A Guide to a Woman’s Sexual Anatomy
Those Pink Bits
In this month’s column I look at women’s sexual anatomy. I have discussed aspects of women’s anatomy in the past; this month we explore the complete sexual anatomy of women. In my practice I often find myself explaining to women and men female sexual anatomy/genitalia. There is a general lack of education about the details of anatomy, and sex education focuses on the reproductive rather than the sexual or pleasure aspects of the genitalia.
In exploring genitals and pleasure we need to acknowledge the skin. The skin is our largest organ and our largest sexual organ. Skin is full of nerve receptors which respond to touch and sensation. Use it wisely for maximum pleasure.
Another key aspect of our arousal system is the brain. The brain, like the skin, is important to the arousal process. Sexual arousal is often focused on the genitals. Stimulate the brain and the skin and other arousal systems will also begin to operate, yet most people want to know about the sexual anatomy – the genitals; so let’s begin our journey of women’s genitalia.
The external, or visible part of a woman’s genitals is called the vulva. The vulva includes the mons pubis (pubic mound), clitoris and hood, labia majora (outer lips) and labia minora (inner lips), plus the urethra and vaginal openings. The vestibule is the space around the opening to the vagina.
The vulva is often confused with the vagina. The vagina is internal and also known as the birth canal. There will be more about the vagina later in the column.
The mons pubis is also known as the mons veneris, or mound of Venus. The mons pubis is the fatty tissue which covers the pubic symphysis – a part of the pelvis where the pubic bones join. When you push on the mons pubis you can feel the pubic bones beneath. The mons pubis is covered with pubic hair.
Labia Majora and Labia Minora
The labia majora or outer lips of the vulva are also formed from the same fatty tissue of the mons pubis. The labia majora also can be covered with pubic hair and the size, colour and shape differs among women.
The labia minora, or inner lips, are surrounded by the labia majora. The labia minora are highly sensitive and hairless, compared to the labia majora. The labia minora protect the vestibule.
Love Your Labia
Every woman’s labia is different: different in size, different in colour, and different in hair coverage. The labia minora often hang or protrude beyond the labia majora, and one side can be longer than the other. Some women worry that their labia are abnormal; the wide variety of appearance means your labia are perfectly normal.
Many people mistake the air-brushed images pornographic images of print magazines as the normal or perfect genitals of a woman. In fact, the air-brushing to neaten labia is old legal, censorship requirement where internal reproductive genitalia could not be seen by the public. This has given rise to many women believing their labia as not normal.
The installation at the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania, has a beautiful installation of women’s vulvas which shows the great variety of vulvas, especially labia. Love your labia!!
The Clitoral System
Many people think of the clitoris as simply the button like object at the top of the vulva. The clitoris is more than that little glans. In fact, it could be said there is a whole system to the clitoris.
Clitoris Glans and Clitoral Hood
The clitoral hood is formed by the labia minora (inner lips) joining to cover the clitoral glans, just below the mons pubis. To view the glans, simply pull the hood up gently. Clitoral hoods vary in size too. The glans is most sensitive to stimulation. Yet, the clitoris does not stop there.
One way to describe the clitoris is like a wishbone, with the ‘legs’ of the wishbone extending inside the pelvis. The clitoris is made from the same tissue as the penis. The clitoris has a shaft, legs (crura), and contains the corpus cavernosum, urethral sponge and vestibular bulbs. The clitoris, like the penis, can become erect during arousal, resulting in the vulva looking puffier and redder.
Clitoral Shaft and Crura
Behind the hood is the shaft or body of the clitoris. This will feel rubbery and moveable, and sometimes like a hardish rod right under the skin. This shaft, like the glans, is sensitive to touch. The shaft divides into two legs, or crura (or crux singular). The crura are the wings of the clitoris; are made from erectile tissue; and attach to the pubic bones. The crura are approximately 7.5cm long. The crura, like other aspects of the clitoris, are sensitive. If you gently rub between the labia minora and labia majora you can stimulate the crura and vestibular bulbs (see below).
Did You Know… … …
- The clitoris and penis are made from erectile tissue.
- The nose also contains erectile tissue.
- The clitoris glans has 8,000 nerve endings. The penis glans has 4,000 nerve endings.
- The clitoris sole purpose is for pleasure and is the only part of the human anatomy to do so.
- It was only in the 1990s that we became fully aware of the extent of the clitoral system.
The vestibular bulbs continue along the sides of the vestibule, or opening to the vagina. These vestibular bulbs are bundles of erectile tissue, and become erect during arousal, like the clitoris glans, shaft, crura, and vaginal walls.
The crura and bulbs are covered in muscle tissue which helps to create tension during arousal. These muscles also contract during orgasm and are part of the involuntary contractions during orgasm.
The Bartholon’s glands are two small round masses on either sides of the vaginal opening, toward the lower part of the vestibule. These glands secrete a small amount of fluid during arousal and you cannot usually see or feel these glands.
