Written by Dr. Jane
I’ve been an OBGyn for 13 years and love the quirky, funny, and sometimes head-tilting questions I get asked about lady parts. But sometimes the questions women approach me with seem juvenile, not because they’re uneducated, but because we’re uneducated as a whole.
Why is it that so many women have so little knowledge about their own anatomy?
Possibly because it’s a potential space, and it’s hidden. Yes, I can put an illuminated speculum (ouch!) up in there and shed some light on the matter, but, generally it’s an “idea of a space”, as opposed to one we actually see. And unless I videotape the speculum exam of you, it’s likely that in your lifetime, you’ll never be able to see what the inside of your vagina looks like.
Compare this to a man’s sex organ, the penis, which is a flag that practically flies itself.
Being an OBGyn means discussing everything (and I mean everything) that can possibly come up about a woman’s unique anatomy. That said, the vast majority of women approach me with the same 5 questions—it’s time to address them once and for all.
5 Things Everyone Should Know About Vaginas
- It’s Not a Black Hole
It has a beginning (vulva), middle (vaginal walls) and end (cervix and fornix), and while tampons, condoms and menstrual cups can get forgotten in the vagina, nothing can truly get “lost”. Contrary to popular belief, the vagina does not open up to one’s abdominal cavity. The cervix and uterus are at the top of the vagina, and only sperm and bacteria can enter into the cervix and the uterus. Of course a baby can come out going the opposite direction!
- Your Vagina & Coffee Are Basically The Same Thing
Normal pH for the vagina is between 4.0 and 4.5 which just so happens to be the same pH as a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. In this way, it’s the most civilized part of a woman’s body.
If your vagina does have an odor, it’s typically because the pH of the vagina has been altered. The most common occasion for this perturbation in pH occurs when you have an overgrowth of a normal bacteria, called Gardnerella vaginalis. While Gardnerella vaginalis lives in your vagina all the time, it can occasionally grow out of control changing the pH of your vagina making it more alkaline, less acidic. Have you ever asked, “Does my vagina smell fishy?” If it does, blame Gardnerella vaginalis, because that fishy smell is solely an elevation in the pH of the vagina. Sadly, our proverbial glass of wine vagina has now become an almond milk or apple juice vagina.
- Keeping it “Dirty” is Actually Keeping It Clean
Stop douching, stop douching, stop douching! Because this topic is so important, I just wanted to say it again--stop douching! Your mouth is, in a manner of speaking, dirtier than your vagina. You don’t have to clean your vagina: just eat healthy, exercise, get plenty of rest. Do you need to wash your hands after you touch yourself or put your fingers in your vagina? Yes. The same way you would wash your hands before eating. It’s time we destigmatize the idea that your vagina and cervix are “dirty”. Yes, there is a LOT of cultural baggage and media that would tell us otherwise, a lot of “squeamishness” about the vagina and cervix. But your vagina is actually an amazing place…. Like a small cafe with cobblestones in Italy, in Spring, serving only the finest red wine and espresso (remember pH above?)
- For Goodness Sake, YES That’s Normal!
Every woman makes different amounts of vaginal discharge, and it changes throughout the month, depending on where a woman is in her cycle. The greatest amount of discharge occurs during ovulation (days 11-14), but in a normal 24-hour cycle a woman produces ¾ of a teaspoon of vaginal discharge. I cannot emphasize this enough--it’s normal to have discharge EVERY DAY OF YOUR LIFE. In addition, the color of your vaginal fluid can vary. Sometimes clear, sometimes opaque, sometimes thick, sometimes thin, sometimes yellowish, whitish, even greenish. As long as it doesn’t smell fishy, cause you to feel pain or burning sensation, it’s likely 100% normal.
- Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby
Most vaginas are about 9cm or 2.5-3.0 inches in length (the length of a woman’s index finger, approximately), but can expand up to 200% during intercourse. And what about the G spot? While it’s existence is highly controversial, the G spot is actually the name given to the area of tissue right underneath the urethra, on the top (front) wall of the vagina.
My goal with my patients is to educate and destigmatize so we can talk about the vulva, vagina and cervix using terminology we all understand and which removes pejoratives, shame or guilt. Women are not an inside out version of man. We have a palate and an anatomy that is unique to us. Vaginas are best when understood and treated with care.