10 Facts About Vaginas That You Didn't Know

These truths about the vagina and vulva make for empowering knowledge.

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Photo: Charles Deluvio/Unsplash

From "lady parts" to "hoo-ha," there are a million ways to refer to uniquely female anatomy. Unfortunately, even among adult women, there's a prevalence of misinformation and even innocent mislabeling.

For instance, "vagina"—which is the name of the internal canal that goes all the way up to the cervix—is repeatedly misused to refer to the outer portion, which is actually the vulva. And the vulva encompasses a whole bunch of other parts of the female genitalia that we frequently fail to refer to specifically: the mons pubis, clitoris, inner labia, and outer labia.

It's no wonder (and yet no less distressing) that in a survey of 1,000 British women, 44% were unable to identify the vagina on a medical illustration of the female reproductive tract. Even fewer (60%) were able to identify the vulva. Overall, only one third of the women questioned could correctly place the six labels—vulva, vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries—on the diagram.

This absolutely needs to change. Women deserve to be thoroughly well-versed on their own bodies. More knowledge about female anatomy and sexuality can only lead to being more empowered when it comes to wellness and pleasure. Here, 10 must-know facts about vaginas, vulvas, and female genitalia as a whole.

1. When it comes to the clitoris, there's more than meets the eye. Although size varies from woman to woman, the glans clitoris is about 0.5 to 2 cm, and then there are even more parts to the clit internally: bulbous internal extensions (the vestibular bulbs) and wings on either side (the corpus cavernosum). It also grows throughout a woman's life, potentially becoming 2.5 times larger during menopause than it was when the same person was a teen.

2. The outer labia is homologous to the male scrotum. Those fleshy folds of tissue that extend down from the mons pubis and surround the vaginal and urethral orifices are referred to as the labia majora and are actually derived embryologically from the same tissue as the male scrotum or ball sack.

3. The G-spot is shrouded in mystery, but has been a hot topic of discussion since 1950. It was named for the researcher who found its existence and relationship to female ejaculation (Grafenberg's spot). It varies in size from woman to woman, and some researchers believe that the difference in its size could be related to physiologic variability in female sexual response.

4. The vaginal canal changes size. It's usually three to six inches long, but the elastic tissue has the ability to expand by 200 percent.

5. The clitoris exists solely for women's pleasure ... The clitoris has almost 8,000 nerve endings, making it extremely sensitive to touch, pressure, and temperature. Researchers note that "it has an exclusively sexual function," aka pleasure.

6. Most women need clitoral stimulation to orgasm. About 75% of all women never reach orgasm from intercourse without clitoral stimulation, according to an oft-cited study from about 10 years ago.

7. It's not possible for the vagina to stretch out permanently. The vaginal canal expands and snaps back like a rubber band. That said, multiple births or aging might cause the vagina's muscular elasticity to weaken. But Kegel exercises can help, as well as bolster the pelvic floor muscles, which support the bladder, uterus, rectum, and small intestine.

8. Women have their own version of "blue balls." Just like the scrotum can cause men discomfort if they're aroused for too long without release, women can get "pink balls" or "blue walls," which doctors refer to as vasoconstriction, defining it as "the narrowing (constriction) of blood vessels by small muscles in their walls." It's not dangerous, but it can feel uncomfortable.

9. Having an orgasm can actually relieve PMS cramps. Upon orgasming—via partner sex or masturbation—blood flow increases, uterine muscles contract, and a person gets a rush of endorphins, all of which can help relieve cramps.

10. Most vaginal discharge is perfectly normal. In fact, as anyone who has ever tried to conceive (TTC) knows, monitoring your secretions or cervical mucus is a must when you're trying to pinpoint your ovulation time.

Throughout your cycle you may notice the following types of discharge: Soon after your menstrual cycle, you might notice a sticky or "tacky" vaginal secretion. Immediately prior to ovulation, most women usually detect increased vaginal secretions that are wet and slippery (similar to the consistency of raw egg white). Generally, your body produces the greatest amount of this type of vaginal discharge is on the day of ovulation. Immediately following the day of ovulation, your vaginal discharge gradually becomes thicker in consistency, and less is secreted.

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