top of page

Do you know your anatomy?

What do you think of when you think of your anatomy? Can you think of common names that they may get called?


People tend to refer to the genitalia of those assigned female at birth (AFAB) as “the vagina” but in reality, the vagina only consists of one small proportion of the female reproductive tract. In fact, the correct terminology is "the vulva". As the vulva describes all of the structures that make up the external genitalia.


A 2013 study administered a survey to midwestern university college students to assess their knowledge of sex, contraception, and female anatomy. The results indicated that the general knowledge of female anatomy was low in the sample of college students analysed. Only 38.4% of women and 20.4% of men correctly labelled the vagina.


In 2017 a needs assessment was conducted on children aged 7-12 from a suburban Chicago community to assess the children’s understanding of reproductive health and their needs for additional education. The results indicated minimal knowledge of the female reproductive tract, with half of the sample labelling the whole diagram “the vagina”.


A British study by YouGov identified that 45% of women and 59% of men could not correctly label the vagina. The only part of the female genitalia in which most genders correctly identified was the clitoris (71% of women and 69% of men). Yet, many people still struggle to find it!


Overall, indicating the lack of knowledge from a broad range of age groups.


Let’s talk about the external anatomy of people AFAB


For those AFAB, the anatomy is far more complex than those assigned male at birth (AMAB), including having separate reproductive and urinary tracts. And given most of the reproductive organs are found on the inside of the body, it does make things more confusing because they are hidden.


Outlined below is more detail regarding the external structures.


The mons pubis is made up of fatty tissue located directly anterior to the pubic bones. In females, it is usually covered in pubic hair and is a source of protection during sexual intercourse. The mons pubis contains sebaceous glands that induce sexual attraction when pheromones are secreted.

The clitoris is filled with nerves and blood vessels that become erect and swollen with blood during stimulation and sexual arousal. Similar to that of the glans penis in people AMAB.

The urethra is located under the clitoris and above the vaginal opening and allows for the elimination of urine.

The labia minora are the smaller lips that enclose the vulva vestibule and help to protect the openings of the vagina and urethra. During sexual arousal, labia minora will swell with blood.

The labia majora describes the larger lips that are directly under the mons pubis. The purpose of the labia majora is to protect the other external reproductive organs. And like the labia minora, swell with blood during sexual arousal.

The vaginal opening is located below the urethra and is an elastic, muscular tube that extends from the vulva to the cervix. The vagina allows for sexual intercourse, childbirth, and acts as an outflow tract for menstruation.


Overall, the vulva is a complex structure that will be unique and different for everybody. It’s important to embrace and get to know yours and its beauty. Grab a mirror, take a look and don’t be shy. Look and feel the different folds and become accustomed to its appearance. Start to become aware of what happens over your menstrual cycle and how it changes. What happens during your period? How does it feel when you are aroused? Do you notice any changes in discharge over your cycle (more to come on this topic)? How does it smell (yes I said smell, I told you I was going to challenge your thoughts on taboo things).


Getting to know what is normal for you, helps to also know when something may be abnormal. And that is what I want to highlight! If you have such an understanding of your body and its normal variations, when something doesn't feel, look or smell right it alerts you to take action and book an appointment with your doctor or healthcare practitioner to discuss further. I'm a big advocate for preventative health and recommend keeping up to date with regular health checks, including cervical screening tests and booking frequent sexual health screenings. Especially if you are sexually active and have multiple sexual partners, even if barrier contraception (eg. condoms) is used. There is no judgement if that is the case, you do you and live your best life, but it does put you at higher risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). And given that STIs often have no symptoms, they can damage reproductive organs if left untreated. Which can lead to infertility or needing assisted reproductive technologies such as IVF in order to conceive. Therefore, being in tune and proactive with your body helps you take control of your health and hopefully prevent or be aware of any health concerns.


Knowing your body can help you in many ways, and not just from a health point of view. We are all sexual beings, who are curious and this can also help you learn what you may or may not find pleasurable. You don't even need to focus on just your vulva, explore your whole body. Get creative and enjoy getting to know your body on a deeper level. A positive side to this is not only will you know exactly what you find pleasurable and arousing, but this enables you to share this information and enjoyment with others if you choose.


So in order to get to know your normal, you have to have a starting point. Knowledge and education help us thrive and learn more about ourselves and our bodies, so take this as a sign that getting to know your body is okay. Don't be afraid of your vulva, start to become aware and get to know them! They may just become a very important part of your life. Well, they give birth to life, so....they are pretty friggen incredible! And I will continue to keep talking about the amazing, incredible bodies that we have.


Until next time.


Stephanie Anne



References

1. Volck W, Ventress ZA, Herbenick D, Hillard PJ, Huppert JS. Gynecologic knowledge is low in college men and women. J Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol. 2013 Jun;26(3):161-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jpag.2012.12.004. Epub 2013 Mar 19. PMID: 23518361.

2. Hurwitz LB, Lauricella AR, Hightower B, Sroka I, Woodruff TK, Wartella E. "When You're a Baby You Don't Have Puberty": Understanding of Puberty and Human Reproduction in Late Childhood and Early Adolescence. J Early Adolesc. 2017 Aug;37(7):925-947. doi: 10.1177/0272431616642323. Epub 2016 Apr 13. PMID: 28931963; PMCID: PMC5602544.

3. YouGov [Internet], UK, Half of Brits don't know where the vagina is - and it's not just the men, 2019 March 08 [cited 2022 Nov 1] Available from: https://yougov.co.uk/topics/health/articles-reports/2019/03/08/half-brits-dont-know-where-vagina-and-its-not-just

4. Nguyen JD, Duong H. Anatomy, Abdomen and Pelvis, Female External Genitalia. [Updated 2022 Jul 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547703/

5. Porter A. [The importance of preventive medicine in women's health]. Harefuah. 2011 Jun;150(6):518-9, 552. Hebrew. PMID: 21800490.

6 views

Comments


bottom of page