The Vulva is the external sexual organ of women. There are many questions about the vulva on alt.sex, and this FAQ will begin to attempt to answer some of these.
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, a 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.
The opening of the vagina in precoital women (i.e. those who have never had sex before) is typically covered by a thin tissue membrane called the hymen. The hymen, which serves no known function, is usually perforated to allow the flow of menstrual blood to leave the body after puberty. Usually, the hymen stretches across or surrounds some but not all of the vaginal 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. Some women are born with hymens so thin as to be almost nonexistant, and intercourse may not tear the hymen in even average women; instead, it may simply stretch.
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 studies show that such cutting in fact may increase the potential for infection.
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 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 Bartholin’s 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.
FREQUENTLY ANSWERED QUESTIONS
WHAT IS THE G-SPOT?
The Grafenberg spot, or G-spot, is an area located within the anterior (or front) wall of the vagina, about one centimetre from the surface and one-third to one-half way in from the vaginal opening (see illustration and text). It is reported to consist of a system of glands (Skene’s glands) and ducts that surround the urethra (Heath, 1984). Some authors write that you must press “deeply” into the tissue with two fingers to reach it with any effectiveness.
The significance of the G-spot is that some women (about half) report that it is a highly sensitive area that under the right conditions can be very pleasurable if stimulated. For some women, it can be a primary source of stimulation leading to orgasm during intercourse. Other women report no particular stimulation, and some say that it feels as if they need to urinate. The G-Spot has been linked to the phenomenon known as female ejaculation. To date, there is little data about female ejaculation, although there is some speculation that it is the product of the Skene’s glands.
WHAT IS TOXIC SHOCK SYNDROME?
Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a rare but serious illness which can occur in men, women and children. About half the number of cases reported are associated with using tampons and affect a tiny number of women every year– only about 1 out of every 1.5 million women who have periods. TSS can occasionally be fatal.
Toxic Shock Syndrome can be treated successfully providing it is recognised quickly, and most young people make a full recovery. Younger people may more at risk from the bacteria which are believed to cause this rare condition, because their immune system may not be fully developed. In the unlikely event that you have these symptoms during your period–a high fever (over 102F or 39C), rash, vomiting, diarrhoea, sore throat, dizziness or fainting – you must remove your tampon and consult your doctor immediately. These symptoms can be early warning signs of TSS, which can develop very quickly and may seem like flu to begin with.
Do not worry about wasting the doctor’s time and remember to say you have been wearing a tampon. Do not use tampons again without checking first with your doctor.
By using tampons correctly and following the advice below, you will reduce the risk of developing TSS.
* Always wash your hands before and after insertion and removal of a tampon.
* Always remove the used tampon before inserting a new one.
* Always remember to remove the last tampon at the end of your period.
* Never use 2 tampons at once.
* Tampons should only be used when you have a period.