Your Vagina: Everything You Need to Know

Dr. Jolene BrightenPublished: Last Reviewed: Sexual Health Leave a Comment

If you have a vagina, chances are that it didn’t come with a user’s manual. Many people have received little (if any) education around this area of anatomy from parents and doctors, leaving them to wonder “am I normal?” 

Because of culture, bias, and other influences, you may feel uncomfortable, uncertain, or even shameful about your vagina and vulva. 

All of these feelings are understandable, but I'd like to help you overcome any doubts and feel good about this intimate part of yourself.If you have worries about your vagina or questions about your anatomy, this guide is for you! 

I'll cover answers to these commonly asked questions and more:

  • Is my vagina normal?
  • What is a vulva?
  • Is it normal for your vagina to smell?
  • Does your vagina go back to normal after birth?

Your vagina is about more than just sex and babies. The health of your vagina represents the health of the whole body. And if it’s off, you won’t feel your best. 

Keep reading to learn about what is normal, when something is a problem, and how to look after your health. And spoiler alert: you are more normal than you think. 

Let’s get started! 

What Is a Vulva?

Many times, the term vagina is used when referring to the female anatomy, when we are referring to the vulva. Let’s get clear about the vulva versus vagina. 

The vagina is the inner canal, also known as the birth canal, that connects the uterus to the vaginal opening. 

In contrast, the vulva is everything that you see from the outside, the external parts. The opening of the vagina is part of the vulva. The vulva also includes the labia, clitoris, and urethral opening. 

Normal Vulva + Vagina Anatomy

Let’s look at exactly what we are talking about: 

Vulva Diagram

In this diagram of the vulva (and the others you'll find in this article) labeled with the individual parts, you will see:

  • Clitoral hood – The clitoral hood is a fold of skin, similar to the male foreskin, that is found at the top of the vulva where the labia minora meet. It surrounds the external part of the clitoris, providing protection. The clitoral hood swells upon arousal, revealing the clitoris inside. 
  • Clitoris – What we can see on the outside, is just the head of the clitoris, called the glans clitoris. The clitoris extends about 5 inches internally, with attachments to the mons pubis, labia, vagina, and urethra (the canal connecting the bladder to the vulva). 

The singular job of the clitoris is for sexual pleasure; it’s the center of orgasm. 

  • Urethral opening – The urethra connects the bladder to the vulva. The urethral opening is where the urine comes out. 
  • Vaginal opening – The vaginal introitus is the external opening of the vaginal canal. It is where menstrual blood comes out during your period and where the baby comes out during vaginal childbirth. Fingers, penises, sex toys, tampons, and menstrual cups are inserted here. 
  • Labia majora – The outer labia or lips protect the vulva and are covered with pubic hair. 
  • Labia minora – The inner labia or lips also provide protection; they are found inside the outer lips and have no hair. Labia minora may appear dark or wrinkly. 

Like your unique fingerprint, no two vulvas look the same. The vulva changes during puberty as the labia minora grows to become more visible. Labia vary in size between different people. Sometimes the inner labia are bigger, sometimes the outer are bigger, and sometimes they are uneven or vary in color. It’s all normal. 

Vagina Diagram

In this diagram of the female internal anatomy (and the other anatomical images in this article), you will find:

  • Vagina – The vaginal tube that connects the vaginal opening we see in the vulva with the cervix. The vaginal wall is elastic and muscular. 

One question you may wonder (but not ask out loud) is how deep is a vagina? One study found the average vaginal depth to be 62.7 millimeters or around 2.5 inches from the vaginal opening to the cervix. 

  • Uterus – The uterus is the muscular organ, also called the womb. It’s the uterine lining that builds and sheds each menstrual cycle. It’s also where a fertilized egg implants and a pregnancy occurs. 
  • Cervix – The cervix is the lower part of the uterus, found at the deepest part of the vagina. The cervix dilates (opens) to allow for childbirth. The position of the cervix shifts during the cycle. Sperm can pass through the cervix during the fertile window, and during your period, blood flows out and into the vagina. 

You can feel your cervix with your finger. It feels like the tip of your nose. The cervix is the site of the pap smear screening that detects signs of cervical cancer.

