Vulva VS Vagina: What’s The Difference?

 

Vulva…vagina…both of these words might sound similar, but they are not the same body part. If you aren’t sure what the difference is between the two, you are definitely not the only one. We often hear these words getting mixed up, and we get it; it is confusing! The female genital anatomy is complex, and we rarely use official medical terms when discussing our private parts, which only adds to the confusion. Muff, vag, fanny, foof, pussy, lady garden - these names are all fine, but it’s a good idea to know the proper names as well.

Having the ability to identify individual parts of our genitals is not only empowering (for all genders) but is also important because it allows us to discuss our bodies confidently, whether that’s communicating issues with our doctor or discussing what we like with our sexual partner(s).

In this article, we define both the vulva and the vagina and clear up the confusion once and for all!

What Is The Vagina?

The word vagina is most commonly misused to describe the entire female genital area, which is, in fact, the vulva (more on this below). But the vagina is only one part of a much bigger picture. So what is it exactly?

The vagina is an elastic muscular tube that extends from an external opening within the vulva to the cervix (the opening of the womb). One of its main functions is to connect the womb to the outside world, providing a passageway through which babies are born. It is also where period blood leaves the body and where you would insert a menstrual cup or tampon. 

Another major function of the vagina is sex and reproduction. During arousal, blood flow increases to the vagina, which causes it to expand and become lubricated or “wet”. This prepares it for the insertion of a penis during sex. If your partner ejaculates, sperm collects in the vagina before making its way into the womb and fallopian tubes in search of an unfertilised egg.

The vagina also plays a role in sexual pleasure. Many people find it enjoyable to stimulate the inside of it, whether that’s with a penis, sex toys, a finger, or whatever else you like to put up there! The vagina is also home to the elusive g-spot, which for some women, is especially sensitive and pleasurable to touch and can lead to ground-shattering orgasms. However, this is not the case for all women, so don’t be disheartened if you don’t enjoy touching this part.

What Is The Vulva?

The vulva is a term used to describe all external female sex organs (including the vagina opening). Now it’s time for a quick anatomy lesson as we go over everything that makes up the vulva.

 

An infographic illustrating all the parts of the vulva
Mons Pubis

This is a fleshy mound of fatty tissue above your vulva that cushions and protects your pubic bone. After puberty, it is covered in pubic hair, unless you decide to mix up your hairstyles down there and opt for a Brazillian wax.

Labia (Majora And Minora)

If you’ve ever examined your vulva, you will have noticed it has two layers of skin folds or “lips”. The labia majora are the outer lips that are covered with pubic hair, and the labia minora are fleshy inner lips inside the labia majora - much like layers of flower petals. 

When it comes to labia, there is no such thing as “normal”. Some people find their labia minora are larger and hang down lower than their labia majora. This is extremely common and nothing to be ashamed of. Your labia may also be wrinkled, smooth, short, long, pink or brown.

Clitoris

The clitoris is one of the more well-known parts of the vulva, thanks to its central role in sexual pleasure. Most of its structure actually extends internally down both sides of the vulva in a wish-bone shape, with just a small pea-sized tip visible at the top of your vulva. This exposed part is called the glans clitoris and is protected by a fold of skin called the clitoral hood.

During arousal, the clitoris becomes swollen, pulling back the hood and exposing the tip, which contains over 8,000 nerve endings. This makes it extremely sensitive and pleasurable to touch, and when stimulated, it can lead to orgasm.

According to a 2015 study, only 18% of women can achieve an orgasm through sexual penetration without clitoral stimulation, which is all the more reason to give your clitoris some lovin’!

Urethral Opening

Just below your clitoris is your urethral opening, which is the hole you pee out of. It is a very small slit which can be difficult to spot with the naked eye, but it’s there if you look closely enough.

Vaginal Opening

Underneath your urethra is your vaginal opening or introitus. This is what leads to the internal structure called the vagina, as discussed earlier. So, as you can now see, the vagina is part of the vulva and its own separate entity.

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Anus

We all know what goes on here, so we won’t go into too much detail! The anus is technically not part of the vulva itself, and its main function is to provide an opening for poop to leave your body. However, for many people, anal stimulation also provides a great deal of sexual pleasure because it contains lots of nerve endings.

Anal sex is not uncommon and should not be viewed as “dirty” or shameful. In fact,  according to one study, 30% of women and 35% of men reported they had engaged in heterosexual anal sex over the course of one year.

Summary

It is a common misconception that the words vulva and vagina both describe the female genitals as a whole. However, the vagina is just one component of the vulva. It is a muscular tube that links the vaginal opening to the womb, and its main functions are childbirth, sexual intercourse and sexual pleasure.

The vulva is a term that describes all parts that make up the external female genital anatomy and includes the mons pubis, labia majora and minora, clitoris, urethral opening, vaginal opening and anus.

We hope with that confusion cleared up; you will feel empowered to discuss your privates with confidence and can show off your newfound knowledge to your friends and sexual partner(s). We also fully encourage you to use a handheld mirror to take a peek down there to fully familiarise yourself with the layout of the land. 

 

Yoxly's Awesome Contributors (YACs) are a diverse group of individuals who are passionate about public health, and committed to furthering our mission. Yoxly provides a platform where a variety of sexual health topics (some more awkward than others!) can be explored, in an informative and non-judgmental way. If you'd like to become one of Yoxly's Awesome Contributors, contact us!

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