Vulva anatomy lesson – what goes on down there?
The female anatomy is a pretty complex topic and it can be quite overwhelming trying to understand all the mind-boggling details. It’s important to remember that there is no one “perfect” vulva.
Everyone’s is different, so don’t worry about what yours looks like, just focus on understanding it and feeling confident with what you have.
Let’s talk through everything you need to know about the V-Zone (that’s anything related to your vagina or vulva), with some handy diagrams to help you understand what’s really going on.
What is the vulva?
The vulva refers to the external parts of the female genitalia, in other words, all the bits you can see from the outside! This includes the glans clitoris, labia minora and majora (outer and inner lips), urethra opening (where pee comes out), vaginal opening, anus, and any other tissue surrounding those parts in-between your legs.
While people often refer to this entire region as the vagina, the vagina is just one of the many parts that make up the V-Zone area and it’s actually found inside the body (we’ll talk more about this a bit later on). Check out our video to get a better understanding of it all.
It’s important to understand that every vulva is completely unique and each one comes in a different shape and size. Some are hairy and some are groomed, but one thing they have in common is that all are good enough and beautiful! Labias specifically can vary massively in shape, size and colour, so whatever yours looks like – it’s normal.
Your vulva is also an extremely sensitive area and therefore it’s important to have a V-Care routine in place – just remember that everyone’s routine is different so do what works best for you and your vulva!
What is the clitoris?
The clitoris is located at the very front of the vulva, however most of it can’t be seen from the outside, with the majority of it living inside your body. In fact, the only visible part of the clitoris is about the size of a pea! This isn’t something people are often aware of, and there’s certainly a lot more to it than just this tiny bud, so read on to learn all about its different parts.
The tiny pea-sized bud is called the glans clitoris which is protected by a fold of skin known as the clitoral hood. Think of it like an iceberg, where the majority of the iceberg sits underneath the surface of the water and only the tip is visible above it. It’s exactly the same with the clitoris!
Just like the labia, the clitoral hood comes in a variety of sizes, shapes and colours (they’re effectively the female equivalence of a male’s foreskin) so be aware of this before you start second guessing what yours should look like. There’s also no shame in having a look down there with a handheld mirror, especially now you know what everything is!
The clitoris has been firmly tied to sex and intimacy and is an extremely sensitive part of the body, containing over 15,000 nerve endings1. Because of how the clitoris is shaped, it can be stimulated directly, through other parts of the vulva or internally through the vagina. When you become sexually aroused, it causes the clitoris to swell due to an increase in blood flow to your genitals. This swell increases until you reach an orgasm, before quickly returning back to its unaroused state. Pretty powerful for something we didn’t know much about!
The clitoris is made up of five key components: the glans clitoris and clitoral hood, which as previously mentioned are both found outside your body. We then have the body of the clitoris, paired crura (these are like the “legs” of the clitoris) and the vestibular bulbs which live inside the body. Confusing? Just a bit! Take a look at our diagram for a better understanding of where all the parts are located.
The female reproductive system
The female reproductive system is mind-blowing. It can bring great pleasure, make babies, but also cause pain that makes you want to scream! Although you might have learnt about it in biology and sex education classes at school (maybe even a parent or relative has talked through the subject with you), let’s have a quick recap.
The vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus and external genital organs (i.e. the vulva), are all included in the female reproductive system, and if you watch our video, you can see how it all works together in a natural cycle.
The vagina is the tube that connects the vulva with the cervix (lower part of the uterus) and is often referred to as the birth canal as this is where a baby travels down before its grand entrance into the world! It’s around 7-12cm in length and is slightly curved2, but again each vagina is different and the size and shape of yours can change throughout the course of your life.
Located on either side of the uterus, the ovaries are oval-shaped glands that create and release eggs. They make oestrogen and progesterone which are the fluctuating hormones linked to fertility. They’re also linked to experiencing PMS and can have a big influence on your how you feel day to day.
The fallopian tubes
Also known as the oviducts, the fallopian tubes connect the ovaries to the upper part of the uterus and it is here where conception usually occurs. The fimbriae, which are small ‘finger-like’ projections at the end of the fallopian tubes, then help carry the fertilised egg from the ovaries to the womb.
The uterus (also known as the womb) is home to the development of the foetus when conception occurs. It’s split up into two sections: the cervix, which is the lower canal of the uterus where the sperm enters, and the corpus, which is the main body of the uterus that can expand up to 1,000 times its size to hold a growing baby3.
The lining of the uterus (also known as the endometrium) is what thickens to nourish a fertilised egg which implants into the lining. If getting pregnant isn’t on the agenda, then the lining along with the unfertilised egg is shed as period blood as part of your menstrual cycle. This blood exits via the cervix and vagina through the vaginal opening.
So there we have it, everything you need to know about the female anatomy. We know it’s a lot to take in, but if anything doesn’t make sense, then don’t be afraid to ask a parent, older sister or friend for advice, or continue learning about all the myths and facts on the Bodyform website.
2Anatomy: pelvic viscera. In: Hoffman BL, Schorge JO, Schaffer JI, Halvorson LM, Bradshaw KD, Cunningham FG. Williams Gynecology. 2nd edition. New York: McGraw Hill Medical; 2012. p.928-937.