Less Myth, More Medical Fact – 10 Things You May Not Know About Your Vagina

By Liz Greene

It’s a sad truth, but most of the population is in the dark when it comes to all the amazing things vaginas can do. Thanks to misinformation, sexism, and a heavy dose of the patriarchy, many of us are not only unaware of just how our downstairs business works, we’re also horrifically ashamed of something that is both natural and incredibly fascinating.

I for one think it’s high time we start spreading the word about our genitals, in the greater interest of equipping more people with the right information about sexual and reproductive health. Whether the following information is old hat or completely new to you, it’s all worth sharing with as many people as you possibly can to combat the amount of myths that are out there and sadly still used.

The Vagina Is Made up of Many Parts

What we generally refer to as the vagina is actually made up of a number of different parts. The outer area — which contains the inner and outer labia, the clitoris, the clitoral hood, and the urethra — is called the vulva. The vagina is actually the interior canal that connects to the cervix, uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes.

Every Vulva Looks Different

We all have different physical attributes, and our vulvas are no exception. There is no such thing as a “normal” or “perfect” vulva — each one is as unique as the person who bears it. No two vulvas are identical; some people have labia minora that protrude outward, some have large clitorises, some have birthmarks, moles, extra skin folds, or darker colored areas. The point is, there’s no one way for vulvas to look. Hell, they even all smell different!

Vaginas Are Self-Cleaning

One of the many reasons vaginas are so amazing is that they actually clean themselves via daily discharge. And, like our stomachs and intestines, the vagina is full of good bacteria that keeps its owner healthy. The pH of the vagina is about 4.3 to 4.5, which is on par with wine and tomatoes. However, if you do anything to upset that pH balance, the consequences are anything but fun.

Thanks to ridiculous social stigma, people often grow up believing their vaginas are dirty and need regular cleaning with douches and sprays. The truth is that douching actually destroys the natural pH balance of your vagina and can cause everything from yeast infections, to bacterial vaginosis, to pelvic inflammatory disease. The only cleaning you should be doing is washing your vulva with some water. If you absolutely must use soap, go for something unscented and with few ingredients.

Discharge Is Completely Normal

This bears repeating, vaginal discharge is completely normal. These secretions actually flush out bad bacteria and cells as a part of your vagina’s self-cleaning process. Vaginal discharge is made up of a combination of tubal fluids, cervical mucus, oil, sweat, cells, and fluid from the vaginal walls. In response to the hormonal transitions, the amount, color, and consistency of the discharge may change throughout the month.

Around the start of your cycle, cervical fluid is opaque, whitish, and creamy. As you approach ovulation, it increases in quantity, wetness, transparency, and stretchiness. Around the day of ovulation, your cervical fluid shows the peak characteristics of fertility, which include a wet, clear, and stretchy texture.

It’s important to note that an atypical change in texture, smell, or color can be signs of an infection or allergic reaction. See a doctor at once if you notice any such symptoms.

You Cannot Lose Anything in Your Vagina

The vagina isn’t endless — it’s a narrow, elastic canal that ends at the cervix. Nothing can get past the cervix except sperm, which measure in at only 50 micrometers and are invisible to the naked eye. That means that if a tampon, menstrual cup, or condom manages to slip out of reach, it’s not gone forever. Simply squat, bear down, and reach inside your vagina until you feel it. If this doesn’t do the trick, an OB-GYN or WHNP will be happy to quickly snag it with a speculum.

The Myth of the Hymen

Contrary to popular belief, the hymen is not a flat piece of tissue sealing the vagina — if it was, menstrual fluids and other discharge wouldn’t be able to exit the body. The hymen (or vaginal corona) is actually a ring of stretchy tissue leftover from the formation of the vaginal canal during fetal development. The size and shape of the hymen varies from person to person, and the tissue is naturally stretched thin and worn away as a person develops.

Hymens aren’t “broken” during sex (or other physical activity), but they can be torn. While these torn areas can bleed, it doesn’t always happen. In fact, quite often, the hymen stretches during sexual activity and is left undamaged. So what causes bleeding the first time a person has sex? Well, to begin with, not all people bleed when penetrated for the first time. If they do, the cause can usually be narrowed down to:

  • Insufficient lubrication
  • A rough or forceful partner
  • Certain medical conditions

This can result in tearing of or abrasions to the tissues of the vulva, vagina, or cervix, and is often extremely uncomfortable or painful for the receptive partner. To learn more about the hymen and the social construct of virginity, click here.

The Amazing Clitoris

Though the clitoris is close to 4 inches in length, three quarters of it is actually hidden from view within the body. Though they differ greatly in shape, the clitoris has a similar anatomy to a penis — including a glans, foreskin (clitoral hood), and a shaft. Like a penis, it also swells when aroused.

Speaking of arousal, the clitoris contains 8,000 nerve endings and exists solely to bring pleasure. Even the the word “clitoris” is tied to pleasure — it was borrowed from the Greek word “kleitoris,” which means “key to a door.” To put it a little more plainly, attentive lovers can easily open the door to euphoric levels of pleasure as long as they know where to find the key.

There Are Four Types of Orgasms

For people with vaginas, orgasms can be divided into four categories: clitoral, vaginal, blended, and multiple.

  • Clitoral: Orgasm through the stimulation of the clitoris, without vaginal penetration
  • Vaginal: Orgasm primarily through vaginal penetration, with little or no clitoral stimulation
  • Blended: Orgasm through clitoral, vaginal, and for some, cervical stimulation
  • Multiple: Multiple orgasms in rapid succession

Four times the fun!

The Vagina Is Surprisingly Elastic

The average vagina is about 1 inch wide and 3.5 inches deep. However, it can expand up to 200 percent in size to accommodate a partner during sex or a baby during childbirth. But it doesn’t stay that way — ultimately, the vagina returns to its normal size, much like an elastic band. Being penetrated by a large penis (or adult toy), having multiple partners, or having a baby — none of these things will permanently affect the “tightness” of your vagina.

Having a Baby Can Change a Lot Down There

Did you know your vagina changes color during pregnancy? When you’re packing a bun in the oven, increased blood flow shifts the color of your vulva from its normal hue to a blue or purple color. This color change is often one of the first signs of pregnancy, as it occurs as early as six weeks.

Another thing you may have to thank for increased blood flow — as well an enlarged uterus and pregnancy hormones — is vulvar varicosities. Roughly 10 percent of pregnant people end up with vulvar varicose veins, which look just like regular varicose veins but are found on the labia. Fortunately, these varicose veins usually disappear within 6 weeks of delivery.

As discussed in the previous section, though your vagina will stretch itself to make room for delivery, it will eventually go back to your pre-pregnancy size. However, you may see a difference in the appearance of the vaginal opening. If you do feel you could use a little “tightening,” Kegel exercises can strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, help with incontinence issues, and make for stronger orgasms in the future!

Your vagina is amazing — it cleans itself, gives you different kinds of orgasms, and can stretch to push out a freaking human being (if you so choose). You should never be made to feel ashamed of how it looks, smells, or tastes. Celebrate the power of your vagina — it deserves its day in the sun.

 

 

 

Liz Greene is a makeup enthusiast, rabid feminist, and an anxiety-ridden realist from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can follow her latest misadventures on her blog, Instant Lo.

 

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