This extraordinary poem from Eve Ensler reminds us of the journey the vagina goes through, the sacrifices it will make for us, and the wonders of its ability. The vagina truly is sacred architecture. Because of its existence as a prehistoric and current monument, we must understand the ins and outs, the walls and floors, the windows and doors of the vagina.
To begin, we often refer to the entirety of typical female anatomy as ‘vagina’ when the actual vagina is only one part of the whole. There are many parts that make up the ‘vagina’ that come together to create its beauty, its structure, its pleasure. Let’s begin with the external parts.
The Vulva is the term that is used to describe the external parts of the genitals. Oftentimes when you say ‘vagina’, you actually mean your vulva! It extends from the tip of your clitoral hood all the way down to the bottom end of your outer labia. Alongside those two components, it consists of the inner labia, clitoris, opening of the urethra, and the opening of the vagina.
When you examine yourself in the mirror, the first thing you may notice about your vulva area are the labia. The labia are the folds of skin or lips that surround your vaginal opening. There are two sets of labia: the labia majora and the labia minora. The labia majora are the outer lips that are typically covered pubic hair. The labia minora sit inside the outer lips and extend from the clitoris to the end of the vaginal opening.
It’s important to note that labia come in all shapes and sizes, colors and hues. The labia minora commonly vary in size. In fact, almost half of all women’s labia minora is longer than their labia majora. Your labia are likely to be asymmetrical, and could range from pink to brown to reddish purple in color. In any variation of these characteristics, your labia are likely normal and healthy. Your labia can also change as you develop and as you age due to fluctuating hormones.
The clitoris is one of the most unique organs across both male and female genitalia. While it exists within the vulva, it plays no part in sexual reproduction. Its main function is to make you feel good--due to the fact that it has over 8,000 nerve endings (more than any other part of the human body!). Alongside being sensitive, this organ can sometimes be tricky to find. Located at the tip of the vulva, it is covered both by the inner labia and the clitoral hood. Some may be able to find their clitoris easily, while others may have a harder time. Your clitoris may be as big as a thumb, or as small as a pea--either way, it will become swollen and stiff when aroused.
Alongside the tip of the clitoris that you may or may not be able to see, the clitoris actually extends well within your body and down the sides of the vagina, sort of like another labia, but inside. It extends about 5 inches long and contains the shaft and the cura of the clitoris.
Located slightly below the clitoris is the opening of the urethra and above the vaginal opening. This is the hole that transports urine from your uterus and holds it until it is released.
Between the inner and outer labia, and just below the urethral opening is the vaginal opening. From this opening, menstrual blood releases, babies deliver out of, and many things, including finders, tampons, menstrual cups, penises, sex toys and speculums can enter. Near the opening of the vagina is a thin tissue of mucous membrane called the hymen, but recently renamed as the vaginal corona. Like the clitoris, the hymen can also vary in size, color, and shape. There has been a historical myth that the vaginal corona completely covers the vagina and will rupture and bleed when a woman first engages in any sort of penetrative intercourse. However this is not true--the status of this component of female genitalia urged sexual and reproductive health supporters to rename it to the aforementioned ‘vaginal corona’.
Before we head indoors, let’s not forget to check the landscaping. Above the vulva area is a component of the female genitals that is called the mons pubis. This term is translated from Latin as the ‘pubic mound’ or ‘pubic mountain’. You guessed it! This is the area where you will see most of the pubic hair grow as you develop during puberty. Its purpose is to generally protect the pubic bone, as it is a soft, cushiony tissue. Alongside mons pubis, it is commonly known as mons Veneris, or the mountain of Venus--the Roman goddess of love.
Unlike male anatomy, the bulk of the lower female reproductive organs exist within the body. It is composed of many different parts including the vagina, the cervix, the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.
First, we have the vagina. As mentioned above, it is the part of female genitalia that things go in and come out of. It is commonly used as the word to refer to the entirety of both the internal and external genitalia, but it is, in fact, one small element. It is a tube that connects the outer portion, the vulva, to the inner portion. Most directly, the vagina connects to the cervix.
Inside the vagina, near the vaginal opening exist two glands called Bartholin’s Glands. The main function of these glands is to lubricate the vagina and vulva by secreting fluid. These glands are very tiny, measuring at about 0.5cm in their rounded shape.
The G Spot, or Grafenberg Spot, is another piece of the vagina that contributes to pleasure. Located about an inch or two within the vaginal opening and on the upper wall (belly button side) this spot is very sensitive and can even swell if one is aroused. According to Planned Parenthood, when the G-spot is stimulated, around ten percent of individuals will ejaculate.
The cervix is a hole that divides and connects the vagina and the uterus. It is about one to two inches and cylindrical in shape. Though small, there are many parts to this important tube. On the vaginal side, the opening of the cervix is called the ectocervix, or external Os. On the uterine side, the opening of the cervix is called the endocervix or internal Os. Where these two meet is called the transformation zone.
The cervix is responsible for many things. First, it aids in cleaning your vagina by creating and releasing discharge. The small entrance in the transformation zone only allows few things to enter and leave, such as menstrual blood, discharge, and sperm. This is the reason why a tampon will never enter your uterus and get lost. However, the cervix does expand during childbirth. You may recognize the phrase “10 centimeters dilated”--yup, that’s in reference to the cervix. Also during pregnancy, the cervix will create a seal of mucous to keep out any bacteria or infections that may harm a fetus.
Its positioning at the tip top of the vaginal canal makes it impossible for it to be penetrated, however it can aid in pleasure if bumped--however it also may be painful! Make sure you communicate with your partner about what you are feeling during deep penetrative sex.
Because of its many functions and major role in the female anatomy, it is super important to keep your cervix happy and healthy by visiting your doctor and getting regular pap smears. Though they are not fun, it will be super important to maintain cervical health.
About the size and shape of a small upside down pear, the uterus is the space where a fetus grows during pregnancy, and as such, is sometimes referred to as the womb. Alongside nurturing the egg that will develop into a fetus, the uterus also plays a significant role in the menstrual cycle. As the egg is released from an ovary and through a fallopian tube, it finds its way into the uterus--this is the process of ovulation. As ovulation occurs, the endometrium, the lining of the uterus, grows thicker and thicker as it prepares itself for a possible child. If pregnancy doesn’t occur, this lining sheds, and creates what we call our period.
Sitting on either side of the uterus are the fallopian tubes. They extend about 4 to 5 inches in length from the uterus towards the ovaries.The fallopian tubes don’t directly connect themselves to the ovaries. Rather, they have finger-like addendums called fimbriae that sweep the egg into the fallopian tube when it is released. They are channels for both eggs coming from the ovaries and sperm coming up through the uterus and attempting to fertilize an egg. Their functions make them easy targets for problems of infertility as well as avenues for sterilization.
The pearl-colored, walnut-sized, oval shaped figures called ovaries store your eggs. They produce the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone, and also release eggs, typically once a month. The hormones increase and decrease in accordance with your monthly cycle, and will fluctuate during pregnancy. Those who have female anatomy, will release an egg once a month every month from puberty until menopause (though there may be irregularities).
So, this is the architecture of the vagina. It is complex and bewildering--but overall truly amazing that all of these parts can come together to create something so extraordinary. As Eve Ensler hinted at: the vagina is capable of so much. It is powerful, it is unique, it is strong. Its functions help create and nurture those we love so much today, and we owe it to all vaginas everywhere to thank them for their tenacity and their utter beauty.