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VULVA? VAGINA? LET’S CLEAR IT, ONCE AND FOR ALL!

When was the last time someone said ‘vulva’ when they meant ‘vagina’? Well, never. When talking about women’s health, ‘vagina’ and ‘vulva’ are two often-interchanged terms. But here’s some news: they do not mean the same thing and cannot be used interchangeably!

What’s the big deal if one confuses both the terms? Firstly, the knowledge surrounding women’s bodies, especially their reproductive anatomy, is severely limited. Secondly, using the wrong terminology will only lead to more confusion for both the medical fraternity and the women themselves. It’s about time we deconstruct the secrecy and confusion about women’s bodies and use the appropriate and correct terms to refer to various parts of the body. Doing all this ensures that women’s health is given the importance that it deserves.

What Is the Vulva?

If you are really curious, we suggest you get a hand-held mirror and check how your own body looks! So what really is the vulva? The vulva refers to the external female reproductive anatomy that consists of the labia, the clitoris, the urethra, and the vaginal opening. The labia refers to the lip-like folds of skin that is present around the clitoris and the urethra. The clitoris is the female organ of pleasure; it’s a small pea-like structure that helps in female orgasms. Vulva is the umbrella term to refer to all of these parts of the female reproductive anatomy. However, bear in mind that the vulva refers to ONLY the external parts.

The vulva also includes the hymen, in case it is present. The hymen refers to a stretchy piece of tissue present at the entrance of the vaginal opening. The presence or absence of the hymen is a much-debated topic in various cultures around the world. A girl’s virginity is often decided by the presence of the hymen and the idea that she should bleed the first time she has penetrative sex. Women around the world have been chastised, ostracized, and punished if they don’t bleed the first time they have penetrative sex.

However, the truth is that the hymen is a stretchy piece of tissue that erodes over time. It can erode from simple activities like engaging in sports, horse riding, being rough and tumble, and the like. Therefore, it is in no way a determiner of a girl’s virginity. And what more? Penetrative sex, if done with sufficient foreplay, should not involve bleeding.

Where is the vagina then?

The vagina refers to the long, tube-like structure, which begins at the vaginal opening and ends at the outer cervical opening; in short, it can be referred to as the female genital tract. It does not refer to anything external in the female anatomy. The vagina has ridges along its walls that expand on sexual arousal and during childbirth. Three things come out of the vagina: cervical mucous or white discharge, menstrual blood, and babies. As babies come out through the vagina, it is also referred to as the ‘birth canal’.

Internal period products like menstrual cups sit in the vagina and collect menstrual blood. Internal contraceptive devices like the diaphragm and the female condom are also inserted inside the vagina.

Oh, and last but not the least, the vagina is different from the urethra! This is another common confusions that people have! Urethra refers to the opening from which urine comes out; this is different from the vagina. Therefore, if you are using an internal period product like the menstrual cup, you do not have to remove it every time you pee because your cup is in the vagina, not the urethra.

We hope the difference between the vulva and the vagina are clear to you by now! Let us know if you have any other doubts!

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