Vulvar Anatomy: Naming your parts!
"My vagina is a shell, a round pink tender shell, opening and closing, closing and opening. My vagina is a flower, an eccentric tulip, the center acute and deep, the scent delicate, the petals gentle but sturdy. I did not always know this. I learned this in the vagina workshop." From The Vagina Workshop
Our Vagina Workshop
Well, before you begin the more practical steps to cure your vaginismus, it would be very powerful if you too could get to participate to such a workshop to get to know this special part of your body. It can make a big difference to befriend and own your vagina. Looking at your vulva with a hand mirror and gently touching the different parts of it, can be a very empowering and liberating experience.
We know of a really good website to recommend to you which fully explains the anatomy of vaginas and vulvas better than we can and yet without getting too medical.
The only problem with this website may be if you are not comfortable looking at very graphic, up-close images of real vulvas, vaginas and vagina openings, cause there will be plenty!
So, only if you are comfortable with seeing graphic (but never pornographic) images of your private parts, then explore THE-CLITORIS.COM for more information. Otherwise, for a graphic-free and simplified version, keep reading here.
1. THE VULVA:
Your vulva is the WHOLE region down there. It includes the vagina, but also the inner and outer labia, the hymen, the clitoris, the muscles and the hair. It is a beautiful word but hardly used, since vagina is commonly used to refer to the whole part. When people say they are grossed out by vaginas, they often actually mean by vulvas more likely. This way Vaginas get a bad name they donít deserve. And if your vulva grosses you out, why not get a mirror, trim a bit of the hair so you can see things more properly (no need to shave) and join us in its discovery...
2. OUTER LABIA:
They are the doors keeping your entrance protected. Itís all you can see when you first look for your vagina and canít yet find it. The doors are closed and you will have to gently open them up, like delicate petals of a sleeping flower.
3. INNER LABIA:
Inside the main doors, once they are gently opened, youíll find another set of smaller doors (inner labia), still protecting your entrance from view. When you are sexually aroused, they will gradually open and the entrance will be in full sight (if you're aroused that is. If not, you will not see much for the moment), or you can gently move them aside to get a peek, if you donít want to wait for arousal.
4. THE CLITORIS and clitoral glans:
The clitoris is a Y-shaped organ that is mostly inside the body. The clitoral hood is the little hood of flesh at the top of the vulva, just below where the outer labia meet at the top. If you lift it up, gently (it can be very sensitive), you can find a slightly redder part which is the clitoral glans.
The clitoris and clitoral glans only have one purpose:
to provide you with pleasure.
You can try to gently rub it, press it, massage it, move it, or it may be too sensitive and it may hurt you to do that. You will be able to find what works best for you, but one thing is sure: women (and men) have ignored this part of the body for a long time but it is no longer deniable by now that the clitoris has a large role to play in giving women pleasure during intercourse and before and afterwards too.
Female Genital Mutilation
In some African countries, the clitoral glans is removed as soon as a girl reaches puberty or even before then. On top of the pain and trauma, a girl loses the chance to feel most of her pleasure by herself and has to rely on a man for pleasure or forever be denied it. Besides, with the harsher types of these mutilations, she will most likely feel much more pain during childbirth and she can risk many infections. This cultural procedure is known as ĎFemale Genital Mutilationí and it is illegal in most countries.
It is often reported that it is Muslim African cultures that perform female genital mutilation but that is not correct. By placing Muslim there, it seems to insinuate that the predominant culture pursuing this act is 'Muslim' but there is absolutly nothing in Muslim doctrine and teaching that preaches any such practice.
These practices however have been found in tribal Africa for thousands of years.
It is NOT 'Muslim' Africans who practice it. Many other non-muslim tribal systems continue to practice it.
It just so happens that we may have heard of some tribes (which happen to have become Muslim along the course of history) that continue to practice such horror with women.
In fact Islam abolished and completely dissaproves of female genital mutilation, and sexual intercourse is perceived as an act of pleasure, union and spirituality between partners.
For more information on Female Genital Mutilation in the world, click on these Amnesty's and World Health Organization factsheets.
5. THE VESTIBULE:
This is that soft smooth area beneath your inner labia. Itís an important part to know because if it hurts you to touch it, your problem may not be vaginismus but vulvar vestibulitis instead. Basically, it shouldnít hurt you to touch it. If it does, you should see a specialist about it, but make sure they are knowledgable about V.V. It is a relatively new scientific discovery. A doctor should be able to diagnose you by poking around that area with a Q-tip and noticing your pain. And don't worry: there are creams and treatments for it in case.
But if you suspect this may be the case, you may want to read a clear description of V.V. made by a woman in our Forum , where she shared her experience very generously.
