The Vulva is the external sexual organ of women. There are many
questions about the vulva 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
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 clitorises are
very small; other women may have large clitorises 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
* Never use 2 tampons at once.
* Tampons should only be used when you have a period.