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Often people will use the word ‘vagina’ when they really mean ‘vulva’.
Vulva is the term used for all the bits of your genitals that you can see on the outside of your body. This does include the opening of your vagina, but many other parts as well.
Watch this short video about the biological female anatomy. Then scroll through the info below to learn more about these parts, and remember, everyone’s genitals are unique, and that’s beautiful!
The vagina is a tube which connects the outside of the body to the womb, or uterus. It’s made of very stretchy muscle.
Your vagina is ‘self-cleaning’ which means you don't have to clean inside it. It will often produce a sticky, wet discharge. You might notice white or clear marks on your underwear – this is discharge. Having discharge is healthy and normal, and it can change throughout your menstrual cycle as your hormones change throughout the month. If you notice the colour, smell or texture of your discharge is different to usual, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP or sexual health clinic.
Check out the following diagrams and see what parts you know?
At the end of this section, you will find a podcast from the BANG! podcast series about bodies. You can hear Anna’s story about her experience with a condition called vaginismus, and Amy on menstruation and “period sex”.
The following pictures are courtesy of New Zealand Family Planning. Navigating the Journey: Sexuality Education. Te Takahi i te ara: Whakaakoranga Hōkakatanga. Years 7-8.
Top tip! When you go to the toilet, remember to wipe from front to back - from vulva to anus (bum). This stops bacteria from the anus being spread to the vulva area, preventing infection.
Most people have soft tissue which surrounds the entrance to the vagina, called the hymen. Most people think of the hymen as a complete ‘covering’ to the vagina which is broken the first time a person has vaginal, or penis-in-vagina sex, or uses a tampon. In reality, it’s really uncommon for people to have a hymen which covers the vagina in this way.
When you pee, your pee comes out of a small hole between your glans clitoris and your vagina. This is the opening of the urethra. The urethra is a tube that is connected to the bladder, where pee is stored.
You can see part of your clitoris from the outside of the body, called the ‘glans’ or the head of the clitoris, but the rest of it is inside the body. The glans clitoris is protected by a piece of skin called the clitoral hood. The clitoris is usually very sensitive to touch. Many people enjoy having their clitoris touched (or stimulated) during sex and masturbation. Remember, everyone likes to be touched in different ways.
The labia protect the vaginal opening. There are two outer labia, and two inner labia.
Different people have different labia. Not all labia are symmetrical. Some people have large labia, and others have smaller labia that are more tucked away. During puberty, pubic hair usually grows on the outer labia. Some people choose to remove this by shaving or waxing – you don't have to do this though. It comes down to personal preference.
The uterus, which people sometimes call the womb, is the space inside the body where a baby grows if someone is pregnant. On either side of the womb, are the ovaries, connected by the fallopian tubes. The ovaries store eggs.
Did you know? Most people who have ovaries are born with around 400,000 eggs (or ‘ova’) in them.
After puberty, an egg is released from one of the ovaries once a month (this is called ovulation), and travels through the fallopian tubes to the uterus. If this egg combines with a sperm cell, then it can implant into the lining of the uterus and grow into an embryo, which grows into a fetus, which grows into a baby. To prepare for this possibility, before ovulationg the lining of the uterus thickens. If the egg doesn’t meet a sperm cell, then this thickened lining is shed through the vagina and is what’s known as a period.
The ovaries also make a hormone called oestrogen. Oestrogen can cause the body to start developing breasts, it can widen your hips, and it can help with the onset of periods.
Podcast - BANG! .Research shows that naming feelings helps manage them.
In this episode, three BANG! listeners name the things they've struggled with and talk about the steps they've taken to deal with them. Father-daughter sex advice duo Nic and Lena Beets also offer some practical advice.
Featured below is Anna’s* story, about her experience with a condition called vaginismus. Listen to the full podcast episode to hear John* talking about erectile dysfunction, and Chessie and Amy on menstruation and “period sex”.