It's hard to have a healthy relationship with your body if you're not sure how it actually works. When it comes to your vagina, however, there's a chance that you've got a knowledge gap around its anatomy – from how everything slots together to what each part's job is.
Why are we so sure? Well, 2018 research from the Eve Appeal showed that half of women aged 26-35 were unable to label the vagina accurately – and that fewer than a quarter of women aged 16-25 said they felt confident that 'they were well informed about gynaecological health issues.'
Which isn't really a surprise when 65% of the age groups combined said they have a problem even saying the words 'vagina' or 'vulva.'
Time to get dosed up on the science, we think.
First off: what are my vagina parts?
It's a common misconception that the visible outer parts of the female anatomy is called the vagina. The technical name is actually the vulva. Yours has the job of protecting your internal organs and warding off dirt and bacteria. The vulva houses your labia, clitoris, vaginal opening, and the opening to the urethra.
Very useful vagina diagrams
This is your outer lips and is a protective layer of fat covered by skin and hair that guards the entrance to the vagina
The inner lips which are thinner and more sensitive than the rest of your vagina. They begin at your clitoris and end under the vaginal opening. They contain erectile tissue, made up of clusters of tiny blood vessels, which means they become slightly stiffer (though not as stiff as the clitoris) when you're turned on.
Straight up: everyone's labia differs. It can be long, short, wrinkled or smooth, and a lot of the time lips can be different lengths, with one being longer than the other. They also vary in colour and this can alter as you get older. No labia is the same and it is common for inner lips to be longer than outer and vice versa.
This is located at the top of your vulva, at the tip of where your inner lips meet is where your clitoris is located. They come in all different sizes and are covered by a clitorial hood.
'The clitoris is larger than it seems,' says Dr Laura Berman, clinical assistant professor at Northwestern University's medical school and author of The Passion Prescription.
Beneath the visible pink button, called the glans, lies a wishbone-shaped structure. This comprises a shaft, which extends about an inch up toward the pubic bone, and two three inch arms called crura that reach down and back toward the pelvic bone in an inverted V shape.
Though the shaft and crura send pleasure signals to the brain during sex, the glans is more sensitive. That's why it has a hood — without it, a pair of tight jeans would send your nervous system into overdrive.
Located just below your clitoris, this is the hole you wee out of and the tube that leads to the bladder.
This lies right below your urethral opening and is where both menstrual blood and babies leave the body.
Where is the G Spot?
Located on the front side of your vagina, it is a few inches up inside and swells when you are aroused.
Remember: your vulva probably differs from a diagram
Aesthetically, at least. There is a narrow representation of women's bodies on screen. The vulva, and especially the clitoris, is almost entirely absent from all art, literature, cinema and theatre. It is this lack of variety of images and descriptions can leave women with visible labia worrying that they are not normal.
‘Many women worry that their vulva is abnormal,’ says women's health physiotherapist Elaine Miller. ‘But they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. I have seen a lot of vulvas and they are all different.‘Have a look at Jamie McCartney's Great Wall of Vagina or the Labia Library and you'll see what I mean, says Miller.
Is discharge normal?
Discharge is totally normal. That strip of cotton in the crotch of every pair of knickers is there for a reason — even if you're not on your period or the tiniest bit sweaty, it will collect moisture.
The vulva and vagina produce an average of 1 to 2 grams of vaginal discharge (or about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon) every 8 hours. Throw a sample under a microscope and you'll also find bacteria, skin cells, and yeast spores. The quantity and consistency of your discharge changes over the menstrual cycle.
How do you keep this fluid factory fresh? The answer is, don't mess with it. The vagina cleans itself. If discharge smells bad or is accompanied by discomfort, see your doctor.
The texture of your labia and vulva
Most of the vulva is smooth, but some women's labia minora have a ruffled appearance. 'Labia come in all shapes and sizes,' Dr. Stewart says. 'The tips of the nipples and labia are similar because they both contain small, bumpy-looking glands.' Examine your labia minora closely (using a hand mirror) and you may see the glands, which sometimes look like tiny pimples.
Separate the labia minora, and you may notice that the entrance to the vagina also has a ruffled border or just a few irregular bits of skin. Those are the remnants of the hymen, a thin membrane that once partially covered the entrance but has been torn or pushed aside by sex.
As for the texture inside the vagina, it's full of bumpy ridges called rugae. Similar to pleats on a skirt, the rugae stretch and retract to accommodate objects ranging in size from super-slender tampons to 3kgs babies.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health UK.