The Vulva is the external sexual organ of women. The above view (A) shows the external view of the female vulva as normally seen when the woman is standing up. View (B) shows the vulva when it is opened, and from the top down one can clearly see the Veneris Mons, clitoral hood, clitoris, and labia minora.
The Vocabulary of the Vulva
The external female genitals are collectively referred to as The Vulva. All of the words below are part of the vulva.
The mons veneris, Latin for "hill of Venus" (Roman Goddess of love) is the pad of fatty tissue that covers the pubic bone below the abdomen but above the labia. The mons is sexually sensitive in some women and protects the pubic bone from the impact of sexual intercourse.
The labia majora are the outer lips of the vulva, pads of fatty tissue that wrap around the vulva from the mons to the perineum. These labia are usually covered with pubic hair, and contain numerous sweat and oil glands, and it has been suggested that the scent from these are sexually arousing.
The labia minora are the inner lips of the vulva, thin stretches of tissue within the labia majora that fold and protect the vagina, urethra, and clitoris. The appearance of labia minora can vary widely, from tiny lips that hide between the labia majora to large lips that protrude. The most common metaphor for the labia minora is that of a flower. Both the inner and outer labia are quite sensitive to touch and pressure.
The clitoris, visible in picture (B) as the small white oval between the top of the labia minora and the clitoral hood, is a small body of spongy tissue that is highly sexually sensitive. The clitoris is protected by the prepuce, or clitoral hood, a covering of tissue similar to the labia minora. During sexual excitement, the clitoris may extend and the hood retract to make the clitoris more accessible. Some clitori are very small; other women may have large clitori that the hood does not completely cover.
The opening to the urethra is just below the clitoris. It is not related to sex or reproduction, but is instead the passage for urine. The urethra is connected to the bladder. Because the urethra is so close to the anus, women should always wipe themselves from front to back to avoid infecting the vagina and urethra with bacteria.
Vagina and Hymen
The above illustrations show the area between the labia minora. From top to bottom can be clearly seen the clitoris, urethral opening, and vaginal opening. A, B, and C show vaginal openings with a normal hymen, a membrane that partially covers the opening. The hymen is the traditional "symbol" of virginity, although being a very thin membrane, it can be torn by vigorous exercise or the insertion of a tampon. Illustration D shows an imperforate hymen that completely closes the vagina; this rare condition requires surgical intervention to provide for a normal flow of blood once menstruation begins. Illustration E is of a vagina in a post-partum woman (one who has given birth).
The perineum is the short stretch of skin starting at the bottom of the vulva and extending to the anus. The perineum in women often tears during birth to accomodate passage of the child, and this is apparently natural. Some physicians may cut the perineum preemptively on the grounds that the "tearing" may be more harmful than a precise scalpel, but statistics show that such cutting in fact may increase the potential for infection.
Female Internal Sexual Anatomy
The vagina extends from the vaginal opening to the cervix, the opening to the uterus. The vagina serves as the receptacle for the penis during sexual intercourse, and as the birth canal through which the baby passes during labor. The average vaginal canal is three inches long, possibly four in women who have given birth. This may seem short in relation to the penis, but during sexual arousal the cervix will lift upwards and the fornix (see illustration) may extend upwards into the body as long as necessary to receive the penis. After intercourse, the contraction of the vagina will allow the cervix to rest inside the fornix, which in its relaxed state is a bowl-shaped fitting perfect for the pooling of semen. At either side of the vaginal opening are the Bartholins glands, which produce small amounts of lubricating fluid, apparently to keep the inner labia moist during periods of sexual excitement. Further within are the hymen glands, which secrete lubricant for the length of the vaginal canal.
The word is in quotes because there is still some debate as to the existance or purpose of the G- spot. In the illustration above, what is indicated as the g-spot in fact points to a region known as the Skenes glands, the purpose of which are unknown. Despite the controversy, one fact remains-- there are many women who claim that pressure on this region of the vagina is extremely pleasurable. Usually, two fingers are used, and because the spot is deep within the tissue, some pressure may be needed. Also, because the Skenes glands are alongside the bladder, some women may found that the increased pressure makes them feel as if they need to urinate.
The cervix is the opening to the uterus. It varies in diameter from 1 to 3 millimeters, depending upon the time in the menstrual cycle the measurement is taken. The cervix is sometimes plugged with cervical mucous to protect the cervix from infection; during ovulation, this mucous becomes a thin fluid to permit the passage of sperm.
The uterus, or womb, is the main female internal reproductive organ. The inner lining of the uterus is called the endometrium, which grows and changes during the menstrual cycle to prepare to receive a fertilized egg, and sheds a layer at the end of every menstrual cycle if fertilization does not happen. The utereus is lined with powerful muscles to push the child out during labor.
The ovaries perform two functions: the production of estrogen and progesterone, the female sex hormones, and the production of mature ova, or eggs. At birth, the ovaries contain nearly 400,000 ova, and those are all she will ever have. However, that is far more than she will need, since during an average lifespan she will go through about 500 menstrual cycles. After maturing, the single egg travels down the fallopian tube, a journey of three or four days-- this is the period during which a woman is fertile and pregnancy may occur. Eggs that are not fertilized are expelled during menstruation.