Not all women are familiar with their own anatomy. As Sophia Burset, a Transwoman with a designer-vagina, explains in Orange is the New Black, “Yes, girls, you have two openings down there.” One is the vagina and the other leads to the urethra. The urethral opening is just below the clitoris glans. This is where the where urine is emptied from the body. The urethra is a short tube from the bladder which carries urine. The location of the urethra, so close to the vagina, puts women at risk of bacterial infection from sexual activity. Making sure you pass urine soon after vulval or vaginal play is one way of reducing this risk, as it washes out the urethra.
There are many parts to the area people think as the vagina although it is technically not a system. We already know the external or visible genitalia are referred as the vulva. The vagina is not just the birth canal, but is made of different parts. When the woman is standing her vagina is approximately at a 45 degree angle to the floor.
Just below the urethra is the introitus or vaginal opening. For some women the remains of the vaginal corona, or hymen – a thin membrane, may still be visible. The hymen is normally stretched during adolescence via tampons, fingers, sex toys, or penis. Small amounts of tissue may remain. Vaginal coronas, like labia, vary widely.
The vaginal walls are flexible and will stretch and mould around whatever is inserted (fingers, tampons, toys, penis), or inside (in case of a baby birthing). They have vertical folds or wrinkles, called rugae, which help them to stretch when needed, and sit flat against each other otherwise. The rugae thin out after menopause.
The vagina’s walls will vary between dry to very wet. The vagina is often drier before puberty, during periods of breast feeding, and just before and after the flow in the menstrual cycle, and sometimes after menopause. The vagina is wetter at ovulation, during pregnancy and when a woman is aroused. Some women are naturally very wet, while others are not. Both states are normal. If the vulva and vagina are dry, using a lubricant for sexual play can enhance pleasure. There is no need to only use lubricant at the specific times listed above. Some women find that lubricant enhances pleasure at any time in their cycle; there is no shame in wanting to use lubricant and it can be a fun part of your sexual play.
Vaginal arousal varies from woman to woman. Some women find the walls of the vagina very sensitive while others have limited or no sensation. Often the most sensitive parts of the vagina are found near the vaginal opening. Remember that the different parts of a woman’s genitalia are closely connected. There is no such thing as normal in a woman’s experience of where arousal occurs in the genitalia. Explore to find what is sensitive for you, on your own or with a partner.
Vaginal arousal varies from woman to woman. Some women find the walls of the vagina very sensitive while others have no or limited sensation. Often the most sensitive parts of the vagina are found near the vaginal opening. Remember a woman’s genitalia is closely connected. There is no such thing as normal in a woman’s experience of where arousal occurs in the genitalia.
The Grafenberg or G-Spot
Ah the illusive G-spot. Does it exist or not? Some researchers suggest it does not exist and it is simply the arousal of the vestibular bulbs, while others believe it is a separate part of the anatomy all together. Not all women experience the G-spot pleasure, and some have taken steps to learn how to stimulate the G-spot. Finding the G-spot pleasurable and not finding it at all are both normal.
The G-Spot is located on the anterior or front wall of the vagina; toward the abdomen; about a third of the way up. One way to find the G-spot is to hook your index finger and insert gently and stimulate the area on the upper side of the vagina. This is sometimes called a ‘come hither’ or beckoning gesture.
The fornix is the mucous membrane and connective tissue between the vagina and rectum. The fornix is found at the deep end of the vagina toward the small of the back. Not everyone can feel the formix. If the rectum has a stool the fornix can feel lumpy.
The cervix is toward the back of the vagina. The word cervix is short for cervix uteri, Latin for “neck of the womb”. Cervix simply means neck – as the cervical vertebra of the spine, or neck bones. The cervix may feel like a nose or button with a dimple in the middle. The surface of the cervix has no nerve endings, the cervix may be sensitive to touch.
The cervix is part of the uterus. Both change position during the menstrual cycle and when the vagina lengthens during arousal, the cervix moves further in the body. The dimple of the cervix is called the os (a useful word to remember for Scrabble) and is the very small opening to the uterus. The os carries menstrual flow from the uterus, and allows seminal fluid to enter. It is not possible to penetrate the cervix with a finger, penis, toy or tampon. The cervix dilates during child birth and the progress of dilation is how the progress of labour can be measured.
The Perineum is the area between the vulva and the anus. The perineum is spongey to touch. Some women find touching or gentle pushing on the perineum stimulating. This area has small fascia muscles found throughout the genital region. So stimulation here is likely to provide added stimulation to the genital region.
Just to be clear I am referring here to the anus, not the rectum. The anus is the puckered area and is external. The anus contains two small muscles – external and internal anal sphincter muscles. Some women find touch or light pressure on the anus stimulating. For more information on anal play for women check my earlier column.
There is no normal look or feel or experience of women’s genitalia. Every woman is different (as is every man). A woman’s sexual anatomy, or pleasure anatomy, is more complex than many people realise. The skin and brain are also important aspects of people’s pleasure centres and arousal systems. Spend some time exploring and understanding your anatomy, or that of your partner.
Remember a healthy life includes healthy sex life. And a healthy sex life means knowing about our bodies.
Dr Christopher Fox is a Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist at Sex Life Therapy in Melbourne. He has clinics in East Melbourne and Frankston.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this document should be read as general in nature and is only to provide an overview of the subject matter covered. Please read product packaging carefully and follow all instructions.