This Vulvapedia entry helps you get to know all about the physical parts that are the primary focus of VP.
This Vulvapedia page contains diagrams of both internal and external anatomical structures. As such, it may not be safe for work.
Understanding Your Body - a.k.a. "What's Going On Down There?"
If you're overwhelmed or confused by clits, labia, vaginae, and all of the other "down there" bits, you're not alone. It can be kind of confusing. But fear not, VP will be your guide. We hope that after reading, you'll feel more confident about understanding your anatomy and exploring your own body!
Although we'll explain the standard names and functions of various components of vulvovaginal and other reproductive anatomy, don't forget that every vulva looks different, and we're all normal. Check out VP's Everyday Bodies Project (NSFW) to see a constellation of different-looking vulvas--all beautiful and all "normal!"
Just a couple of quick definitions before we get started: We use the terms vulva and vulvar to refer to external portions of the genitalia; the terms vagina and vaginal refer to internal structures. Vulvovaginal is a nice, handy word we use to talk about both the vagina and the vulva at once.
External Anatomy: The Vulva and What's around It
This diagram is quite simplified -- really, there's a lot of variety in color, texture, and body part size and placement -- but it should give a basic understanding of what we're talking about here.
Mons Pubis and Labia
These are the vulvar structures you'll most likely be able to see upon casual inspection, without the use of a mirror.
- Mons Pubis
- According to Columbia University's Go Ask Alice!, it is "the rounded, soft, fatty pad of tissue covering the pubic mound" that usually starts to grow hair during puberty. It is sometimes called the mons veneris, which means the mount of Venus.
- Labia Majora
- Extending down from the mons and around the vagina opening are your labia. Labia, often known as "lips" because they resemble the lips surrounding your vaginal "mouth", come in pairs. There's the outer labia (also known as labia majora) that are on the outside; they're also composed of fatty tissue and are generally naturally covered with pubic hair (provided you don't take special groomic steps to remove it, of course). The function of the labia majora is to protect the more sensitive structures that lie under them, like the clitoris and the vestibule.
- Labia Minora
- If you part the outer labia, you will be able to see your inner labia, also known as labia minora. These "lips" will not be hairy, in general, and may be smaller or thinner. It's totally normal and okay, however, if your inner labia extend past your outer labia, or if your inner labia are very small and hard to identify. As Go Ask Alice! suggests, a wide variety of labial shapes, sizes, and colors are possible.
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Because it's so near and dear to our hearts (figuratively speaking), the clitoris deserves its own section here.
- Now, what's that fun little area at the top, under the mons and where the labia meet? Well that, my friend, is your very own clitoris. It might be covered by some skin in between the inner labia, but that's normal--it's called the clitoral hood. It might be peeking out, or it might not. The clitoris is another part that is very unique from person to person, and variations in size, visibility, and so on are totally normal. Your clitoris may look like a little button or dot, small and kind of rounded. If you can't see it, that's okay--try feeling around.
- The clitoris is usually very sensitive, so even if you don't see it, you're likely to feel it. The clitoris is a little like the head of a penis, in that it's the tip of a longer shaft that runs inside your body, and it is the most sensitive part of that shaft. If you touch it, it might feel ticklish, tingley, or overwhelming. This is the spot most folks find most pleasurable for stimulating during sex or masturbation. How you like to be touched there (or if you do) will depend on you. Again, it varies from person to person. Some women find the clitoris too sensitive to be touched directly, others like lots of pressure right on top of it. Experiment to find out what works for you!
- If you're interested in reading more about the clitoris, one good sources are Scarleteen's Pink Parts guide.
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Inside the Vestibule
This section includes the portions of the vulva you'll likely see when your labia are parted.
- Just what is it, anyway? According to The-Clitoris.com, the vulvar vestibule is the portion of the vulva below the clitoris and between the labia minora. It includes the urethral opening, the vaginal opening, and the Bartholin glands.
