Vaginas are anatomical superheroes.
They flush urine and blood from the body, experience sensual pleasure and, for parents, even birth a child.
While more than half of the world’s people are born with one, myths about the vagina continue to abound. Knowing more about this wondrous body part can lead to healthier, more empowered living and more satisfying sex lives for all.
1. It’s Not Everything “Down There”
What many people consider the vagina is actually the vulva. In a study conducted by The Eve Appeal in 2014, half of the 1,000 26- to 35-year-old female participants were unable to correctly identify a vagina on a medical drawing.
This isn’t terribly surprising, given the limited sex education many people receive and how taboo sexuality — especially women’s — remains.
So what exactly is the vagina? It’s the muscular tube between the urethra (where urine exits the body) and anus. It allows for blood to be released during the period cycle and for penetration during sex and provides the passageway for childbirth. Its flexible, soft lining provides for lubrication and sensation.
The vulva, on the other hand, refers to all of the external genital organs, including the labia, clitoris and openings to the vagina and urethra.
2. Varied Shape, Size and Color Is Normal
Vulvas come in all shapes, colors and sizes and vary significantly. The labia, or lips, may be pink, reddish or more purple in color. While they may match a woman’s skin tone, darker or lighter than skin tone is also common. The outer folds may be longer or shorter than the inner lips, and exact symmetry down there is rare. No two clitorises are identical either. One could be fairly flat and less visible while another is more obvious — as well as short, long, thin or wide.
Even so, vaginoplasty (aka vaginal rejuvenation) is on the rise. While there can be a medical reason for tightening the pelvic floor muscles surrounding the vagina, increasingly more women and teens are seeking the surgery for aesthetic reasons.
“It’s not uncommon that today, where porn is so ubiquitous, women feel a desire to look like other women they see,” said Megan Fleming, Ph.D., a sex and relationship therapist in New York City.
According to doctors, the rise in shaving or waxing pubic hair, which is commonly seen in mainstream porn, also plays a role. This leads many to be more aware — and more critical — of the appearance of their genitals.
According to a New York Times article, in 2015, the number of girls 18 and younger who had surgery to alter their labia — the lips outside the vagina — increased by 80 percent from the year before, says the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
“Women feel pressure to measure up,” said Fleming. “To what? Variety in shape, size and color is normal.”
3. It’s Self-Cleaning.
If you think routinely investing time and energy into douching is a waste, here’s some good news: It is. By stopping douching vaginal health with actually improve.
The best way to clean the vagina? Leave it be. Vaginas self-clean by creating mucus, which washes away discharge, blood and semen.
Wash the outside of the vagina with warm water when showering or bathing. A bit of mild soap is OK, unless the skin is sensitive or gets recurrent infections. Avoid scented powders, sprays, tampons, pads and liners, however, which may up the odds of getting an infection.
Women around the world douche in the belief that flushing the vagina with a mixture of water and other ingredients, such as vinegar, baking soda and iodine, will guard against infections or even pregnancy. In reality, douching isn’t necessary and can actually cause harm. Most doctors advise against it.
Douching can change the natural balance of healthy bacteria in the vagina, increasing the risk for irritation and infections. And if already infected, douching can push the harmful bacteria into the ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes, potentially leading to pelvic inflammatory disease.
4. It Works With the Clitoris for Mighty Orgasms
You’ve heard of the G-spot, but what about the C-spot? If you stimulate the clitoris, the only organ with the sole purpose of pleasure, along with the G-spot, soft tissue usually located one to two inches inside the vagina, you can invite powerful, blended orgasms.
A small study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in February 2014 showed that women who had difficulty climaxing had smaller clitorises located farther from their vaginal opening than women who climaxed with ease. In other words, if you tend to struggle in the Big O department, making sure you or your partner pays special attention to the clit during penetration may help.
The clitoris is a lot more than a little “button,” the visible part that swells during arousal. It has a whole system beneath the surface, and is highly sensitive — so stimulation there tends to run deep. With a body shaped like a wishbone, its two branches extend a few inches into the vagina, connecting with the G-spot.
5. It Has Many, Many Names
The vagina may have more nicknames than any other body part. Some of the more common pseudonyms include vag, va-jay-jay, lady bits, down there, cooch and crotch. Why so many names? Many experts feel it has to do with avoiding what’s perceived as embarrassing, shameful or taboo.
“Perhaps it’s our cultural discomfort with female anatomy that explains why there are more than a thousand names for the vagina,” said Fleming. “It’s time we take any shame and embarrassment out of anatomy.”
Undoing that shame starts with you. Learn the female genital anatomy and begin using proper terms. If you’re a parent, teach your kids to say vagina, instead of “private parts” or other slang.
“We call our eyes ‘eyes,’ not peepers,” Fleming adds. “A girl wipes her vulva and has poop come out of her anus.” There’s nothing shameful about any of that.
What Do YOU Think?
Did any of this information take you by surprise? What do you think about douching? Will you start using the word "vagina"?