The Wonderful World of the V
by: Ruby Vee
It’s an incredible self-cleaning microcosm; it’s able to produce orgasms; and it can deliver a baby, Honestly, for such an incredible organ, the vagina doesn’t get nearly enough air time.
So what’s up down there?
The vagina is an internal muscular tract that ends with the cervix, a donut-shaped passageway that goes between the uterus and the vaginal canal. The cervix opens slightly during menstruation to allow blood to pass through and dilates fully just before birth.
Because the vagina ends at the cervix, there’s no way that something like a tampon could get “lost” inside, a common concern. If you do accidentally push a tampon string inside the body along with the tampon, you may need to reach inside with two fingers to fish it out, but it is easily recoverable -- not to worry!
The vagina is self-cleaning so douching or using other vaginal washes are overkill. These can even disrupt the natural system, causing dryness or irritation. Washing the external folds of skin and between the legs with just water or with a gentle, unscented soap is all that’s needed to maintain the microbiome of the vagina.
Some people use douches because they’re worried about the smell. Knowing what your vagina smells like naturally and what it doesn’t smell like naturally is a really great way to identify if something isn’t right down under.
In general, tangy, slightly fermented, coppery, earthy, or sweaty smells are all pretty normal in the range of odors that you may sniff when you drop your drawers. These smells will change and depend upon: what you’ve eaten, if a partner has come inside your vagina (semen has a high pH and will change the smell of a vagina temporarily), how recently you’ve showered, and whether or not you’re menstruating.
If you’re noticing smells such as rotting fish or general decay, particularly if those are accompanied by abnormal discharge, pain, or discomfort, it’s time to see your doctor to investigate further. Barring those super funky smells, it’s normal for a vagina to smell... well...like a vagina. And there ain’t no shame in embracing those fragrances!
(art by: Carolina Gazal)
A lot of people use “vagina” to refer to what’s visible between the legs when what they’re really talking about is the “other V” -- the vulva! Vulva refers to the entirety of external female anatomy from the labia to the urethra to the mons.
On either side of the vaginal opening are the inner labia and encompassing the inner labia are another pair of lip-like folds: the outer labia. Sometimes these are referred to as the labia minora (inner) and labia majora (outer), but we don’t like these terms as much because they suggest that the inner labia will be smaller than the outer labia. In fact, for lots of people, the folds of their inner labia fall lower than those of their outer labia and may even be uneven!
The urethra is a very small opening just above the entrance to the vagina, and this is where pee comes out. We hope this finally sets to rest any rumors that women pee out of their vagina!
Just above the urethra is the clitoris. The clitoris is an organ purely for pleasure. It contains a dense amount of nerves that, when stimulated, produce the amazing sensations that happen during masturbation or sex.
Our last stop on this tour of the vulva is the mons, the fleshy skin above the labia that protects the pubic bone. This is where pubic hair grows, but some people choose to remove some or all of their pubes!
Like every other part of the body, there are lots of differences between different people’s anatomy. Some vulvas are darker or lighter in color; some have different smells; some have lots of pubic hair naturally; and some have thinner pubic hair. As long as your vulva and vagina aren’t in pain, we think no matter what they look like, they’re all good!