- Urethral Opening
- The urethra is the tube that connects the bladder to the outside of the body, allowing for urination. Though many might not generally think of the urethra when they think about sexual organs, it's important to include here for two reasons. First, as sources like The-Clitoris.com and Go Ask Alice! suggest, for people who experience what is commonly known as female ejaculation, that fluid comes from the Skene's glands (we'll get to those later) and out of the urethra. In addition, because, as Scarleteen notes, the friction and rubbing of sexual activity can bring bacteria in contact with the urethral opening, which could result in a urinary tract infection.
- Vaginal Introitus
- This is the place where the vagina -- in reality, an internal structure -- meets the outside world. As The-Clitoris.com notes, however, it is technically incorrect to refer to this as a "vaginal opening," even if it is commonly referred to this way, since "unless there is something inserted into the vagina, the vaginal passage is closed.... The walls of the vagina are normally in contact with one another, the vagina is a potential space, not an opening as usually shown and portrayed." Because of this, finding the vaginal introitus can be more difficult than some folks anticipate. You can check out The-Clitoris.com's page on locating your vagina for more help and information.
- While many people are under the impression that the hymen is an internal structure, as The-Clitoris.com states, since it covers the vaginal introitus, it is actually part of the vulva. Our Bodies, Ourselves describes the hymen as "a thin membrane surrounding the vaginal opening, partially blocking the opening but almost never covering it completely." While most people born with vaginas are also born with hymens, according to Discovery Health, this may not be true for everyone. In addition, the shape, thickness, and elasticity of the hymen varies from person to person; you can check Healthy Strokes for a gallery of diagrams of different hymen types (NSFW). It is also important to note, as Scarleteen does, that the presence or absence of a hymen is not an indicator of virginity or lack thereof, as virginity is a cultural definition rather than a biological one.
- Bartholin Glands
- Also called the Bartholin's glands and the greater vestibular glands, they are, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, small glands on either side and slightly to the posterior of the vaginal opening. They produce small amounts of fluid that may serve in lubricating the labia. While these glands are normally invisible, if skin covers the opening and causes the fluid to back up, the result can be a Bartholin gland cyst.
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Internal Anatomy: What's Up There, Anyway?
Inside the Vaginal Canal: More Involved than It Looks?
This section examines the structures inside the vaginal canal itself, what a health care professional would see when performing a pelvic examination.
- The vagina is a muscular, expandable, tube cavity that connects the vulvar vestibule to the cervix and the uterus. Though the unaroused vagina is generally 7 to 10 centimeters long, the muscles can constrict or relax, and the vaginal walls can expand in both width and length. In terms of texture, as Go Ask Alice! mentions, the vagina is full of little bumps, folds, and ridges, known as vaginal rugae; these rugae are what allow the vagina to expand.
- Another anatomical structure that garners a lot of talk is the g-spot. The g-spot is a spongy area approximately 1 to 2 inches inside your vagina, located on the front wall, though as this article points out, whether every vagina owner has a G-spot -- or whether its stimulation is always pleasurable -- is still a debated topic. If you put your finger or fingers inside your vagina and press out towards your belly button, you may feel it. Pressing on it might feel good, or it might just feel like you have to pee. That's normal, so don't be alarmed. Some folks find that stimulating the g-spot feels good to them, even the ones who have that "have to pee" feeling. For some, if they continue past that feeling, they will have an orgasm and sometimes even ejaculate. For more information on how to find and/or stimulate the G-spot, you can check out this article from A Woman's Touch.
- Skene's Glands
- According to The-Clitoris.com, the Skene's glands are also called the paraurethral glands, and they may be an analagous structure to the prostate. Though these glands are located inside the urethra, they can be stimulated through the vaginal wall, and in this way, fluid released from them is believed to be responsible for what is commonly called female ejaculation. Ejaculation is not a universal experience of having a vagina, but it can be fun to experiment and see if you can! Ejaculating may feel like peeing, and the stuff that comes out may resemble urine, but relax - you're not peeing all over. It's just ejaculatory fluid, and if it bothers you, try putting a towel down underneath you before experimenting with g-spot stimulation. If you're interested in experimenting, you may find Babeland's guide on How to Female Ejaculate helpful.
