictures of your vaginal anatomy. (Don’t worry, we aren’t going to quiz you—promise.)
*The images below are for scientific purposes only. Be mindful of your surroundings while reading this—unless you want to educate others too.
The Mirror Check (external)
Check out V1 for an image of what you see when you take your mirror “down there.” We’re going to work our way clock-wise starting at the clitoral hood.
- Clitoral Hood- a small flap over skin over the external part of the clitoris, to protect it. The clitoris is made up of thousands of nerve endings and is very sensitive. According to Vogue, it can be stimulated for an orgasm, and when the clitoris is stimulated, the hood draws back.
- Urethral Opening- is the opening that leads to the bladder. This is where your urine comes out. Opening the urethra when you want to release urine, and closing it when you want to prevent urine loss, is both a voluntary and involuntary motion. Meaning—you sometimes have control of it, and sometimes you don’t. But more on that later!
- Vaginal Opening: basically, an entrance to the vaginal canal, also called the introitus. The vagina is a muscular canal that leads to your uterus. It is where the penis enters during traditional sex, where a baby comes out during a vaginal delivery, and where fluids exit during menstruation.
- Anus: this is where fecal matter (poop) exits your body. Your anus is the end of your large intestine (colon), and has muscles wrapped around the opening. These muscles are part of your pelvic floor. (You’ll learn more about this below!)
- Labia Majora: the outer lips surrounding your vaginal area. These folds of skin help protect you from infection and usually have hair growing on them.
- Labia Minora: the smaller, inner lips of your vaginal area. Think of them as a second layer of protection.
Wait, wait, wait! What about the vulva? Great question! The vulva is not a single part of the female anatomy, it’s actually the name of the whole external part—the labia, the vaginal opening, the clitoral hood/external clitoris, etc.
Let’s go one step further. We’ve covered the external, so now it’s time for what you can’t see—the internal. You ready? Check out V2, and you’ll see a sideways view of your pelvic anatomy.
The Pelvic Check (internal)
This time, we’re going counter-clockwise. (Check out V2 and V3 for reference)
- Bladder/ Bladder neck- your urine is made in the kidneys but stored in the bladder until it is excreted via your urethra (the opening we talked about earlier). WebMD describes the bladder as “a balloon shaped muscle” which uses the muscle to expel urine. Your bladder neck is the canal that helps push your urine outside the body. The bladder neck is partly supported by the pelvic floor muscles.
- Pelvic Floor Muscles– these are like a hammock to support your pelvic organs—bladder, uterus, and rectum. V2 shows you exactly where they are—in the middle of everything. Pelvic floor muscles (PFM) are striated muscles – just like your bicep – which weaken if they aren’t exercised. (Learn more about PFM here). They can also weaken (atrophy) overtime, and through physical events like childbirth. When this happens, the hammock isn’t as tight.
- Look at V3—do you see how the bladder neck is sagging slightly? It seems like a small difference, but it can have a profound impact. When your bladder neck isn’t held up and kept tight by the pelvic floor muscles, urine can escape.
Yep, you guessed it—we’re talking about bladder leakage (urinary incontinence.) 50% of women suffer from unwanted, uncontrolled urine leaking from their bladder. Learn more about bladder leakage here.
Going around V2, our next anatomical part is the introitus. The what? The introitus. (IN-TROY-TUH-SS). We didn’t make this word up—we promise. It’s Latin and means “into.”
- Introitus- otherwise known as the “vaginal opening,” it is the entrance to the vaginal canal. It’s about 4cm long and is responsible for sexual sensation and pleasure. Why? Wrinkles. Yes, wrinkles. Ready for another new, weird word? Rugae, (pronounced rew-gay), are the wrinkles of skin in your introitus, responsible for sensation and friction during sex.
More wrinkles=more pleasure. Less wrinkles=less pleasure.
Since this is internal, it’s not about looks. It’s about function and feeling. Usually, smooth, wrinkle-free skin is a good thing. But when it comes to your introitus, you WANT wrinkles. (Wrinkles never felt so good!)
Look at V2 vs. V3. Notice how after childbirth, the introitus is stretched out and appears smooth? That’s what happens when the rugae is stretched and the collagen fibers are broken. This pulls the tissues and muscles downward, which can cause the bladder neck to bend.
Learn more about treatments for the introitus here, and get those wrinkles back!
Bringing It All Together
Whew! That was a lot. Whether you skimmed, cherry-picked your favorite part, or are saving this to look back at later, we hope you find it useful. Also, we hope you learned something new!
We chose to dedicate the month of February to vaginal health because it is an overlooked area and, until recently, with few treatment options. Celebrate your V-Day this month by educating yourself on your lady parts, that area “down there,” your vagina.