How well do you know your vulva? For any men reading this, how well do YOU know the anatomy of the vulva? To change things up I’m going to start out with my myth bust. *Ahem* Did you know that the vagina actually refers to the internal birth canal that leads to the uterus, and NOT the outside containing the lips and clitoris which is in fact the vulva?
Too often women don’t know their own anatomy, and too often women are made to feel ashamed of exploring and learning that anatomy. Some women may go their whole lives not knowing vital information about their bodies, and this can be a major problem in more ways than one.
Let me ask you, how can you explain or show a sexual partner what you like and don’t like if you don’t know your vulva? How can you notice if there are concerning changes to your vulva if you’re not looking at it? Furthermore, how can you advocate for yourself when need be at the doctors office if you can’t be specific, and rely solely on the doctor to interpret and guess?
When you have a gynecological issue and you have a limited understanding of your body, and don’t understand the basic medical terminology doctors often use it can be a source of confusion, but also a missed opportunity to allow you to better advocate for yourself by learning basic terms/body parts.
Do you see where I’m going with this? The more knowledgeable we are about our own bodies, the better we’re able to advocate for ourselves, and it makes it a lot easier to gain an understanding of what may be going on and where to start. For example, let’s say you have pain in your vulva so you go to see your doctor. If you just say, “It hurts” that’s not very helpful. On the other hand, if you can say “It hurts between the labia minora, and the vestibule to the vagina” then that’s a heck of a lot more descriptive don’t you think? **I’m going to stick to specifically talking about the anatomy of the vulva, but I encourage you all to learn about where your reproductive organs and other organs are located at as well.**
Now, I’m not saying you need to study pre-med, but what I AM saying is that EVERYONE should know their basic anatomy and it not only helps in the bedroom, but also when you need to communicate with a medical professional, which for most of us with these conditions is pretty often. Rather than type out the parts of the vulva here, I’m going to link you to this surprisingly great article by TeenVogue that gives a fantastic overview of the parts of the vulva with full descriptions. I encourage you all to READ it and start learning your anatomy! Unfortunately this article leaves out the Bartholin’s Gland so if you could take a second to look HERE please do!
Do you perform breast checks for breast cancer? Hopefully the answer is YES. If not, please get on it! Do you perform regular checks of your vulva? Have you ever looked at your vulva? Checking out your vulva is JUST as important as doing those breast checks. Why? Because it’s important to know what your vulva looks, and feels like so that if any sinister changes occur you can quickly identify them. If you consistently check your vulva you might be able to catch early signs of infection, or irritation. In other cases, however, changes might be indicative of something potentially more persistent such as lichen sclerosus, or even more severe, vulvar cancer in which case the goal is to catch it early. According to the MayoClinic “Women with lichen sclerosus on the vulva are more likely to develop vulvar cancer. But consistent treatment with topical corticosteroids may reduce this slightly higher risk. Severe lichen sclerosus can make sex extremely painful for women because itching and scarring may narrow the vaginal opening and affect the ability or desire to have sexual intercourse. In addition, blistering may create extremely sensitive skin to the point that any pressure on the area is unbearable.” As you can deduce, lichen sclerosus is a condition that all women should be aware of so that it can be identified and treated should it arise!
Please read about vulvar cancer HERE and please read HERE to read the signs and symptoms of vulvar cancer. Read HERE and HERE to learn more about lichen sclerosus including the symptoms and treatments. *side note: lichen sclerosus can occur before menopause so it’s not something only older women should be informed about!* I hope you’ll each take a moment to watch this great short video about how to perform a check of your vulva, because it really is important and should be something we all do to ensure everything is A-ok. Before you watch this video I also want to mention that the clitoris is often overlooked during an exam whether you are performing a self check, or in the doctors office. I advise you all to gently pull back your clitoral hood from time to time to make sure that everything looks good, and if you find anything concerning please bring it to the attention of your doctor!
How does knowing the anatomy of your vulva help you in the bedroom? It’s as simple as finding out what you like and don’t like. There may be some people out there who are just automatic gurus when it comes to sex, but it’s unlikely. For most of us it takes time to learn what we like and what our partner likes. It’s crucial in any sexual relationship to explore your bodies and to figure out what does and doesn’t feel good. Do you like a light touch, or more aggressive? Do you like lots of clitoral stimulation, or do you like to be touched in between your labia? Do you like a stroking motion, or vibration? These are all things that are essential to know to ensure you have the best sexual experience you can. For those of us with genital pain/conditions it’s even MORE important to know what does and doesn’t feel good.
If you’re single that doesn’t mean you can’t have a healthy sexual relationship with yourself! Self love is important and there are great health benefits from masturbation and yes, it’s even a pain/stress reliever.
So PLEASE learn about your vulva, learn about your body in general and use that information to help you have a better sex life, AND to help you with any doctors visits, as well as to help catch any concerning changes and potential diseases/illness. Many conditions can be identified early if we pay attention to our bodies, so to name a few please read and learn about Lichen Sclerosus and Vulvar Cancer as discussed in the links above, as well as Vaginal Cancer, and Womb/Uterine/Endometrial Cancer Before I end this post I also want to mention that when you explore your vulva and you experience pain, but see no visible symptoms this could be an indication of Vulvodynia, Vestibulodynia, or Clitorodynia and the sooner you can be evaluated and start treatment, the better. Fortunately conditions like vulvodynia are not life threatening, but can be debilitating and often take some trial and error to get in hand. You can read about Vulvodynia HERE Vestibulodynia HERE and Clitorodynia HERE
Don’t be afraid of your vulva! Love yourself, love your body, and embrace it! LOVE YOUR PEACH! XO