You Are More Than a Vagina: Understanding Your Vulvar Anatomy

You Are More Than a Vagina: Understanding Your Vulvar Anatomy

Sexual anatomy is a beautifully complex interplay of different structures, organs, erectile tissues, nerve endings, and hormones. Anatomy is empowering. It can help you understand how your body works, communicate clearly with your sexual partner, and discuss concerns with your medical provider.

Sexual anatomy is often taught in a vagina-centric tone. Everything is a vagina. You would not call your knee your foot, right? I'm here to tell you that you are more than a vagina. Let's make a pledge today to call the other parts by their names.

Starting from the outside: The Vulva

The vulva is the gatekeeper to the vagina. It is what is on the outside and just under the surface. It is a term to describe a region of multiple structures. A face has a nose, eyes, and ears that allow us to smell, see, and hear. The vulva has the labia majora, labia minora, clitoris, greater vestibular glands, vulvar vestibule, and the urethral opening that protect you, give you pleasure, lubricate you, allow you to urinate, and so much more.

The labia majora, Latin for bigger lips, are the outermost folds of the vulva. They have hair on the outside and are mostly hairless on the inside. Inside the labia majora are the labia minora, Latin for smaller lips. They are thinner and hairless. The labia minora have erectile tissue which will cause them to swell when you are aroused. Collectively you will hear the labia majora and labia minor called the labia.

Since I am using face comparisons here, the vulva is like a face. EVERY SINGLE ONE IS DIFFERENT. Sometimes the labia majora are small, sometimes they are large. Sometimes the labia minora are large, sometimes they are small. Color will also vary from person to person. The important thing is that it is your normal. What does that mean? If your labia have always looked the way they do now, that is normal for you. I highly encourage you to take a peek at the labia library to see real labia of all shapes, sizes, textures, and colors. If you ever have concerns that there is something abnormal with your anatomy, make sure to consult a trusted medical provider.

The labia are often skipped over but take a look. Where do they attach at the top? I'll answer. The clitoris. What is underneath the labia? You guessed it. The clitoris. When you can, take a moment to gently pull and press on your labia minora and majora and pay attention to how it feels. This can be an important place of pleasure for some people.

The Clitoris

The glans of the clitoris is at the top of the labia minora, covered by a hood called the clitoral hood. The glans is the tip of iceberg. Most of the clitoris is underneath the surface. The glans dives underneath the surface and splits to form the vestibular bulb and crura of the clitoris. Collectively, these parts are the clitoris. Don’t worry about remembering all the different parts of the clitoris. This important thing to realize is that the clitoris is more than what is on the outside.

Imagine a giraffe. You see its face peaking out under the clitoral hood; that’s the glans of the clitoris. The neck descends and goes on to form the giraffe’s legs, the vestibular bulb and crura. The legs wrap along each side of the vagina underneath the labia. Remember what is felt like to pull and press your labia? Now you know that you are stimulating the clitoris.

The clitoris contains erectile tissue, just like a penis. It swells and engorges with blood with arousal. The glans of the clitoris can be very sensitive. This is pleasurable for some and not as much for others. Try stimulating your clitoris under your labia and see how this feels you.

The last stop before diving deep: The vulvar vestibule

The vulvar vestibule is the area between the labia minora. Like the vulva, there are quite a few structures here: the vaginal opening, greater vestibular glands, and the urethral opening. I like to think of this area as the waiting area prior to entering the vagina. The vaginal opening is at the bottom. The greater vestibular glands are on either side of the vaginal opening and help lubricate the vagina. Glands are small and you may not be able to see them. The urethral opening is at the top of the vulvar vestibule. This is where urine comes out. The urethral opening is also small and hard to see sometimes.

Heading South of the Vulva:

The last two structures on the outside are the perineum and anus. The perineum is the area of skin just below the labia. Just below the perineum is the anus.

You now know the vulvar anatomy. Now you can go out and call your parts by their names: vulva, labia minora, labia majora, clitoris: glans, vestibular bulb, and crura, vulvar vestibule, vaginal opening, urethral opening, greater vestibular glands, urethral opening, perineum, and anus.






Ariel Zablocki is a doctor of physical therapy specializing in pelvic health. She is passionate about sharing accurate knowledge about pelvic and sexual anatomy. Based in Bishop, CA you will find Ariel hiking, cross-country skiing, knitting, and reading about the clitoris.

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