A few weekends ago, my doctor friend came over with her toddler daughter for a playdate. At one point, while changing out of paint-splattered clothes, the little girl pointed to her diaper and used the v-word: vulva. Say what? Later, as we were going to bed, Alex admitted to me: “So, I don’t know 100% what the vulva is.” And I was like, Dude, I don’t know! And I’m a woman! And I’m 38! If someone asked me to draw and label a woman’s genitalia, I would definitely get some things wrong. In case you’re not sure, either, here’s how it all works…
For this post, we’re imagining that everything works as planned. Of course, all bodies are different, so if yours varies from the models we’re working with, know we celebrate its beauty, too!
Vagina — A lot of us use “vagina” to talk about female genitalia, but, specifically, it’s the muscular tube that connects your cervix to the exterior of your body. It’s usually about three inches long and less than an inch wide, but it stretches A LOT during sex and childbirth (its inner surface is actually pleated, which makes it more elastic, and able to produce friction during sex).
Womb (or uterus) — This hollow muscular organ is the cozy spot where a baby grows, of course. During pregnancy, it can stretch from the size of a pear to that of a watermelon. It’s also incredibly strong and can contract with enough force to push a baby out of a women’s body.
Ovaries — Women have two ovaries, whose job it is to grow and release the one to two million eggs you’re born with. (They also produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone.) Each ovary is about the size and shape of an almond. So tiny, so important!
Fallopian tubes — After your ovary releases an egg, it moves through one of the two thin fallopian tubes they’re attached to. To get pregnant, an egg must meet sperm by the time it’s done traveling through the tube (before it gets to the uterus). When sperm enters the vagina, it swims through the cervix and uterus and into one of the fallopian tubes. The journey takes anywhere from 45 minutes to 12 hours.
Cervix — This cylindrical piece of tissue (from the Latin word for “neck”) connects the vagina to the uterus. When a pregnant woman’s due date is near, her cervix will “ripen,” which means it softens, stretches and thins to make room for a baby. It goes from being closed to 10 centimeters dilated so that the baby’s head can pass through.
Mons pubis — Literally, your “pubic mound.” It’s the area (actually a little collection of fat) that’s covered by the front of your underwear (and pubic hair) just above your pubic bone.
Vulva — This is the collective name for all the parts of a woman’s genitals you can see on the outside of the body. (Remember this Seinfeld moment?)
Clitoris — The star of the show, in many ways, when it comes to sex. The part you can see is a small, button-shaped nub at the top of your vagina, and it’s the only part of your body whose sole reason for being is pleasure. A woman’s clitoris has the most nerve endings of every part of her body (about 8,000 in total, and twice as much as a penis has).
Urethra — The tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. The only part of it you can see yourself is the little hole you pee out of.
Labia minora — Also known as the inner labia, inner lips, vaginal lips or even nymphae (!), these are the two small flaps of skin on either side of your vaginal opening. They protect everything, like little garage doors.
Labia majora — These are the two larger outer folds, outside the labia minora.
Perineum — This is the area of delicate skin between the vagina and the anus. It’s an erogenous zone for many women (and men).
Anus — You probably have this one down.
Okay, there you go! Now we can all go on with our days. :) How much did you already know?
P.S. Scheduling sex, and talking to kids about sex.
(Illustrations by Gemma Correll for Cup of Jo.)