6. THE URETHRAL OPENING:
Itís quite shocking to hear that even in this day and age, some girls still believe that urine (pee) exits from the vagina. I still remember telling some African girls living in Australia about this one day, in Uni, and how shocked and giggly they all got. They had no idea and I bet they are not the only ones!
So urine does not exit from the vagina. Vaginas are very clean and urine is released out of a very tiny opening (so small in fact that it can hardly be seen) which is further up, hidden inside the inner lips.
You may want to try and see for yourself next time you go to the toilet.
The fact that this opening is so close to the vaginal opening unfortunately makes women more prone than men to get Urinary Tract Infections.
If you feel an itching or burning when peeing, you may want to check for these infections with your Doctor, they are quite common but highly treatable.
And please don't feel ashamed! Having a UTI will not make a doctor think that you had some sort of sexual contact! Or if you have a jealous partner, he should not think that you were betraying him!
Some infections that hurt our vaginas have NOTHING to do with sexual contact so even virgins can get them...
7. THE VAGINA and Vaginismus:
The word vagina is often used to describe the whole area made up of the parts we just described, but that is not the correct use and we don't encourage it.
In most cases people will understand that you may be referring to some other parts but it'd be better to use vulva for the whole area.
The Vagina is a hidden inner tunnel inside the vulva that links the outer world with the inside uterus and it's that part of the body which can open to let a penis in, close to keep a penis out and open to let a baby out. Your vagina is also the place where menstrual blood comes out of.
But nope, pee does not come out of it! That's the urethral opening.
So one of the NATURAL functions of a HEALTHY vagina is to close to keep something unwanted from entering her.
In this light, vaginismus is the natural, FUNCTIONAL ability of vaginas to close to keep something out which is not welcome or that could potentially hurt, or hurt again. So it's far from dysfunctional!
Every woman fighting against an attempted rape will experience vaginismus to a certain extent, her muscles will fully clamp in anticipation of pain and to keep a penis out so vaginismus is an important defensive function that each healthy vagina has.
(Though unfortunately vag. won't prevent from rape..)
The inside of a vagina is very smooth to the touch, just like the inside of your mouth, but it also has some little bumpy ridges on the walls: they are to allow the vagina to expand in width, like wrinkles :) so if you should feel them with your finger inside, you are perfectly normal.
The vagina is a tunnel but unlike a real tunnel, the walls here are actually gently touching each other when itís not aroused. Imagine a long balloon when it's empty. The upper and lower parts will touch but as soon as you fill it with water or air, they won't touch anymore. That's why when you look for "the opening", you may not find any "hole" there. Because in it's relaxed state, it's closed...
A vagina can be dry or wet, depending on the state of arousal. Vaginas are made of mucus membrane, so they are always a bit moist, like the insides of mouths and noses and intact penises. But thereís a difference between normal moisture and being wet when aroused. Usually a vagina will not open unless itís aroused/wet and the juice it produces will help anything slide in effortlessly. You should not try and have sex or insert dilators or tampons unless your vagina walls are wet or the object/penis is lubricated, cause you may tear or cut the skin inside, which is quite delicate.
(We are aware that in some countries, men unfortunately like to have 'dry sex'. That is VERY unhealthy for the woman, so we hope they can realize that their pleasure isn't worth a woman's suffering...)
Vaginas are elastic, that means they can usually accommodate reulgar-sized penises and stretch to the point that a babyís head can get out of it (although that hurts!), so even if you should look at the opening and see a very tiny one, remember that in an aroused state and with lubrication and proper foreplay and gradual insertions, it is very likely that size wonít matter.
On average, a vagina is about 7 cm in length and it stretches to about 10 or 11 cm when itís aroused, but they do vary in length, just like penises! and that doesn't affect their ability to feel or give pleasure.
Read more myths on vaginas here.
8. THE CERVIX:
If you explore your vagina with your hand, at the end of the vaginal tunnel, your fingers or your partner's penis could bump into the cervix, which is like a little passage-door to the uterus.
This door is usually closed and only opens during labour, also, when a woman gets aroused, the cervix retracts into the sides of the wall of the vagina so that it gets out of the way of the penis. Still, sometimes a penis may bump against it when having intercourse and when that happens, it could hurt or bleed, that's quite common.
But if your cervix gets bumped a lot, it could be because your partner may have a long penis, or because he uses long strokes, which touch the end of the vagina tunnel, and it may hurt there.
Let your partner know that it hurts you when your cervix is touched, so you can find positions or a thrusting speed that won't cause you that. Also, if it's bleeding, you may want to have a gynaecological exam to make sure everything is ok.
