Originally published at https://www.teenvogue.com/story/vagina-anatomy-diagrams
Knowing your body is loving your body.
ILLUSTRATION BY LUCY HAN
What exactly is a vagina? Well, it's the muscular tube that extends from the cervix to the vulva. It's a surprisingly common question for such a simple definition, but that quick sentence might not answer all your questions. Luckily, a good old vagina diagram can sure help out. You might think you've got it all down pat-down there, but we use a lot of code words to talk about it, and we use the technical word itself in the wrong way — after all, it's not entirely accurate to call the extended network between your legs just the "vagina." There's a whole world down there, and the vagina is just one part of it. Since knowledge is power, it's super important to know the anatomy of your vagina. To get to the heart of the matter, we chatted with Melanie Davis, Ph.D., a certified sexuality educator, and sexuality education consultant, who gave us a virtual tour of the vagina and beyond.
First of all, Davis recommends using a mirror and a light and taking a good look between your legs. (Or you can even use the selfie setting on your phone's camera.) Not only should you know what your body looks like, because, well, it's yours, but it will also help keep you safe. If you ever notice anything different down there (i.e., redness, bumps, etc.), you already know what your healthy baseline looks like and can let a doctor know about any changes.
Here's everything you need to know about your anatomy from the outside in, including some facts that we guarantee will surprise you, and a vagina diagram.
ILLUSTRATION BY LUCY HAN
When people refer to the "vagina," what they usually mean is the vulva, which includes all the external parts, including the inner and outer lips.
Labia Majora/Outer Lips:
These are the first things you see, and hair grows on them naturally. According to Davis, the labia majora's job is to protect the more sensitive parts inside.
Labia Minora/Inner Lips:
The labia minora provides the second layer of protection for the underlying structures and openings, and they also have oil glands that secrete lubrication to keep you comfortable. Davis also says they're the part of the anatomy most likely to cause women to stress due to how they look. Just know that the lips might not be symmetrical, they might extend beyond the labia majora, and the edges might not be totally smooth — and all of this is totally normal. "The healthy thing is to understand that our labia are as unique as our fingerprints. Everybody is different," Davis explains. "There is no right or wrong about it."
Clitoris and Clitoral Hood:
According to Davis, the tiny bit of the clitoris that is outwardly visible, which is the little nub you see at the top of your external area when you spread the labia, contains 8,000 nerve endings. That means it's really sensitive, and for many women, stimulating it is the best way to orgasm. The hood, a flap of skin that slides back and forth, functions to protect the clitoris and prevent irritation and arousal when you don't want it. When you are aroused, however, the hood slips back to expose the clitoris. The outer clitoris that you can see and feel is actually connected to an inner clitoris (!!), but more on that shortly.
This small opening, which is where urine comes out, is right below the clitoris. It's hard to see, and you can't really feel anything there. And, no, pee doesn't come out of the vaginal opening! Davis says that many young women think the clitoris is actually the urethra, but don't be fooled.
Right below the urethra lies the introitus also called the vestibule or the opening to the vagina. Think of it as a foyer. "When we go into an office building, we go into that little area where there are two sets of doors," she says. Basically, the vestibule is the lobby leading to the vagina, which is inside your body. We should also say here that there are many color variations in the whole external vulva area, depending on your skin tone and whether or not you're sexually excited.
This concept is mind-blowing and a relatively recent anatomical discovery. You have a wishbone-shaped structure extending from your clitoris on the outside of your body—the top of the wishbone—to the area under your labia majora deep inside. "It's tissue that engorges during sexual arousal and that is excitable," Davis says. So there's literally much more to female sexual excitement than meets the eye.
So do you see now why calling the whole thing a "vagina" is not exactly accurate? The vagina, also called the birth canal, leads to your uterus. "People think the vagina is a tube that's always open, but it's not. It's a muscle that, when at rest, is closed," Davis says. "The walls touch unless there's a tampon or a finger or whatever inside. So it's not like you're walking around with an open hole in your body." Also, you can't lose anything inserted into your vagina; it's an enclosed pouch that doesn't lead to the rest of your body. It's normal for the vagina to feel bumpy to the touch.
The cervix is the neck-like part of your uterus that extends into the vagina. It's the place where your gyno takes a sample from for a Pap smear. It's also the part that dilates before a person gives birth. Otherwise, it stays closed, opening only enough to release blood and other fluids from the uterus when you have your period. If you reach in to touch it, it feels sort of like a clenched fist with a dimple at the bottom.
Your uterus is the place where a fetus would live should you get pregnant. It sheds its lining every 28 days or so when there's no pregnancy, otherwise known as getting your period. You can't feel the uterus from outside your body...it's buried pretty deeply in your lower abdomen.
Fallopian Tubes and Ovaries:
Every month your ovaries shoot out an egg and send it floating happily down the uterus, where it will hang around in hopes of meeting up with some sperm to make a baby.
Now that you know the ropes, you might have some questions about what's going on down there and whether everything is OK down there. We've got you covered: Check out these links to learn what you need to know about your vaginal health, why your vagina might be itchy, and what these common vaginal odors mean.
Reposted from Teen Vogue.