They push out babies. Give us pleasure. They're self-cleaning. And yet, many us vagina-owners know woefully little about our own genitals.
So here a few incredible facts about vaginas that hopefully will make you appreciate just how great our vaginas really are.
1. When you're turned on, your vagina doubles in size
An unaroused vagina is around 3-4cm deep but it can expand to twice that during sex.
That's largely due to something called "vaginal tenting", which is when the upper two-thirds of the vagina expands, pulling the uterus upwards and creating more length space in the vagina.
It happens so that sperm can move up into the cervix for contraception.
2.You may not have been born with a hymen
You know how everyone freaked at as a teenager over the thought of their hymen being ripped apart when they finally got round to losing their virginity? Well, it turns out that some of us aren't actually born with hymens in the first place.
Your hymen is a stretchy collar of tissue just inside the opening of the vagina, and not all hymens are created equally.
Loads of things can wear your hymen away – from sex to tampons to gymnastics.
“Think of the hymen like tissue paper,” Alexandra Eisler, a health and sex educator from Healthy Teen Network told Teen Vogue.
“It can stretch or tear or easily rub away.”
Dr Launce Orbuch, director of GYN Laparoscopic Associates and the co-director of Gynaecologic Robotic Surgery at The Beth Israel Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City says that if you don't have one, you'd probably never know it.
More noticeable, he told Cosmo, is a hymen that is not easily penetrated or torn — that can result in painful sex or even difficulty getting a penis into your vagina.
3. You may struggle to orgasm is you have a smaller clitoris
Size does matter when it comes to sex, according to a study by the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Experts measured 30 women's clitorises and out of the ten who reported difficulty reaching orgasm, all of them had clitorises that were farther from their vagina opening.
And the issue wasn't just in regards to sex. Even sex toys like Rabbits don't work as effectively on women with small clitorises because the "ears" don't reach the most sensitive parts.
"Women with anorgasmia possessed a smaller clitoral glans and clitoral components farther from the vaginal lumen than women with normal orgasmic function," scientists concluded.
They found that the clitoral glands of the organismic group were twice as big as the anorgasmic women, with the distance between the clitoris and the vagina being 30 per cent smaller.
4. Vaginas can get depressed
It's a real and very painful thing, known by its medical name vulvodynia, and it can affect women of all ages.
It causes a burning sensation down there, a stinging pain despite there being no sign of infection or skin condition.
What are the symptoms of a 'depressed' vagina?
The NHS notes that the pain of vulvodynia can be:
- a burning, stinging or sore sensation
- triggered by touch, such as during sex or when you're putting a tampon in
- constantly there, in the background
- worse when sitting down
- limited to a part of the vulva, the opening of the vagina, for example
- more widespread, affecting the buttocks and inner thighs
The slightest touch, during sex or even when putting a tampon in, can cause a surge of pain.
And, for the women who suffer this long-term condition, it can prove so painful sex is firmly off the cards.
Dr Vanessa Mackay, a spokeswoman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, told The Sun Online antidepressants have been shown to ease the condition – which is how the idea of a "depressed" vagina came about.
5. Your vagina can become painful and dry if you don't have enough sex
Vaginal atrophy happens when the vaginal walls have become thin and dry – causing itching and burning down there.
While it can be a problem for women of any age, it's more likely to affect women who are going through, or have been through, the menopause.
That's because the body produces less oestrogen than normal, which has a knock-on effect on how the vaginal wall behaves.
To avoid it, you're best of making sure that you regularly carve out time either for sex or some intimate solo activity.
Symptoms of vaginal atrophy
Depending on how severe the condition is, you may experience a variety of symptoms.
- burning sensation, particularly when you wee
- urgency to wee
- urinary tract infections
- light bleeding after sex
- discomfort during sex
- dryness during sex
- a shortening or tightening of the vagina
Dr Louise Mazanti, a London-based sex therapist, said: “It is very important that we have a healthy sex life with a partner or with ourselves.
"It's about using massage and touching the tissue so that it becomes alive, the blood flows and the tissue becomes elastic.
“It is really about exercising the tissue.”
According to Mazanti, if cells are not getting enough oxygen they cannot eliminate waste from the tissue, which can cause inflammation that leads to problems such as vaginal atrophy.
A build-up of toxins can also stop vital nutrients from getting to the cells, which can leave the tissue slightly weaker and thinner.
6. It's impossible to lose anything in your vagina…
Try as you might, you really can't lose anything in your vagina because your cervix – the opening at the very top of the vagina – is so small that only sperm can get through it.
The vagina might expand when you're aroused but it's still a fixed space, meaning that it doesn't continue to open up.
Anything you stick up there can be retrieved.
When you first start using menstrual cups, for example, it's normal to feel as though it's gotten stuck up there (especially when there's a bit of suction going on). All you have to do is relax your vaginal muscles, breathe and then try to pull it back out.
Oh, and gynaecologists spend a lot of time pulling random stuff out of vaginas so if you genuinely can't get something back out, go to A&E.
7. …but it is possible for your vagina to fall out
Utero-vaginal prolapse is where the vagina or uterus and vagina can pop out.
While it sounds totally horrific and painful, it's not fatal.
Symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse
Pelvic organ prolapse symptoms include:
- a feeling of heaviness around your lower tummy and genitals (pelvis)
- a dragging discomfort inside your vagina
- feeling like there is something coming down into your vagina – it may feel like sitting on a small ball
- feeling or seeing a bulge or lump in or coming out of your vagina
- discomfort or numbness during sex
- problems peeing – such as feeling like your bladder isn't emptying fully, needing to go to the toilet more often, or leaking a small amount of pee when you cough, sneeze or exercise (stress incontinence)
If it's mild, doctors tend to just leave you to get on with it. But if it is causing you pain and distress, then it is rectifiable with surgery.
A number of things can cause it, from pregnancy and childbirth, to menopause, obesity, long-term constipation, heavy lifting and having a hysterectomy.
To prevent it from happening (it is rare), you need to work on your pelvic support – and you can find tips on which pelvic floor exercises to do and how to do them here.
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