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The Vagina Bible

The Vulva and the Vagina: Separating the Myth from the Medicine

By Jennifer Gunter, MD
  • Read in 15 minutes
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  • Contains 9 key ideas
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The Vagina Bible by Jennifer Gunter, MD

The Vagina Bible (2019) is your comprehensive guide to everything to do with vaginas, vulvas and women’s health. Navigating the sea of online myths, advertising promises and sexist misinformation, gynecologist Jen Gunter is here to help you separate fact from fiction. From basic anatomy to proper maintenance, pregnancy, menstruation, STIs and more, The Vagina Bible will teach you not only what your vagina can do for you, but also what you can do for your vagina.

Key idea 1 of 9

The vulva is what’s on the outside, the vagina is what’s on the inside, and the clitoris extends through both.

If you know a bit about vaginas already, then you probably know that “vagina” is only part of the story. First of all, having a vagina doesn’t make you a woman, and not every woman has one. In the United States alone, there are over a million transgender individuals who don’t identify with the sex they were assigned at birth on the basis of their genitals.

Secondly, “vagina” technically only refers to the inner part of these genitalia. The outside part, meaning everything that touches the clothes, is the vulva. 

The vagina is a tube of muscles that connects the vulva to the cervix. It’s lined with a specialized lubricated skin called mucosa. Mucosa cells are filled with a sugar that feeds the good bacteria in the vagina, most notably the lactobacilli. Lactobacilli make lactic acid, which keeps the vaginal pH at a healthy 3.5 to 4.5. The discharge that most women regularly find in their underwear is a mix of lactobacilli, dead mucosa cells and small amounts of fluid that enter the vagina through the bloodstream – and it’s totally normal.

Under the mucosa lies vaginal smooth muscle, which allows the vagina to stretch when penetrated or when pushing out a baby. Then there are the pelvic floor muscles, which wrap around the vagina and vaginal opening. They help with continence and stability and contract when you have an orgasm. 

The vulva consists of the mons, which is the fatty pad beneath your pubic bone; the inner and outer labia, which surround the vaginal opening; and the clitoris. The fat and pubic hair of the mons and the outer labia majora protect the vaginal opening, while the inner labia minora are hairless and more sensitive. They can vary greatly in shape or size, ranging from 1 to 5 cm or more.

All parts of the vulva are erectile, meaning they fill with blood and enlarge when you’re aroused. The clitoris, however, is the only structure in the human body made exclusively for sexual pleasure.

The clitoris is much larger than meets the eye. It’s shaped like a Y, but with four arms instead of two. The tip of the Y is the only visible part – that’s the little button protected by the clitoral hood near the top of the vulva. The clitoral root connects that button to the crura, the outside arms of Y that run beneath the labia majora, and the clitoral bulbs, the inside arms that connect to the vagina and the urethra.

Now that you’ve learned about all the different parts of your vagina and how they are connected, let’s take a look at how you can best take care of them.

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