Traditionally, a woman’s body and her sexuality have been perceived as the business of everyone but herself. Many of us have been told that learning and caring for our private parts is unnecessary or inappropriate. Self-care in matters of sexual health is about informing ourselves and being comfortable with our bodies and overcoming traditionally negative perceptions towards this subject.
Exploring our sexual anatomy is the first step towards becoming more comfortable with ourselves and our sexuality. The size, shape or color of genitals differs from person to person; normal is a very wide range. What is important is to observe your own body, to learn what is normal for you. The foundation of self-care is learning about the science behind our bodies. Informing ourselves about our anatomy is a good way to learn what is ‘normal’ for a person and to become aware of changes and potential problems.
1. The Mons (a.k.a. Mound of Venus)
The mons is the triangular and fatty section under the belly that forms the upper part of the vulva (female external genitalia). Although the height of the Mons varies from person to person depending on the amount of tissue and the anatomy of the pelvic bones; it tends to be larger in women than in men. Like most body parts, the amount of fat, as well as size, color, and appearance differs in each body. In recent years, the demand for Monsplasty, which is liposuction of the Mons, has rapidly grown. During female puberty, a distinct mound of fat starts to form there, this is because the fatty tissue is sensitive to estrogen. During menopause, when the body experiences a decrease in estrogen, the Mons also decreases in size.
2. The Labia Majora & Labia Minora
The fatty tissue of the Mons continues downward between your legs to form two labia majora, the lower part and outer lips of the vulva. During puberty, the increase in estrogen pushes the forward portion of the labia majora out and away from the pubic bone, and pubic hair slowly covers the area. The labia majora surround the labia minora (the inner lips), which are hairless and very sensitive to touch. The labia majora are homologous (meaning similar or equivalent) to the male scrotum. During sexual differentiation of the fetus, the folds fuse together in the middle, forming a sack for male testicles. The ridge or groove remaining of this fusion is clearly visible on the scrotum.
3. The Clitoris
Many people confuse the glans (the tip) with the entire clitoris, but it is simply the most visible part. The shaft of the clitoris divides into two parts forming the crura, the two wing tips of erectile tissue that attach to the pelvic bones. Starting from where the shaft and crura meet and continuing down are two bundles of erectile tissue called the bulbs of the vestibule. The whole clitoris becomes firm and filled with blood during sexual arousal, as do the walls of the vagina. The muscles of the crura and bulbs create tension during arousal and contract during orgasm, causing involuntary spasms. The clitoris is the only organ in the body solely for sexual sensation and arousal.
4. The Vagina, Bartholin’s Glands & Cervix
The vagina is the elastic, muscular canal that allows for sexual intercourse, birth and menstrual flow. It has very few touch-sensitive nerve endings. The reason that the vagina has fewer nerve endings is to facilitate childbirth by making it less painful. Therefore, 95% of women reach orgasm by clitoral stimulation rather than vaginal intercourse. The walls of the vagina may vary from almost dry to very wet. Wetness increases with sexual arousal. How wet your vagina is also changes during different parts of your menstrual cycle and over your lifetime.
The Bartholin’s glands are the two pea-sized glands on both sides of the vaginal opening that secrete fluid during arousal. Usually you cannot see or feel Bartholin’s glands. Contrary to popular fears expressed by Google searches, things cannot get lost in the vagina. In the deeper end is the cervix, which blocks the entrance of foreign objects to the uterus. Condoms and tampons amongst other things might seem to have disappeared in the vagina, but usually find their way out; either naturally when you go to the toilet or by squatting and removing the item by reaching in with your finger.
Not So Fun Fact
The word vagina comes from Latin meaning ‘sheath’, which is the cover for the blade of a knife or sword. Historically, women’s body parts have been defined by men and their behaviors. If women were the ones to name their own parts, would this have been the metaphor they preferred?
5. The Ηymen aka Τhe Vaginal Corona
A thin membrane that comes in many shapes just inside the vaginal opening, partially blocking but almost never covering it completely. The vaginal corona has no known function; it is probably a remnant of fetal development or a protection for the vaginal opening. For most women they stretch easily—by a tampon, as well as a finger, a penis, or a dildo. Even after the hymen has been stretched, little folds of tissue remain at the vaginal opening. Many people wrongly believe that the vaginal corona is a thick membrane that entirely covers a woman’s vaginal opening and ruptures when you have intercourse or any kind of insertive vaginal sex the first time.
6. The Ovaries & the Uterus
The ovaries are organs that are shaped like almonds and have two main functions: to produce eggs and sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone & testosterone. The functions of these hormones are only partly understood. The nonpregnant uterus is about the size of a plum. Together with the fallopian tubes and the ovaries, they make up the reproductive system. The thick walls of the uterus are made of some of the most powerful muscles in the body. The inner walls of the uterus touch each other unless pushed apart by a growing fetus or an abnormal growth. It is located between the bladder, which is beneath the abdominal wall, and the rectum, which is near the backbone. The shape and the size of the uterus depends on the age and the hormonal status. In the next few weeks we will look more closely at hormones and how they affect the female body.
At omgyno, we believe that learning about our bodies and how to take care of them helps us in playing a more active role in being healthy, happy, and strong; because depending solely on healthcare professionals is not enough. It is not surprising that many women around the world are expressing disappointment with healthcare, realizing that their needs are often not met. Changing this system requires organizing as a community and addressing larger cultural and political issues; as well as providing independent information and services designed for their specific needs with like-minded experts. omgyno aims to address the subject of sexual and reproductive health from the perspective of women and marginalized genders, and develop services that focus on the specific challenges of the existing healthcare system.
The information provided comes from various scientific sources and is reviewed by Dr. Christina Abatzi, a licensed ObGyn in our community.