- Deeper inside your vagina, you may be able to feel your cervix. According to the National Library of Medicine, the cervix is actually the lower portion of the uterus; as such, it is a muscular structure. If you're not sure that what you're feeling is your cervix, this description from Toni Weschler's Taking Charge of Your Fertility might be helpful:
"The cervix is normally firm like the tip of your nose, and only becomes soft and rather mushy, like your lips, as you approach ovulation. In addition, it is normally fairly low and closed, feeling somewhat like a dimple, and only rises and opens in response to the high levels of estrogen around ovulation."
- We should, however, note that for people using HBC or other hormonal treatments, the cervical position may not necessarily correspond to impending ovulation; it may be simply responding to higher levels of synthetic hormones. For pictures of cervical positions throughout the menstrual cycle, check out the Beautiful Cervix Project.
- If you feel a small "bump" on your cervix, don't panic. It may just a nabothian cyst, which is basically like a pimple on your cervix. Nabothian cysts are not harmful and do not require treatment.
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Found my Cervix! What's Next?
- According to Our Bodies, Ourselves, the uterus is a muscular organ, about the size of a small fist (except during pregnancy), located in the lower abdomen, behind the bladder and in front of the rectum. As Discovery Health mentions, the uterus is made up of 3 layers of tissue:
- the endometrium, soft tissue shed each menstrual cycle during a menstrual period and into which a fertilized ovum would implant in cases of pregnancy
- the myometrium, the muscular layer that gives the uterus its strength and elasticity
- the perimetrium, a thin layer of tissue that covers the other two layers
- While in most cases, the uterus is anteverted, or tipped forward on the cervix, having a uterus that is retroverted, or tipped backward on the cervix, is also a normal variation; you can read more about uterus tilts here at Go Ask Alice!
- Fallopian Tubes
- From the top of the uterus extend two fallopian tubes, one on each side. As Our Bodies, Ourselves describes them, "They are approximately four inches long and look like ram’s horns facing backward or single quotation marks. The connecting opening from the inside of the uterus to the fallopian tube is as small as a fine needle. The other end of the tube is fringed (fimbriated) and funnel-shaped. The wide end of the funnel wraps part way around the ovary but does not actually attach to it." In a person who is ovulating, the fallopian tubes are what transport the ova from the ovaries to the uterus; in a person who conceives, fertilization also occurs inside the fallopian tube.
- The ovaries are small organs about the size of grapes located to each side of and slightly below the uterus. Though the ovaries are not actually connected to their respective fallopian tubes, they are spaced closely together so that ova can be transported from the ovaries to the uterus. The functions of the ovaries are both to release ova and to produce the various hormones that are responsible for controlling the menstrual cycle.
For More Information
If you'd like more information on any of the things you read about here, check out these resources:
- VP on LJ: General Female Anatomy
- VP on LJ: The Clitoris
- VP on LJ: The G-Spot
- VP on LJ: The Hymen
- VP on LJ: The Cervix
- VP on LJ: The Uterus
- Our Bodies, Ourselves
- Scarleteen: Pink Parts - Female Sexual Anatomy
- Planned Parenthood: Your Vulva, Vagina, and Breasts
- VP on LJ: Everyday Vulvas
NOTES AND DISCLAIMERS: This FAQ (and VP) is no substitute for medical care. Much of the information above has been adapted from the indicated sources. Click on the links to see their original text or to get more information. Any non-quoted items come from the VP Team's personal experience, which, again, is no substitute for medical care. As always, there is a limit to the information internet resources can provide; if you require additional assistance, it's best to contact an appropriate professional.