Female Sexual Anatomy
Friday, December 9, 2011
Structure of the Vagina
The vagina is the human body part with more nicknames and euphemisms than any other – even the penis. Many of them are “negative”, in that they imply that it is something that should be kept secret, or something not to be proud of. Many others are also “negative” in the way that they imply that, rather than being something, the vagina is a “lack” of something, rather than an actual thing.
Shakespeare’s play, “Much Ado About Nothing”, is actually making a pun on a contemporary nickname for a vagina – “nothing”. The play is literally about a bunch of men making a big deal about the girls they’re chasing. Even more nicknames exist that use childish euphemisms, like “hoo-hoo”. All of these attempts to avoid calling it what it is has had a specific effect on women, and men, for hundreds of years:
None of us know our way around a vagina. We all know exactly what a penis looks like. Ask a 10 year old to draw one and they’ll quickly produce an anatomically correct veiny monster. But ask a room full of adults or college students to draw a vagina, and you’ll get blushes, rough estimates, blank ovals, and jokes.
The vagina is a complex structure, but it’s not so complex you should avoid learning what all the parts are called and what they do. You might be surprised to find that many women in developed countries couldn’t point to their clitoris if asked. We’ll first have a look at the external parts, and then the internal structures, and how they all work together to create sexual enjoyment.
External Structures of the Vagina
Externally, there are four major structures of the vagina that are worth knowing: the mons veneris (or pubic mound), the vulva, the clitoris, and the vaginal opening. Two of these, the vulva and clitoris, contain numerous sub-structures. The vaginal opening is located at the bottom of the vagina (if lying on your back) and is above the anus. The other three, more complex, structures are:
The Mons Veneris
This is a mound of fatty tissue directly above the vulva, below the waistline. It is flat in prepubescent girls, but the area is rich with tissue that is sensitive to oestrogen. This means that during puberty the area swells and becomes more pronounced. Massage of the pubic mound can produce highly pleasurable sensations in some women.
The vulva is a complex arrangement of structures that make up what most people think of as a vagina. It includes the labia majora, the labia minora, and the pudendal cleft, which houses the clitoris.
The labia majora (literally, “larger lips”) are fold-like structures that cover and protect most of the vagina while not aroused, and specifically protect the delicate structures of the clitoris and the labia minora. The labia majora are made of a type of erectile tissue, not dissimilar to that of the penis. During sexual arousal they will become filled with blood and engorged, becoming highly sensitive to touch and opening the vaginal entrance.
The labia minora are two smaller folds of skin that are inside the labia majora. They are arranged in a kind of upside-down V structure, which forms a hood over the clitoris where they meet at the top. The labia minora have a large concentration of blood vessels and nerve endings, and will fill with blood and change color as arousal increases. They are very sensitive to touch, and play an important role in many women’s ability to achieve orgasm.
The clitoris is by far the most complex, and least well-understood, part of the vagina. It is represented by the clitoral glans, a small, bead-like structure that varies between around 3mm and 10mm, at the top of the pudendal cleft (above the vaginal opening, and where the labia minora meet). This glans is packed with nerve endings, and is made of the same erectile tissue as the penis.
The clitoral glans is protected by a hood formed by the labia minora, which is called the frenulum clitoridis. Some women enjoy having their clitoral hood pulled back and the glans massaged directly, while others find this to be too much direct stimulation. During arousal the clitoral glans will become highly pronounced and extremely sensitive, though sensitivity does not seem to be correlated with size. It is many times more sensitive than the glans of the penis, having roughly the same number of nerve endings in a much smaller space.
The remainder of the clitoris is internal, and is almost as large as the vagina itself. It is shaped like a wishbone, with both arms extending on either side of the vulva. The clitoris extends inwards from the glans for several centimeters, into a body which is known as the “crura”. The crura consists of two cylindrical objects, made of erectile tissue, known as the corpus cavernosa. The crura further branches into two legs known as the bulbus vestibule, which are located underneath the labia minora.
Internal Structures of the Vagina
Inside the vagina there are four main structures which contribute to sexual enjoyment or childbirth. There are many others, but these are the ones you need to be able to point out if asked (as I’m sure you will be, one day).
The Vaginal Canal
The vaginal canal is a muscular cavity that extends from the vaginal opening to the opening of the cervix. It is deeper than most penises you are likely to encounter, even if you work in the adult entertainment industry, and it is walled with thick, elastic muscle that can stretch greatly during intercourse or childbirth.
Lubrication is provided by Bartholin’s glands, which are located both at the vaginal opening and near the cervix. The membrane of the vaginal wall also produces some moisture, though there are no secretion glands in it.
During sexual excitement the vaginal walls will become engorged, lubricated, and may dilate slightly.
Officially named the Gräfenberg spot, after the German gynaecologist who discovered it, the g-spot is an often-misunderstood collection of nerves and erectile tissue on the anterior wall of the vagina along the course of the urethra. In layman’s terms, it’s about 1 to 2 inches inside your vagina, on the top if you are lying on your back. It feels like a bump of prune-like skin, and is very difficult to spot if not aroused.
Recent work by Australian urologist Dr. Helen O’Connell has pointed to a definite connection between the g-spot and the “legs” of the clitoris, indicating that there may be some relation between g-spot stimulation and clitoral orgasms, despite well-documented and supported claims that orgasms produced by stimulating the g-spot feel different to clitoral orgasms.
The g-spot can be likened to the male prostate gland, and has been implicated in cases of female ejaculation, which is now believed to be more common than previously thought. Despite identifying it once and for all, we still have a lot to learn about the g-spot.
The hymen is a membrane of connective tissue that covers the vaginal opening in young girls, and is usually broken by first sexual intercourse or other penetration. Thickness varies from person to person, and it can occasionally be too thick to allow normal penetration (in which case it must be surgically broken).
The hymen can also be broken by strenuous physical activity such as dancing, gymnastics or horse-riding, or by using vibrators or some larger tampons. Breaking the hymen typically produces a small amount of pain and blood, though both might be absent.
The PC Muscle
Possibly the least well known part of the human anatomy, but one that occurs in both genders, is the pubococcygeus muscle, or the PC muscle. It is a hammock-shaped muscle that supports the pelvic organs. In women it runs from the vaginal opening to the anus, and in men from the base of the scrotum to the anus.
Direct stimulation of the PC muscle is difficult, and requires a degree of pressure that some people find painful. However, it is possible to exercise the PC muscle, and thereby to increase sexual enjoyment, the strength of orgasms, and the length of sexual performance (in males).