It is my desire that this blog reach those experiencing pelvic and sexual pain who are still searching for hope and healing. An important part of that is sharing information that is useful and understandable. I have learned a lot about myself and my body throughout my journey (though I still have a lot to learn), and sometimes I forget what is not so common knowledge. Thus, I want to stop and explain a few things that you may or may not already be familiar with. Hopefully this will help you gain a better understanding of your own body and also better understand some of my of my other blog posts where I may not take the time to fully explain specific terms.
Please keep in mind that I am not a doctor or expert of any kind. These descriptions are simply my personal interpretation of things I have learned from reading various books* and listening to the caring doctors and physical therapists who have helped me along my journey. Here is my attempt at an introduction to external female anatomy.
Vulva: The vulva basically encompasses the entire external female genital region. It extends from the mons pubis, or the fleshy “padded” area that forms a soft cushion over your pubic bones, to the perineum, which is the area between your vaginal opening and anus. Typically, the only areas of the vulva you can see are the mons pubis, also where most of your pubic hair grows, and the outer labia. Vulvodynia is the medical term for pain in the vulva.
Labia Majora & Minora: You have two sets of labia, or lips, surrounding the vaginal opening. The labia majora, or outer labia, are the larger (plumper, if that’s a word) lips that cover pretty much all of the rest of the genitals. These have pubic hair and the skin is more similar to the rest of your body. The labia minora, or inner labia, are the smaller lips that are mostly hidden between the outer labia. While labia come in all shapes and sizes, healthy labia minora typically extend from the top of the vestibule where the hood covers the clitoris, down to where the perineum starts. The diagram above is demonstrating both sets of labia pulled apart and away in order to reveal the vestibule underneath, but typically the labia minora cover the vaginal opening. The labia minora will expand with the increased blood flow that occurs during sexual arousal.
Vestibule: The vestibule is the area between your inner labia, encompassing the clitoris, urethral opening (where the urine comes out) and the vaginal opening. Although this is still part of your external genitals, it differs from any other external part of your body. The skin is more similar to the inside of your mouth and has a “rosy” or more reddish hue. The vestibule is especially reliant upon a healthy level of hormones and extreme redness or pain to the touch could be a sign of unbalanced hormones, often a result of oral contraceptives (of course redness and pain can come from many other causes as well). Vestibulodynia is the medical term for pain in the vestibule.
Hood & Clitoris: The clitoris is the small bulb-like section of the vestibule that is typically hidden under the clitoral hood. This is probably the most well-known term of external female genitalia, mostly because it is the primary pleasure spot that leads to orgasm. What we know as the clitoris is actually the glans clitoris which is full of thousands of nerve endings and is just a small part of the much larger clitoris organ which is hidden.
*I haven’t read the entire book yet, but The V Book by Elizabeth G. Stewart, MD has a great section on the vulva with more information and great diagrams to help you learn more about your female parts.
**Image taken from Open Learn Works: http://www.open.edu/openlearnworks/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=33&printable=1&extra=thumbnail_idp2770784