Oh, the vulva! What a great body part. Or, should I say, what a great
collection of body parts. The vulva is the external genitalia found on cisgender women and other people who are assigned "female" at birth (AFAB). It's all the fun bits that connect the inside of your body — including your vagina and internal clitoris and uterus — to the outside of your body. And if you have a vulva, chances are there's a whole bunch of things that no one has ever told you about it.
Why, you ask? Because sex negativity. Because Puritanism. Because we live in a country where only
13 states require that sex education be medically accurate. As a result, so many women and AFAB people don't know the parts and function of what they're packing. How many holes do we have? What happens when we're turned on? Where does the pee come out?
If you can't answer one or more of those questions, don't worry — you're not alone. And lucky for you, I'm a certified sex educator who loves to talk about vulvas! So here are seven things no one ever told you about your vulva. (And when you're done,
don't miss this cartoon — which is not safe for most workplaces — by Erika Moen about the vulva and vagina. It's a must-read.)
This is a very, very common mistake and one that we’re only starting to see corrected in the mainstream: Your
vulva is not your vagina. The vagina is only the tunnel inside your body, where fingers, menstrual products, sex toys, and penises can go in and babies and menstrual blood come out. The parts you can see and touch without going inside your body — which include the mons pubis, the head of the clitoris, labia minora and majora, urethra, vaginal opening, and Bartholin glands — make up your vulva. So when you’re referring to external genitals, remember to use the word “vulva” instead of “vagina.”
The Clitoris Is More Than Just A Little Nub
Most people think of the clitoris (or “clit”) as the nub they can see and touch on the outside of the body. It fills with blood and becomes engorged when a person is aroused, pushing out from the hood it’s usually hanging out behind. But that’s just the very tip of the pleasure iceberg!
It turns out, the clit actually has an entire structure that extends
inside your body. The clit has two legs on either side that extend down and around the vaginal canal. When you’re turned on, they fill with blood and squeeze the vaginal canal, which brings all those lovely clitoral nerves closer to the vaginal canal. So your clit is way bigger and more involved with sexual pleasure than you might have ever known! Cool, right?
The Clit Is The Only Body Part That Exists Just For Pleasure
There is one body part on human beings of any gender that exists only for pleasure: The clitoris. As far as scientists can tell, it has
no other purpose. In fact, the head of the clit (which is technically called the “glans”) has over 8,000 nerve endings on it! No wonder it feels so nice to touch.
Your Labia Swell Up When You’re Turned On
So now you know that your clit swells up when you’re turned on, but did you know your labia do too? The labia has two parts: Labia majora — which is the thicker, “outer” lips — and the labia minora — which is the inner, thinner lips. When you’re aroused, the
labia fill up with blood (or “become engorged”), which makes them more sensitive to touch. Take a look the next time you’re turned on and you’ll notice that they’re kind of puffy looking. That’s a good sign!
Your Vaginal Discharge Changes During The Month
Fun fact: Vaginal discharges isn’t always the same. For example, when you’re ovulating — which usually happens halfway through the menstrual cycle, if you’re not on hormonal birth control — your discharge might get slippery and clear. At other times of the month, it may be more whitish or yellow in color. Moral of the story:
Vaginal discharge is totally healthy and varies throughout the month.
The Part Where Pubes Grow Is Called Your “Mons Pubis”
The fleshy part above everything, where pubes grow (whether you shave them or not, you know where I mean), is called the “mons pubis.” If you press on it, you’ll notice that it’s kind of… Padded. That’s by design! That fat layer makes sex more comfortable by providing some padding between you and a partner.
There Are Two Tiny Holes On Either Side Of Your Vaginal Opening
You probably know about the urethra and now I know you about the vaginal opening, but did you know that there are two other little holes in your vulva? They’re itty-bitty — you can’t really see them with the naked eye very well — but they’re on either side of your vaginal opening and they’re the opening of your
Bartholin glands. Bartholin glands produce a slippery fluid when you’re aroused, making sure your vaginal opening is nice and lubricated. That lubrication prevents tearing, unwanted friction, and generally makes everything more fun.
There you have it — seven things you probably didn't know about your vulva, but definitely should.