Knowing your vagina

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Words || Freya Jokela

The first field research I did for this article was type “vagina guide” into google, and to my shock, the first result was a Men’s Health article. The second was an almost identical article by Women’s Health, published a month later. When I say almost identical I mean the only differences were that the Men’s Health article linked information about how to best get your lady to orgasm and it replaced subheadings like “Labia & Vagina Texture” with “Pleats and Ruffles”… Gross. However, all fun and games aside, these articles do give some useful information to anyone seeking more knowledge about their bodies, which is what this article is really about.

Looking back, I’m not sure what it was that triggered my fascination with the human body. Maybe it was being raised by people who were open about their health, maybe it was the media that I was exposed to as a child. But regardless, I have always been intrigued by the ways that bodies – most specifically reproductive organs – work, and the impact they have on our overall health and wellbeing. This article focuses on bodies that have a vagina and the importance of getting to know and take care of it.

Firstly, some basic anatomy:

The vulva – often when people say the word vagina, they really mean vulva. This encompasses the parts of the reproductive system that are visible on the outside. Some of these include:

Labia – or the “Pleats and Ruffles” (Men’s Health, 2018) are the folds of skin that surround the vaginal opening. There’s the labia majora which are the outer lips, and the labia minora which are the inner lips. But don’t let the names fool you! These come in all different shapes, sizes, and colours and no combination is more “normal” than another!

Clitoris – A small sac of nerve endings for the purpose of pleasure, located at the top of the vulva where the labia meet. The clitoris varies in size not only from person to person, but also it can also engorge during arousal. The clitoris also extends internally up to the pubic bone and down either side of the vulva… imagine a wishbone shape.

Urethra – Pee hole.

Now we venture inside the body…

Vagina – The area between the vulva and the cervix. This also expands during arousal

Cervix – the divider between your vagina and uterus. Controls the flow of menstrual blood and dilates during childbirth.

Uterus – The womb. This fist-sized space is where a foetus grows during pregnancy. This also enlarges during arousal.

Endometrium – The lining of the uterus. This mucus thickens throughout the month and is expelled during menstruation.

Fallopian tube – two tubes that carry eggs to the uterus for fertilisation

Ovaries – Egg storage and the factory that creates hormones controlling menstruation and pregnancy. The ovaries release an egg every month, beginning when a person starts puberty.

Hymen – A thin piece of flesh that stretches partially across the vaginal opening. It is widely believed that the hymen covers the entire opening of the vagina. While this is possible, it is also very rare. The hymen can be torn but is more often stretched through activities such as intercourse, or even gymnastics. The tearing of the hymen may cause light bleeding or spotting but this is not always the case.

The most important thing about vaginas (I am using the term generally here) is that everybody’s is different. Not everyone’s looks, feels or works the same, and most importantly things that feel good for one person may not feel so good for another. I would also like use this platform to say that while I am a hypochondriac, I am not a medical professional. If you are experiencing symptoms that seem irregular or are not sure if something going on down there is ‘normal’ please go see someone who has invested years into studying the human body extensively like a doctor or a gynaecologist. There’s a lot going on down there and this only skims the surface of the vaginal world. If you are interested in looking into the body further, there are some fantastic easy to read resources online. I was lucky enough to go to a public school where one particular teacher wasn’t afraid of teaching us about sex, despite the curriculum not providing us with enough information and still stressing that abstinence was the best way of avoiding pregnancy and STIs, you could tell that they were trying their best to keep us safe.

Back to the importance of being aware. A study conducted by the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals states that over half of women lack basic knowledge of their reproductive organs. At first, I was shocked by this statistic, but then I remembered my time in high school and even early university where I would often have to coach friends through what was happening down there. It’s a real shame to see that education systems globally have failed to equip young people with the correct information to navigate their bodies. Poor education can lead not only to unsatisfying and/or unsafe sexual experiences, but can also have devastating effects on mental and physical health. People with a vagina will come into contact with it not only if they are sexually active but also if they menstruate. Becoming familiar with physical and hormonal patterns in your body early can be amazingly beneficial. Studies show that familiarity with one’s vagina decreases anxiety and opens them up to more sexual pleasure. Understanding your anatomy and what is normal to you also means that you will be able to monitor your sexual health and seek medical attention when something seems off. Simple things like pain during intercourse or changes in discharge can be signs of bacterial infection or disease.

Emma Watkins, (The Yellow Wiggle) has recently made her battle with endometriosis public, and in doing so has brought this silent disorder affecting thousands of Australians to the fore. One in ten women suffer from endometriosis (endo) and it can affect a person’s whole life. Endo is when tissue similar to the endometrium grows outside the uterus, causing pain and possible infertility. Endo often goes undetected because many of its symptoms are also widely experienced by those unaffected by the disorder. Symptoms include pain in the lower abdomen, pain during intercourse, abnormal menstruation, nausea, and cramping… among many others. While these symptoms can be common, these are often the first signs of endo, and if you experience any abnormalities in your cycle, it is recommended that you seek medical attention. The Endometriosis Australia website is a great resource for those wishing to know more about this disorder that affects so many people.

Symptoms include pain in the lower abdomen, pain during intercourse, abnormal menstruation, nausea, and cramping… among many others. While these symptoms can be common, these are often the first signs of endo, and if you experience any abnormalities in your cycle, it is recommended that you seek medical attention.
Endometriosis Australia website is a great resource for those wishing to know more about this disorder that affects so many people.

Let’s finish with some takeaway messages:

  • I am not a doctor. This goes without saying.
  • No two vaginas are the same. Not only do they appear, smell and feel different to each other, but they also work differently! Each vagina is just as unique as its owner. There is no normal!
  • Healthy and normal are two different things. It is important to do your research and talk to medical professionals about your body and any symptoms you may be having.

So, I encourage you all to start keeping track of cycles, sexual activity and day to day feeling between your legs. The slightest changes could be nothing, but they could also be signs of health issues. And remember, every vagina is different, and every vagina is beautiful.

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