The first step to a healthy vulva and happy body? Getting to know all of it!
vulva vs. vagina
First thing’s first. Although you may hear them used interchangeably, the vagina and vulva are two distinct body parts. Here’s the difference:
The vulva and outer and inner labia (aka “lips”) form the entrance of the vagina. Along the vulva are the clitoris, clitoral hood, urethral opening, and vaginal opening. The vagina, also called “the birth canal,” connects the uterus to the outside world.
In short — the parts you can see from the outside are the vulva, while the vagina is on the inside.
Your Natural Fortress
A queen’s got to protect her castle. Luckily, your vulva skin and pubic hair have your back — and your bits below. This dynamic duo is an important part of the female reproductive system and immunity, acting as the first line of defense against bacteria-causing infections.
Yet, for having such a big job, vulva skin is the thinnest, most sensitive skin on the body.
Why So Sensitive?
Vulva skin is hormone-responsive, meaning it can become more sensitive during periods, pregnancy, and menopause.
During menopause, vulva skin becomes weaker from a drop in skin lipids (the natural fats that help maintain the skin’s protective barrier), as well as a decrease in probiotics (the good bacteria that help keep skin healthy).
But that’s not all. The natural moisture down below can send anyone into a sensitivity frenzy.
The same mucous membrane that protects the labia minora (inner lips) from “intruders” also makes it more susceptible to friction from everyday activities, like sex and exercise. Not to mention its close proximity to anal bacteria, increasing the risk of infection.
The bottom line? Vulva sensitivity is normal — but that doesn’t mean you have to live with it.
Good Bacteria vs. Bad Bacteria
Estrogen promotes the growth of good probiotic bacteria, called lactobacilli. This bacteria secretes lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide to maintain the acidic environment of the vulva and vagina.
Good bacteria live in the acid mantle, which acts as an invisible shield to maintain a healthy pH. It helps keep the good stuff in (like moisture), and the bad stuff out (like unwanted bacteria).
Life Shows Up On All of Our body Parts
Over time, daily factors like stress, hormone changes, lifestyle habits, or even normal aging can weaken vulva skin and compromise the acid mantle.
When vulva skin is weak and dry, it can’t protect itself as well against irritation or infection. For example, when vaginal pH is disturbed, it can lead to issues like yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis — along with itching, burning, foul odor, unusual discharge, and painful sex.