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10 Facts About Vaginas

by Say Yes to Nourish about a month ago in body
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If you've got one, you might not know this!

10 Facts About Vaginas
Photo by Deon Black on Unsplash

You’ve heard me say it once, and this won’t be the last time I’ll say it – sexual health education is a burning pile of trash. It’s not current, half of it is corrupted by political opinion and it’s hard to find information that’s inclusive and accurate without paywalls or practice legislation (i.e. accessing a great provider who is a country away from you and requires expensive travel). I actually decided to return to grad school in order to specialize further in sexual health, marrying it to a nutrition & wellness approach.

And while all humans are impacted by this poor information sharing, it seems to me (recognizing I have my own biased lens of the world with my white, thin, cis female experiences) that vagina-owners seem to bear the brunt of this. This obviously doesn’t mean that penis-owners don’t suffer or miss out on needed information for their best health, or that intersex folks don’t have their own unique challenges in navigating sexual health conversation.

This isn’t a comprehensive guide to sexual health for those with vaginas – something tells me that a) it would be a whole book and b) someone else has likely already written it and I’d only be reinventing the wheel (side note: Dr. Jen Gunter wrote the incredible Vagina Bible, and it’s a must-have resource I keep in my office and sessions). But, there’s probably some cool stuff you didn’t know about the vagina, or at least that no one told you before!

1. The vagina has its own microbiome. The human body is full of teeny, tiny bacteria that create their own little communities in different areas of the body. We commonly think of the digestive system as a huge microbiome-haver, and it’s not the only one! The vagina hosts its own separate from that of the gastrointestinal system – while research around microbiomes and probiotics is building, we don’t really know what exact composition each vagina should have… maybe we’ll get there someday!

2. The vagina is actually collapsed at rest. The vaginal wall contains folds called rugae, which allow it to expand in length for birth, arousal and more. Without any stimulus to trigger this expansion, the vagina is relaxed and essentially closed, aside from the vaginal opening where discharge and blood can exit during menstruation and other points in the cycle.

3. The vulva and vagina are structurally separate. It’s no longer a matter of name-calling, it’s about proper identification. The entrance to the vagina is separated from the vulva (essentially everything that is on the outside) by a portion of tissue called the vestibule. It doesn’t have the same protections in terms of skin bacteria, so soaps and cleansers can irritate and damage it easily – water only between the lips!

4. The vagina doesn’t have a lot of nerves. It’s surrounded my smooth muscles (muscles that contract and relax without intentional effort, just like your intestines) but nerves are mostly present close to the cervix and around the vaginal opening. This is why childbirth and IUD insertion can be painful, and why more pleasurable stimulation is closer to the opening – where the clitoris and its full body are located.

5. The vagina has new cells every 4 hours. All human body tissues have a time limit on them, after which they need to be replaced! The stomach, for example, is approximately 3 days. The vagina experiences cell turnover approximately every 4 hours.

6. The vagina is self-cleaning! Thanks to the frequent cell turnover, the vagina “cleans” itself by removing dead tissue, old bacteria and other secretions via discharge. This can vary over the course of a cycle to indicate fertility status, and may change in colour, consistency and smell if there are health issues like yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis (BV). Your vagina does not need cleaning products, washes or douches to do this job well.

7. The vagina is super acidic. Remember those amazing bacteria in the microbiome? They produce lactic acid from glycogen, keeping the overall environment at a pH around 3.5 to 4.5 – similar to wine and tomatoes. If a person uses a menstrual disc or cup, it’s important to use cleaners that are pH-balanced as this level helps to prevent infection – a disruption can increase the risk of infection from outside sources such as STIs or from an imbalance of “good” and “bad” bacteria.

8. The latin word for vagina is also vagina. So creative. In latin, vagina means “sheath” or “scabbard”, essentially labelling it as somewhere to put something else (are we really calling penises and other objects “swords”? I have questions….).

9. The vagina isn’t really waterproof. Its tissues contain lower levels of lipids, or fat molecules, that repel water molecules. The vulva and its acid mantle are more waterproof. This is great to know for those who struggle with moisture, as many lubricants and moisturizers are water-based and absorb much better than something silicone-based.

And last but not least, 10. The medical and legal definitions of vagina are different. This explains so much to me in term why education around vaginal health is straight up garbage and media continues to use the wrong term. The medical definition of the vagina is from the hymen and vestibule to the cervix, whereas the legal definition is from the vulva to the cervix. I don’t know about you, but I think I’m going to have to trust the people who work with vaginas on the daily to make this distinction; not the people with no medical experience (and that people with vaginas make their own decisions around what they do with their vaginas).

Learn something new from this post? Let me know – I love hearing from readers!

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About the author

Say Yes to Nourish

I help people with periods navigate menstrual health education & wellness with a healthy serving of sass (and not an ounce of nutrition pseudoscience).

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