V is For Vulva (and Vagina too…)

woman looking with a magnifying glass on her pubic hair

Vaginas make people uncomfortable. Although they are no different than any other body part, people tend not to giggle, frown, or speak in hushed tones when discussing arms, legs, hearts, lungs, breasts, and backs and their associated ailments. In fact, I found that sexual anatomy was one of the most difficult subjects to teach. Every semester I realized many of my students weren’t really excited about staring at projector-sized vulvas and vaginas. Nor were they thrilled to discuss them.

Unfortunately, this code of silence and subsequent shame has rendered us ignorant of our bodies and their basic functionings; and owners of vulvas and vaginas aren’t exempt. Many people who have them don’t know how these parts actually look, although they walk around with them every single day!

But, In order to feel empowered in our bodies, with our sexuality and sexual expression, and comfortable with communicating with our partners and healthcare providers, we must name, claim, and normalize our sexual anatomy.

So, in the spirit of body awareness and comfort, Let’s get to know the vulva, vagina, and its associated parts! 

Uncovering the Vulva

The vulva is the collective name for the external part of the female genitalia. It contains the mons pubis, clitoris, labia majora, labia minora, and openings to the urethra and the vagina. Let’s be clear. The vulva and the vagina are not the same thing, although people tend to use them interchangeably. Technically, we don’t “see” the vagina because it’s inside the body.

External Female Reproductive System

The vagina is the muscular canal that connects the vulva on the outside of the female body to the cervix on the inside. The vaginal walls stretch and are capable of lubricating, which makes menstruation (a.k.a. periods), sexual intercourse and child birth possible. Despite these anatomical differences, vagina is the catch-all term for the female nether regions.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s discuss the other parts you need to know (in alphabetical order of course):

Anus: The external opening of the rectum (a.k.a butt hole). The anus is one of three holes females have down there. The other two are the urethral and vaginal openings.

Clitoris: The clitoris (a.k.a. Clit) is a cluster of nerve endings located at the top of the vulva, right above the urethral opening. The clitoris ranges in size and shape, but this very sensitive piece of flesh is responsible for sexual pleasure when stimulated. The primary suspect in female orgasm.

Labia Majora: The two thick folds of skin that contain the Labia Minora and the openings of the vagina and urethra; also known as the outer lips.

Labia Minora: The two thin folds of skin that enclose the opening to the vagina; popularly known as the inner lips.

Mons Pubis (Pubic mound): The rounded, mass of fatty tissue that covers the pubic bone. This fleshy cushion is often covered by pubic hair and provides natural comfort and safety during vaginal sex.

Perineum: The area of soft tissue between the vaginal opening and the anus that covers the muscles and ligaments of the pelvic floor.

Urethral opening: The opening to the urethra, the tube that connects the bladder to the outside of the body. Primary function: Urinating or “peeing”.

We’re all done! See, that wasn’t so bad! Next up, the Penis!