Don’t know the difference between your vagina and your vulva? You’re not alone, says Dorothy Black
At first glance it sounds like a ridiculous headline to read: ‘UK women don’t know where their vaginas are.’
Women’s cancer research group The Eve Appeal ran a survey that included asking women if they knew all the parts of their ‘bits’. Only half of the thousand-strong respondent group could correctly identify their womb, cervix, ovaries, vagina and vulva.
No one was asked to point out the clitoris. Which makes me wonder if a man set up the survey.
But I jest.
Although I’d love to brush off this small, foreign survey as a health issue that doesn’t affect us, that would be ignorant, because many SA women don’t make their sexual and reproductive health a priority. Because I get wide-eyed revelations from 20-somethings at the discovery of the difference between a vulva and a vagina – let alone the whole clit thing.
So here are some handy pointers to help us all love the vagina a little more (in case we needed any more reasons).
Your vagina is not your vagina
Through habit, ignorance or laziness we’ve basically gotten used to calling our whole package a ‘vagina’. But the fact is that your vagina is literally just the canal or the ‘inside bit’. Your vulva is the ‘outside bits’, which include your inner and outer labia, but not your mons pubis.
Your mons is the area of fatty tissue over your pubic bone. It’s the area that’s covered with the upside-down triangle of pubes that we’re most ‘allowed’ to see in art and film.
Your outer lips are there to keep all the inside bits safe and provide padding for when you’re bumping naughties with your man. You inner lips are full of erectile tissue and swell with blood during arousal, which is what aids orgasm. They also provide room for your internal clitoris to become erect.
Everyone’s lips are different – the clam-type vulvic area that has become stylishly popular thanks to lad-mags and porn is not the norm. If you’re ever concerned about having lips that are ‘too big’, look at what their function is and thank your lovely body for providing you with an abundance of happy-making erectile tissue.
vagina. on a wall.
Your clitoris, a size queen
Behold! The only organ in the human body with the sole purpose of providing pleasure. Far from being ‘just the tiny bean’ that requires some friction for a good time, your 8 000-nerve strong clitoris is an entire internal structure of erectile tissue.
While you can only see the tip of the iceberg, the rest of it wing-bones along the inner labia and around your vagina, which means that ‘finding your clit’ is really just a matter of giving your lips a lovely massage. Current theories suggest that ‘internal’ or G-spot orgasms have a lot to do with how extensive the clit actually is.
A mighty muscle
Ever wondered why your vagina can accommodate a tampon as easily as it can your dildo or a man’s penis? Well, it’s lined with ringed muscular ridges, which expand up to 200%, which is why you can feel a finger and pop out a baby from the same clever space. It is a triumph of design. But since it’s a muscle, it can do everything a muscle can – including get lazy or get strong. Practice your Kegels!
Leave off the douching
Your vagina is a self-cleaning organ, which means it generally doesn’t need you to wash it out, thank you very much. Unless you’re directed to do so by your doctor, stay away from douching, soaping it up and bubble baths. These all affect the PH balance and delicate flora that keep matters healthy. Give your outer labia and crack a little sudsy hello by all means, but leave off the rest.
No matter what the manufacturers of ‘intimate’ products would have you believe, vaginas do not smell. Of course there is a scent and this can change during your cycle, but a clean, healthy vagina doesn’t stink. Even milky, slighty creamy or jelly discharges without a scent are normal. Heavy or unpleasant odours don’t mean you need to buy ‘intimate spray’, it means you need to go see your gynae.
Take responsibility for your sexual and reproductive health
If I had a dollar for every time I got an awkward side-eye from a sexually active woman to the question ‘When last have you been the gynae?’, I’d have a lot of goddamn dollars.
You might not want children and feel that your cervix and womb space could probably be put to better use, but cancer doesn’t care about your feelings. Neither do STDs. Or hormonal imbalances. Ok, so those might care about your feelings. Eh hem. Pain, abnormal discharges that have an odour or any other inflammation or discomfort is your body telling you to get help.
This column first appeared on Women24…
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