Quick quiz: Can you identify the penis on the male body? How about the testicles?
Answer: Most like, yes.
Now, what about the vagina on the female body? And how about the vulva?
Answer: Maybe not…
The Eve Appeal, a UK based charity whose mission is to raise awareness about gynecological cancers, undertook research that revealed a shockingly low understanding of the female genitalia. 44% of women were unable to identify the vagina on an anatomical diagram and 60% were also unable to identify a vulva on the same diagram.
My fellow women, this has to change! Our bodies are beautiful, amazing and damn it they deserve better understanding. So...let’s review, shall we?
Vagina: The “tube-like” structure that extends from its external opening to the cervix.
Cervix: The base of the uterus that forms the top of the vagina. When we hear about dilation in childbirth, this is the structure that we are talking about. During labor this opening, which is normally tightly closed slowly opens, or dilates, until it is open enough to safely pass our babies through.
Uterus: Our womb; where we carry babies. The lining of the uterus is the endometrium. This is what thickens in preparation for a fertilized egg each month. Most months, when we do not become pregnant, the endometrium lining is shed, AKA we have our period.
Fallopian Tubes: These are the structures that carry our non-fertilized eggs from our ovary to the uterus.
Ovaries: These 2 structures house the eggs that we are born with>>that’s right! Fun fact: you are born with all the eggs that you will ever have! Each month, during your cycle an eggs is released into the fallopian tube in hopes of getting fertilized. The ovaries are also important secretors of hormones.
Okay…so what the hell is the vulva??
It is the collective name for the external structures—what people typically call the “vagina”. Lets talk about it.
External Anatomy (AKA vulva)
Mons Pubis: The part of your pelvic area where your pubic hair grows. It’s the only visible part of female reproductive anatomy that you can actually see when you are standing up looking at yourself from the front.
Clitoris: The super sensitive part of female anatomy that plays an important role in orgasm. It is protected by another structure called the clitoral hood because although its great for stimulation during foreplay and/or sex, it would be kind of a nightmare if you were being overly stimulated all day, everyday. Most people think of the clitoris as just a small bit of tissue, but it actually has internal structures that we will talk about in a future post ;)
Urethral Opening: This is a small opening that connects your urethra to your bladder. Its where the pee comes from. In younger women it’s a little harder to actually find because its very small and hidden behind tissue. In older women, because of hormonal changes, it may become more obvious.
Vaginal Opening: The external opening or end of your vaginal. It is also known as the introitus.
Labia Majora & Minora: These are the “lips” of your vaginal. The “majora” are the outer lips and “minora” are the inner lips. The size, shape, length and fullness the labia are different in every woman. I love love love the.vulva.gallery instagram account. Check out www.thevulvagallery.com to see her work and get a perspective on how different and beautiful we all are.
Perineum: This is the area between your vaginal opening and your rectum. When you hear about women “tearing” during childbirth, this is the area that usually is injured, although not always.
I highly (HIGHLY) recommend taking a mirror to your vulva. You know what your hands look like. You know what your knees look like. Hell, you probably even know what your armpits look like, so why not this (super important) part of your body. I also vote for calling our parts what they are. What is typically called your vagina, as you’ve learned, is actually your vulva. Call it that! It’s not a dirty word. Its just part of your body and it’s okay to call it what it is. There is so much stigma and shame around the female bodies and our sexuality. It may seem like a small thing to call a vulva a vulva but by doing so we are claiming our bodies and proclaiming that they matter.