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The Vulva and the Vagina: Important Vagina Facts That Every Woman Should Know

Introduction

The vagina is a muscular, flexible, and elastic canal that joins the uterus on the inside and the vulva on the outside. Normal pH levels of the vagina are between 3.8 to 5.0.

The female vagina, an integral part of every woman’s anatomy, is a complex and remarkable organ that plays a crucial role in reproductive health and sexual pleasure. As the gateway to life, the vagina serves as a conduit for childbirth, and its health is of utmost importance for overall well-being. However, it’s not just about reproduction – the vagina is also a source of sexual pleasure and intimacy for many women.

 Despite its significance, the vagina is often shrouded in mystery and misconceptions. In this article, we will explore the wonders of women’s health and vagina and sexual pleasure. we shall be discussing some vagina facts that every woman should know about.

vagina

Definition of A Vagina

The vagina is an elastic, muscular canal in the female reproductive system that connects the cervix to the outside of the body. It is typically about three to four inches long and has varying widths depending on a woman’s age and level of sexual activity.

Its walls are lined with mucous membranes that secrete fluids to keep the area moist and healthy. These fluids are part of the vaginal discharge that some women experience, which can vary in consistency, color, and odor depending on the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and other factors.

Estrogen production plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy vaginal environment by encouraging blood flow, lubrication, and the growth of healthy bacteria. Women who experience discomfort, pain or unusual discharge should seek medical attention to address any potential health concerns. 

Normal Vagina pH levels are between 3.8 to 5.0. The vaginal wall consists of three layers- the mucosa, the muscular layer, and the adventitia. The vagina is also used for insertion like when a penis penetrates the vagina, or inserting female condoms inside the vagina. The vagina expands when objects are inserted or when pushed out ( in the instance of babies). 

The External Part Of The Vaginal Anatomy

The external part of the vagina also called the vulva, is the visible part of the female genitalia. It includes the mons pubis (a mound of fatty tissue above the pubic bone), the labia majora (outer lips), the labia minora (inner lips), the clitoris (a sensitive organ located at the top of the vulva), the vaginal opening, and the urethral opening.

The appearance of the vulva varies from person to person, and it can change over time due to hormonal changes, childbirth, aging, and other factors. Proper hygiene of the vulva is important to prevent infections and maintain overall genital health. 

This consists of the vulva and is made up of

  • Labia: This means lip or lip-like in Greek. These are the folds or loose hanging fleshy skin around the vagina. It consists of Labia majora (outer lip) and labia minora (inner lip).
  • Clitoris: The tip is located at the top of the vulva and extends inside and down both sides of the vagina. It measures about 5 inches in length. It has a lot of nerve endings (over 8000).  The clitoris becomes swollen or becomes engorged with blood when stimulated, and sexual arousal is also increased. People think the clitoris is the G-spot.
  • Urethral opening: This is the hole where urine comes out from
  • Vaginal Opening: it is below the urethral opening. This is where babies come out from. It is also where menstrual blood escapes the body.

The Internal Parts of the Vagina include

The vagina is an internal reproductive organ in the female anatomy. It is a muscular canal that connects the cervix of the uterus to the outside of the body. The internal parts of the vagina include the vaginal canal, vaginal rugae, Bartholin’s glands, clitoris, and Skene’s glands. The vaginal canal is the tube-like passage of the vagina, stretching from the cervix to the vaginal opening. The vaginal rugae are the folds or wrinkles that line the walls of the vagina, which allow for expansion during intercourse or childbirth. 

The Bartholin’s glands are situated at either side of the vaginal opening and secrete a fluid that lubricates the vaginal canal. The clitoris is a small, sensitive organ at the top of the vaginal opening, which plays a key role in sexual arousal for women. Meanwhile, Skene’s glands, also known as the female prostate, are located at the front of the vaginal wall, close to the urethra. These glands produce fluid that is expelled during climax, which is said to enhance sexual pleasure. Understanding the anatomy of the vagina is essential to maintaining female reproductive and sexual health. 

What is a Hymen 

The hymen is a thin membrane that partially covers the vaginal opening in females. It is often associated with virginity and has been a topic of controversy across different cultures and societies. There are various types of hymen, which range in shape, size, and thickness.