  • Ovaries – The ovaries, one on each side of the uterus, connected via ovarian ligaments, house all of the eggs you are born with. While you may have been taught the ovaries are connected to the fallopian tubes, there’s actually no connection. Instead, when an egg is released it is transported to the fallopian tubes by peritoneal fluid produced by the fimbriae (the finger-like projections that come off the fallopian tubes). Eggs mature in the ovaries and sex hormones, including estrogen and progesterone, are also produced here. 

Common Vaginal Problems

Now that we're on the same page with anatomy terms and what's normal, we also want to understand what problems can look like. 

Note that not everything that's “not normal” is a problem — there is no one “normal” vulva, but here's what to look for in terms of possible problems.

Consult with your doctor if you notice changes in your vaginal health, including:

  • Changes in the color or smell of your vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding between periods or bleeding after menopause
  • Pain with sex
  • A noticeable lump in the vagina or external lady parts
  • An itchy vulva

Let’s explore some of these undesired vaginal symptoms and what you can do to address them. 

Vaginal Itchiness

Itchiness of the vagina or vulva could result from irritation, stress, or infections. 

Because of the sensitivity of the skin, harsh soaps, detergents, bubble baths, and heat can irritate the skin of the vulva or vagina. In these cases, simply removing the irritant in favor of gentle, natural products may clear up symptoms. Of note, only water is needed to clean the vulva and vagina. 

The vaginal microbiome, like the gut microbiome, is easily influenced by a variety of factors including diet and stress. An imbalance in the microbiome may lead to vaginitis, which is any condition that has symptoms of abnormal vaginal discharge, odor, burning, or itching. In 40 to 50 percent of vaginitis cases, bacterial vaginosis, or BV, is the culprit. 

Bacterial vaginosis is an imbalance in your vagina's natural bacteria that increases the risk for the transmission of a sexually transmitted infection (STI). To learn more about BV, read Bacterial Vaginosis Symptoms & 5 Natural Treatments

Vaginal Discharge

Your vagina is a self-cleaning organ. It secretes fluid to keep itself clean. Vaginal discharge also includes fertile mucus you see in the days leading up to ovulation and lubricating fluids produced when aroused. 

If you want to know if your vaginal discharge falls into these normal categories, or could be a sign of infection, read The Truth About Vaginal Discharge and Odor

Yeast Infection

A yeast infection is a fungal infection, also known as vaginal candidiasis, that accounts for vaginitis in 20 to 25 percent of cases.

Common yeast infection symptoms include: 

  • Itching
  • Burning 
  • Pain
  • Thick, potentially odorous white discharge

Once symptoms are determined to be from yeast vs. another root cause, there are natural yeast infection remedies that help to restore balance to the vaginal microbiome. Get the details here

Vaginal Dryness

Vaginal dryness is another symptom that can have multiple root causes. Some reasons for vaginal dryness include:

  • Infection
  • Vaginal pH imbalance
  • Not enough foreplay
  • Anxiety
  • Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease 
  • Hormone imbalance 

Estrogen helps maintain the thickness and elasticity of the vaginal lining and produces lubrication. During times when estrogen is low, such as after giving birth, while breastfeeding, during cancer treatment, or menopause, women might be more prone to vaginal dryness. 

It’s important to understand the root cause. In cases of low estrogen, natural lubricants or vaginal estrogen may be supportive. Be sure to work with your doctor. 

Pain During Sex

Vaginal dryness might cause pain with sex, but so can many other root causes. Some detective work is needed to identify the contributing factors. Pain can be physical or psychological and be felt at the vaginal opening or with deeper penetration. 

For a full discussion of causes and solutions read Why Does Sex Hurt? 14 Causes of Pain with Sex

Vagina Worries + Misconceptions 

Embedded in our culture are so many myths and misconceptions about what constitutes a normal vagina and what to expect from your body. Here are some of them, along with the reality and why the time to stop feeling embarrassment or shame is now. 

Does My Vagina Smell Normal?

A vagina smells like a vagina. It has a distinct smell that is completely normal. The root of our collective anxiety about vaginal smell is based on misogynistic beliefs or misinformation. 

Changes in smell or discharge, outside of what is normal for you, could be a sign of an infection. Watch for other symptoms and go to the doctor if you are worried. 

@drjolenebrighten A condom would prevent his deposits from cause a pH shift. #latinxcreatives #tiktokpartner @tiktokcreators #learnontiktok #womenshealth #bacterialvaginoisis #bacterialvaginosistalk #womenshealthcare #healthyliving #unboxing #abcdefu ♬ abcdefu – GAYLE

How to Improve the Taste of Your Vagina

It is also normal for the vagina to taste like a vagina. There is no need to cover up the taste, or smell, with fragrances or flavored lube. This could cause a pH imbalance or infection. In addition, chemicals in these products can be absorbed through the vulva and vagina and enter the body. 