The cervix is that part of the body that your gynecologist will be able to see when using a speculum. It may be impossible for you to see it on your own.
The cervix can feel like a grape, a round bump. The opening in the cervix is tiny and there is no way a tampon, a penis, or anything else could get in there. Cervixes do not open unless they have a good reason: childbirth!
9. THE OPENING (a.k.a. THE INFAMOUS HOLE):
Your vaginal opening can be the most elusive part to find. That's because your vagina will be closed most of the time. It only opens for intercourse, when aroused, or to allow something like a speculum in (or a baby out).
It may sound corny but it truly is just like a flower, opening as soon as the first rays of sun touch it.
So if you are not aroused, and you are looking for the entrance to the tunnel, you may not find it. As we described it above, the vagina tunnel can be comparable to a long balloon when it's empty. The upper and lower parts will touch but as soon as you fill it with water or air, they won't touch anymore. That's why when you look for "the opening", you may not find any "hole" there. Because in it's relaxed state, it's closed...
You may even worry that you donít have a hole, but thatís a one in a million chance really and it will depend on your hymen... (Read our section on hymens and hymenectomy for more information on that)
If you should see pictures of women right after they had sex or if you look at yourself when in a state of full arousal, you may be able to clearly see the vagina entrance fully opened for a while.
Seeing the wide-open entrance of a vagina about to give birth can be both shocking and awe-inspiring.
The vaginal opening will go back to closing itself and will go back to its original state very quickly, because itís very elastic, but for a while it will be very clear that the opening certainly is there and able to stretch!
If you feel like seeing realistic drawings of vaginal openings , or graphic pictures (but not pornographic) here you can find some from "the-clitoris.com" website that we recommended at the beginning.
Looking at pictures of vulvas can help you get used to what they look like. After you have seen a lot of different vulvas, you may realize that your own isnít weird at all!
10. THE HYMEN or The veil
This can be a tricky one. Some women believe itís inside the vagina but itís actually right on the outside, it's what covers the vaginal opening. Basically, the hymen is a membrane with a little or few tiny holes which let fluids out, like blood for instance, when you have your period. It also can be quite flexible so if you put something really small like a finger or q-tip or small tampon through it, it should get inside no problem without pain or tearing.
It is believed that hymens will have to Ďbreakí during first-time sex, but in most cases if that happens itís only because there hasnít been enough gradual preparation for intercourse so the hymen tears.
Things should not go that way. There should be no pain associated with first-time sex and one way to avoid this is simply that of stretching the hymen yourself (or with the help of partner) little by little, until itís all gone.
See the page on the Hymen for more information on how to stretch your hymen painlessly or check the section on Hymenectomies in the Treatments section, on the possible problematic hymen you may have and how to deal with it.
So, now that you can name the parts, you'll hopefully be tempted to take a mirror and start exploring them for yourself. There is no rush but it can be a life-changing experience to do that.
You can write how you feel, your own vulva-monologue! and it can be something beautiful to share with a partner later.
Hopefully they can share both your amazement and awe.
Then you may proceed to checking out the bdilating guide and start the practical steps to cure vaginismus if you wish.
By now you'll have your vagina on your side. You got to know the enemy and it's much more friendly than you probably thought before. If you reached that attitude, that would already be a great success, more than reaching intercourse but still feeling a stranger to one's vagina or even disattached from it.
If you can get to feel love for your vagina and vulva, that'd be terrific.
If not, we'd suggest that you take some more time getting to know her and explore her, before you move on or before letting someone else do the exploring for you.
But whether you like what you saw or not, at least now you'll know her and that's already a great step forward.
P.S. A curious parallel: the pink inside of Cathedrals
Call it DaVinci Code's mania, paganism or what you will, but it is hard to deny that the inside lay-out of Cathedrals strangely resembles the inside of a woman's vulva:
The main door at the entrance, followed by two smaller doors inside, opening laterally, then the long straight vaginal aisle leading to the altar where the miracle of life happens, right under a womb-shaped dome, and then the left and right little chapels, shaped as ovaries, on the sides of the altar.
It may all be feminist-fiction but whatever your religion it is undeniable that our vulva and vagina would deserve to be honoured that way.
They ARE sacred spaces after all, awe inspiring and worthy of total respect.
And we all forget too easily about this...
"We forget about the vagina.. All of us.. What else would xplain our lack of awe, our lack of reverence ?" (From the Vagina Monologue "I was there")
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|DISCLAIMER: This site is not designed to provide medical advice. All material is gathered from the experience of hundreds of women who experienced vaginismus but it is for information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional or medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment. Please review the information contained on vaginismus-awareness-network.org carefully and confer with a health care professional specialized in vaginismus, as needed.|