The presence or absence of a hymen does not necessarily indicate sexual activity, as the membrane can be stretched or broken through various other means. It is important to note that the emphasis on the hymen as a symbol of virginity reinforces harmful and outdated views on women’s sexuality, and it is critical to prioritize and respect all individuals’ bodily autonomy and choices.

Types of hymen 

Certain hymen shapes and types can interfere with menstrual flow, wearing tampons, or having intercourse. These include:

  • Imperforate hymen. An imperforate hymen completely covers the opening to the vagina, blocking the menstrual flow. It needs to be repaired with minor surgery.
  • Micro-perforated hymen. A microperforated hymen is a very thin membrane that almost completely covers the vaginal opening. Minor surgery is used to create a larger opening.
  • Septate hymen. The membrane of a septate hymen includes an extra band of tissue that creates two openings. It’s treated with minor surgery.
  • Crescentic hymen: which covers a small portion of the vaginal opening.

Conditions That Affect The Vagina

The vagina is a muscular, complex, and dynamic organ that can be affected by various conditions. The vagina, along with the vulva, clitoris, and pelvic floor muscles, plays a crucial role in sexual health and overall well-being. It consists of a vaginal opening, vaginal canal, cervix, and vaginal wall, which are all susceptible to different conditions such as infections (e.g., yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis), hormonal changes (e.g., estrogen levels during menopause), childbirth-related trauma, and other factors that can affect the health and function of the vagina.

Conditions that affect the vagina can have an impact on sexual arousal, orgasm, lubrication, and penetration during intercourse. Understanding the anatomy and function of the vagina, as well as practicing good vaginal hygiene, using appropriate lubricants or contraceptives, and engaging in pelvic floor exercises, are important aspects of maintaining optimal vaginal health.

Some of the conditions that affect your vagina include

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)

This is a common vaginal health issue that every woman should be aware of. BV is caused by an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina, disrupting the natural environment and leading to symptoms such as abnormal vaginal discharge, an unpleasant odor, and itching.

The vulva, which includes the external female genitalia, and the vagina, the internal canal leading from the vulva to the cervix, are integral parts of a woman’s reproductive system. The walls of the vagina are lined with special cells that produce mucus and maintain the vaginal pH, which is normally acidic (around 3.8-4.5). This acidic pH helps to keep the vagina healthy by preventing the overgrowth of harmful bacteria.

However, various factors such as poor hygiene, the use of harsh soaps or douches, and changes in hormonal levels can disrupt the vaginal pH, leading to an increased risk of BV. It’s important to note that BV is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI), although having multiple sexual partners may increase the risk

Yeast Infection (also known as vaginal thrush):

This occurs when there is a high growth of a type of yeast called Candida Albicans.  Yes, that pesky little fungus that loves to invade our intimate territories and make a whole lot of trouble. It can cause the vaginal tissue to become irritated, making sex feel like a trip to the Mojave desert, and if that wasn’t enough, it can also cause symptoms like itching, swelling, and burning.

Oh, joy! But wait, there’s more! Yeast infections can also make you feel like you have a tampon lodged inside, even when you don’t, The discharge is thick, white, and chunky. It looks like cottage cheese or grainy curd.. How delightful. So, if you identify as a woman and your nether regions are located inside your body, you might want to pay attention to any vaginal symptoms that seem off. And trust me, vaginal infections are no laughing matter, but hey, adding a touch of sass to the conversation can’t hurt, right? So let’s all raise a glass of cranberry juice to the wonderful world of yeast infections! Cheers!  

Trichomoniasis:

Ah, trichomoniasis – the unwelcome guest that can crash the party in your vagina. This pesky parasite messes with estrogen production and throws your vaginal flora into disarray. The result? An itchy, frothy, yellow-green discharge that’s definitely not a fashion statement. It can affect sexual function and leave you feeling less than fabulous.

Trichomonas can also be sexually transmitted. So, ladies, let’s keep our vaginas happy and thriving by practicing safe sex, maintaining good hygiene, and getting regular check-ups. After all, your vagina is like a delicate flower that deserves to bloom without any hitch at its urethral opening!

