Plain t-shirt and jeans? A look. Peanut butter and jelly? Delicious. Revisiting your genital anatomy for the first time since high school health class? Very helpful. Seriously. Sexual anatomy is complex and sometimes confusing; consider this a refresher-meets-cheat-sheet on the basic geography and functionality of one of the most important and multi-talented sexual organs: the vagina.
While the term vagina is often used to refer to broader areas of the female reproductive system, if not the whole of female genitalia, this is incorrect.
Genitals have internal and external components. The vagina is internal, serving as the link between the vulva and the cervix (and thus, the uterus). And when we say multi-talented, we mean it- this highly responsive organ has the capacity to do everything from holding a tampon in for hours, to having a central role in intercourse, to working to flush menstrual blood from the body, to birthing literal BABIES.
The key to vaginas’ multi-hyphenate status is its flexibility. The walls, made from layered folds of skin that resemble an accordion, expand and contract as needed, according to whatever situation or lack thereof is at hand. Birth is, of course, the most extreme example; those who are able to and choose vaginal births experience their cervix and vagina both expand to roughly ten centimeters in order to pass a baby’s head and shoulders. But on a normal, non-birth-giving day, these walls are actually collapsed in on one another, is what allows for tampons and menstrual cups to stay in place for hours on end.
Vaginas also change shape and size during arousal. When someone with a vagina is turned on, increased blood flow is directed towards the vagina, causing it to swell, lengthen, and widen. And they don’t stop there- the walls ramp up fluid production as well, making whatever form of play you’re engaging in more comfortable, stimulating, and pleasurable.
Speaking of arousal, we should note two very important organs found within the vagina: the hymen, a thin, malleable partial-cover located near the vaginal opening, and, located on the front vaginal wall, about two inches into the vagina, the “G-spot.” Both have cultural reputations regarding sex, but for very different reasons.
Hymens are at the core of societal understandings of virginity. Most of us have heard of- or experienced- what is coarsely referred to as “cherry popping.” This is the expectation that girls and womxn having sex for the first time should bleed, as if whoever or whatever is entering one’s vagina for the first time has burst some sort of virgin seal.
This belief, however, is rooted in plenty of falsehoods. Yes, some people do bleed during sex, whether they do so during the first time or the fiftieth or the hundredth. It could come from the hymen, though it’s possible that the vaginal walls could become irritated and tear as well. But while bleeding is possible, it should not be expected.
Again, the hymen is only a partial covering, and it too has the capacity to expand and contract as needed. With proper foreplay, which should provide enough lubrication in addition to time for the hymen to widen, it really shouldn’t tear. The fact that it often bleeds during first sexual encounters is moreso a signifier of lack of experience- no thoughtful foreplay, no external lubrication help, and so on- rather than a signifier that one’s virginity has been “taken” or not.
On a much lighter note, the G-spot (or Gräfenburg spot) has earned a near-mythic reputation as a pleasure point, however it wasn’t really understood why. But in recent years there have been some new and illuminating discoveries, and the G-Spot has even earned a name change in response to these revelations- today, the technical term for this area is the Clitero Urethral Vaginal Complex (CUV). As the name hints, the artist formerly known as the G-spot is actually the internal continuation of the clitoral gland’s system of highly sensitive, ultra-concentrated, and bountiful nerve endings (more on the clitoris soon!). Thus, for some, massaging it with a penetrative body part or toy can certainly play a role in pleasure and fun.
Just remember- the G-spot has long been marketed as the be-all, end-all for orgasm, but it is just one sensitive point in a vast center of sexual pleasure. Sex and sensuality is a full-body experience, not to mention one of mind and spirit as well, and is much bigger than just one or two particular points or places. Explore, but don’t focus too hard on “finding” a certain spot!
While the vaginal opening is technically on the outside of the body, the term vagina does not encompass any external sexual organs- vaginal opening included.
Most of these external genitals, the mons pubis (a cushiony mound of flesh that sits above your pelvis as its pillow-esque protector), anus, and some pubic hair excluded, are part of the vulva. Vulva anatomy includes:
In sum, vaginas are gorgeous, versatile queens, capable of an extraordinary variety of functionalities and talents. It even cleans itself! Let your vagina, as well as its protectors and fellow stimulators that line the vulva, know how loved it is by treating it with the care and attention it needs and deserves, whatever that might look like for you.
This article is by Maggie Harrison-- a rural Pennsylvania-raised, currently New Orleans-based writer and creative whose work covers everything from wellness to social media to grief and loss. Head to her website to learn more about her work, or follow along on Instagram or Twitter.
DISCLAIMER: These products have not been approved by or evaluated by the food and drug administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. The information provided should not take the place of consulting a physician. It does not and should not replace treatment from a medical professional. If you need medical advice or assistance, you should consult a physician.