Remember that the vagina is self-cleaning. Good health and hygiene will help to keep your vagina healthy. Here are some tips: 

  • Keep the vulva clean, washing with just water to clear any buildup or residue.
  • Never clean inside the vagina.
  • Wear cotton, breathable underwear.
  • Use nonporous sex toys to not spread infection. 

Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, take your supplements, and stay hydrated. 

Is My Vagina Tight Enough? 

The idea that tighter vaginas make for better sex is yet another harmful myth. This myth suggests you are more desireable or “pure” when you haven’t had much sex or haven’t had a baby, and therefore the assumption is that you have a tighter vagina. When people insist a vagina should be tight I often think, “tell me you know nothing about vaginas without telling me.”

Remember that your vagina is a muscular structure and like other muscles, can be toned. Your vagina will relax when aroused, expanding with the cervix pulling up (a phenomenon known as vaginal tenting).

A bigger problem than worrying about vaginal looseness is the very real issue of the pelvic floor muscles being too tight. This may be the result of trauma, injury, childbirth, or vaginismus, which is an involuntary contraction that can be related to anxiety

Another reason for increased tightness could be a rare physical difference such as an inflexible hymen, undiagnosed intersex characteristics, or the shape (or angle) of your anatomy. 

Will Your Vagina Go Back to Normal After Giving Birth?

While giving birth is what your vagina is made to do, it is still a massive physical trauma that can affect how your vagina looks and feels. It's unrealistic and harmful to expect that your vagina will always be exactly the same; just like the rest of your body, it will change with pregnancy and throughout life. But for many women, they find their vagina has recovered after about a year after baby. Getting support from a pelvic floor physical therapist or occupational therapist can help.

Some normal changes you may notice after giving birth include:

  • A different color
  • The presence of scar tissue
  • Drier, less lubricated tissue
  • Weaker pelvic floor muscles

These may be temporary during the healing process or long-lasting. Discuss any issues that are affecting your life with your doctor. 

You can also find more information about healing after a vaginal delivery and insight into postpartum life on my blog. 

What Is the Pelvic Floor? 

Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles around your pelvis and lower torso, which supports organs including the bladder, uterus, and rectum. It is responsible for continence (urinary and bowel control) in all of these areas. 

Pelvic floor weakness may account for the pain and other symptoms postpartum or during other times of life. The pelvic floor can also be too tight, causing issues such as myofascial pelvic pain syndrome

You can strengthen your pelvic floor with exercises, called kegels, however, it’s important to do these properly. And it’s also important to know that kegels won’t be enough, especially if you’re dealing with tight muscles (like many women are postpartum). Working with a pelvic floor physical therapist to incorporate holistic pelvic care is the best route for treatment.

In Conclusion: You Are More Normal Than You Think

When it comes to health, empowering women with accurate information about their anatomy, cycles, and bodies is my passion. 

Unfortunately factors such as lack of basic education, unrealistic ideals found in media, misogyny, and persistent myths are factors that affect so many people. 

There is a lot of shame and misinformation around vaginas and vulvas, and each of us can help remedy this. It’s time to normalize talking about the female body. 

I hope this information helps you realize that you are normal — and that normal is a much broader category than many initially think. When you know what’s normal, you can also know when something is wrong, so you don’t hesitate to reach out for medical help to feel better. 

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About The Author

Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten, NMD, is a women’s hormone expert and prominent leader in women’s medicine. As a licensed naturopathic physician who is board certified in naturopathic endocrinology, she takes an integrative approach in her clinical practice. A fierce patient advocate and completely dedicated to uncovering the root cause of hormonal imbalances, Dr. Brighten empowers women worldwide to take control of their health and their hormones. She is the best selling author of Beyond the Pill and Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth. Dr. Brighten is an international speaker, clinical educator, medical advisor within the tech community, and considered a leading authority on women’s health. She is a member of the MindBodyGreen Collective and a faculty member for the American Academy of Anti Aging Medicine. Her work has been featured in the New York Post, Forbes, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, Bustle, The Guardian, Sports Illustrated, Elle, and ABC News. Read more about me here.