By Dr. Amy Jones, D.O, OBGYN
At long last it's National Vulva Awareness Day!! Yay!! OK ... not really ... but let’s take a moment to celebrate this amazing (and fun) part of the female anatomy. Most of us probably rarely, if ever, look at our vulvas. So let’s explore, shall we?
There’s a lot more to your vulva than you might think. It’s the proud representative and gatekeeper of your vagina. But sadly, it’s often overlooked, mislabeled and even mistreated.
For starters, your vulva does not equal your vagina. While vaginas are just one part of the vulva, many people say “vagina” when they really mean the vulva. But the vulva has a lot more going on than just the vagina. The vulva includes all the external female genital parts: the labia (majora and minora), the opening to the vagina and urethra, and the clitoris, mons pubis and anus. Basically, anything outside your body but inside your "lips" (labia majora) is your vulva.
No two vulvas are the same. There is no standard! Vulvas come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, but the basic parts are the same. There is no ideal or perfect size, shape or color. Even the two sides of one vulva can look different. One labia may be larger or smaller, lighter or darker than the other, or have a completely different shape. This is all totally normal. So stop comparing!
If it’s been a minute since junior high health class, let’s revisit some of the basics.
No two vulvas look exactly the same, but they’re made up of the same basic parts.
- Labia The labia (lips) are folds of skin around your vaginal opening. The labia majora (outer lips) are usually fleshy and covered with pubic hair. The labia minora (inner lips) are inside your outer lips. They begin at your clitoris and end under the opening to your vagina. Labia can be short or long, wrinkled or smooth. Often one lip is longer than the other. They also vary in color from pink to brownish black. The color of your labia can change as you get older. Some people have larger outer lips than inner lips, and many have larger inner lips than outer lips. Both are sensitive and swell when you're turned on.
- Clitoris The tip of the clitoris is located at the top of your vulva, where your inner lips meet. Everyone’s is a different size. It can be about as small as a pea or as big as a thumb. The tip of the clitoris is covered by the clitoral hood. This is just the beginning of the clitoris though. It extends inside your body, back and down on both sides of the vagina. This part, called the shaft and crura (roots and legs), is about 5 inches long. Your clitoris is made of spongy tissue that becomes swollen when you're aroused. It has thousands of nerve endings — more than any other part of the human body. And it’s only purpose? To make you feel good.
- Opening of the urethra The urethral opening is the tiny hole that you pee out of, located just below your clitoris.
- Opening of the vagina The vaginal opening is right below your urethral opening. It's where menstrual blood leaves your body, and babies are born through the vaginal opening. A variety of things can go inside your vagina, like fingers, penises, sex toys, tampons and menstrual cups.
- Anus The anus (AKA butthole) is the opening to your rectum. The anus has lots of sensitive nerve endings, so some people experience sexual pleasure from anal stimulation.
- Mons pubis The mons is the fleshy mound above your vulva. After puberty, it’s covered with pubic hair. It cushions your pubic bone
The vagina takes care of cleaning and moisturizing itself, while the vulva is exposed to more sweat, oil and debris from hair follicles. So, the vulva usually needs a little more TLC.
It’s important to use products specifically made for vulvar care. Those made for other parts of the body may contain ingredients that cause irritation or allergic reactions. Keep in mind everyone’s a little bit different so what works for one person may not be quite right for the next. So get know your vulva and what works best for you!
Need some help with your vulva care routine? Check out all of the Maintenance Care items available at Intimate Wellness Shop and share your favorites in the comments!