Vaginismus

This is a condition where the muscles surrounding the vagina involuntarily contract, making penetration painful or impossible. This condition can affect the vagina in various ways. The muscles deep inside the vagina can become overly sensitive and tightly contract, causing discomfort or pain.

The normal expansion of the vagina during arousal or sexual activity may be limited or inhibited, making penetration difficult. Due to the constant tension in the vaginal muscles, the vaginal tissue may not receive adequate blood flow, resulting in potential changes over time. The vagina may become engorged with blood, leading to swelling and discomfort. The presence of bacteria in the vagina may also be affected due to the inability to fully relax the muscles and allow for proper hygiene.

Vaginitis

This is the inflammation of the vagina. It can be caused by bacteria or vaginal yeast. The discharge is normally white or cream-colored. This condition can cause pain during sex.

Vaginal Prolapse

This is a rare occurrence. This happens when the vagina is overstretched or expands. This can happen via vaginal delivery or multiple vaginal deliveries.

Vaginal/ Cervical cancer

A rare occurrence but it is advised to go for a checkup if notice anything out of the ordinary.

Common Symptoms Of Vagina Conditions

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Change in color, amount, and smell of the discharge
  • Bleeding during or after sex
  • Dyspareunia (painful sex)
  • Lack of Orgasms from vaginal penetration

Vaginal Tests And Exams

  • Pelvic Exam: Using a speculum, the doctor can examine the vulva, vagina, and cervix.
  • High Vaginal Swab (HVS): This is when a swab stick is inserted to get a sample of the genital mucosa. This is done by the doctor or lab scientist with proper technique.
  • Papanicolaou smear (Pap smear): During a pelvic exam, the physician uses swab sticks to take swab samples from the vagina and cervix. Pap smear screens for vaginal and cervical cancer.
  • Colposcopy: The physician uses a machine called a colposcope to examine the vagina and cervix more closely.
  • Vaginal biopsy: In rare cases, a doctor may detect suspicious growth during the examination. A small piece of vaginal tissue will be harvested and sent for tests.

Sometimes when these tests are not done properly, they can irritate the vagina, and sometimes, even unknowingly, they can introduce bacteria into your vagina. 

Vaginal Care To Reduce The Risks Of Vaginal Conditions

  • Avoid sharing underwear
  • Always change pads and tampons every 4 to 6 hrs.
  • Wear more cotton underwear
  • Avoid lycra, silk, or satin underwear.
  • Avoid douching: the vagina cleans itself naturally. Douching affects the normal ph balance of the vagina.
  • Get vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B.

Probiotics

What Are Probiotics

They are good bacteria that are introduced into the body and help it to stay healthy. Good bacteria fight off the bad bacteria when you have too much of them. In a way, it influences and strengthens your immune system. They can be found in yogurt and other fermented products, dietary supplements, and some beauty products.

The most common type of bacteria present in probiotics is lactobacillus. This bacteria can also be found in the vagina (good bacteria). This is why you are educated against douching or using certain female hygiene products. It’s because they kill off the good bacteria (lactobacillus). In the case of recurrent vaginal infections, adding probiotics to your care routine will have great benefits.

Probiotics produced by the body reside in the

  • Mouth
  • Gut
  • Lungs
  • Urinary Tract
  • Vagina
  • Skin

Vagina Before and After Childbirth

A woman can expect a lot of changes to her vagina after childbirth, some of those changes include

  • Perineal Pain
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Increase in width of the vagina due to childbirth ( the vagina may be elastic but it doesn’t necessarily snap back to its former size after childbirth.
  • Swollen breasts
  • Soreness in the perineum ( the space between the vagina and anus.

Conclusion

In conclusion, maintaining a healthy vagina is crucial for overall reproductive and women’s sexual health. Avoiding harmful practices like douching, which can disrupt the delicate balance of vaginal flora and cause vaginal irritation, is essential. Instead, focusing on natural lubrication and using menstrual cups or sex toys that are designed for safe and healthy use can help keep your vagina in optimal condition.

It’s important to understand that every woman should know about vaginas, with factors like hormonal shifts, pregnancy, childbirth, and aging affecting its structure and function. 

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