index- sex facts - women's sexual anatomy 1

 
 
 

 

 

 

Women's sexual anatomy 1: The vulva, vagina and G-spot

Women's sexual organs are, apart from the breasts, not very visible, and are mostly located inside the body. Somehow, there also seems to be less clarity about what the different parts are and how they work compared to men. This is especially true for the G-spot and female erectile tissues, the very existence of which is questioned by some people.

Let's start with the visible bits, which are called the vulva (or pudendum) in women. First is the mons pubis, or mound of Venus. In adult women this is the area above the genitals which is covered in pubic hair. Underneath the skin are layers of fatty tissue which absorb and cushion some of the pressure during intercourse. 

 

 

Further down lie two sets of skin folds, which surround the vaginal opening. The outside set of skin folds, or labia majora (a single one is known as a labium majus), are covered with pubic hair on the outside and are made up of a large bulk of fatty tissue. They contain oil and sweat glands, which help to keep the area moist on the inside. The labia majora are derived from the same fetal tissue as the male scrotum. 

 

The next set of skin folds, which protect the vaginal opening, are the labia minora (singular: labium minus). These smaller labia do not have hair or contain fatty tissue, and they have only a few sweat glands. What they do contain is erectile tissue and oil glands. During sexual arousal the labia minora will fill with blood and change size and color. They are derived from the tissues which go on to build the spongy penile urethra in male babies.

 

 

The clitoris is located at the junction of the labia minora. It's a small, two or three cm long cylindrical body which is doubled over on itself. Like the glans of the penis in men it is made up of erectile tissue and full of nerve endings. The clitoris enlarges during sex and is the focus of much of the sexual stimulation registered by a woman's brain. A layer of skin called the "hood" or "prepuce", which is formed from the joining of the labia minora, covers the clitoris, though it can be pushed back to reveal the shiny surface of the clitoral glans. The clitoris can be extremely sensitive to touch, especially friction, which can result in pain rather than pleasure if a woman is not sexually aroused. Touch becomes more pleasurable when the tissues are aroused and filled with blood, a fact which is true of much of the female genitals. As with other parts of the female body, the genitals are really individual in their shape, size and look. There is no standard way your genitals need to look - whatever they look like, they are OK as they are, and like millions of other women's.

The area between the labia minora is called the vestibule. It contains the vaginal opening, the external opening of the urethra (the outlet through which you pee), and the openings for the paraurethral and greater vestibular glands, plus a few other smaller glands as well. The opening of the urethra lies above the vaginal opening and below the clitoris. You may not be able to see this small opening, but you might be able to feel it when you touch it: the sensations connected with it are similar to those associated with peeing. And even if you don't find it, looking for it can be a pretty pleasurable endeavor! (Use of a mirror and a bright light are recommended here)

The vaginal opening leads into the muscular cavity of the vagina. The paired paraurethral glands, which open externally next to the outlet of the urethra, are derived from the same tissue as the male prostate. The glands themselves are embedded in the wall of the urethra. They provide mucus as lubrication during intercourse. Other glands, greater and lesser vestibular glands, open up just inside the labia minora and also provide mucus for lubrication.

 

 

The Vagina

Now we are starting our journey into the female body. The word vagina literally means sheath, which is a pretty good description of this organ. The vagina is a long, fairly thin tube of muscles and fibrous tissue, lined on the inside by mucous membranes. It accommodates the penis during intercourse and receives the ejaculated sperm. Additionally, it's the passage through which babies are born (except for those which are born by Caesarean section) and it acts as a conduit for the discharge of the monthly menstrual fluids from the uterus. 

The size of the vagina is very flexible: so much so that it can accommodate almost any size and shape of penis. It is about 10 cm long and forms a kind of H-shaped cavity inside, though during sexual intercourse it expands and molds itself around the penis. The vagina is actually quite an active organ, since it's made up of an outer layer of circular muscles and an inner layer of longitudinal muscles. However, only the first third of the vagina has plenty of nerve endings, which leaves the inner two thirds fairly insensitive. This is yet another reason why "big penis" does not equal "big thrill" for most women.

Most of the muscles making up the vagina are smooth muscles, which means they are not under conscious control (similar to the muscles in your digestive system). However, a woman can voluntarily contract some muscles around the vagina which are also found in her pelvic floor: These are the pubococcygeus, or for short, PC muscles. These muscles can be trained and strengthened (see "Kegel exercises"), which increases the strength of a woman's orgasms and improves the likelihood of her ejaculating during sex (more on that under "female ejaculation").

The inside of the vagina is lined by a mucous membrane which secretes a sugar called glycogen. This provides energy for the normal, healthy bacteria of the vagina, which ferment the sugar and produce lactic acid as a by-product. This lactic acid results in the interior of the vagina being slightly acidic, which protects it from microbes, and also, rather oddly, sperm. (Semen therefore has to contain substances which neutralize the acidic environment of the vagina.) It is important that this natural balance of healthy bacteria is maintained inside the vagina, otherwise a woman may experience frequent infections such as Candida (also known as thrush).

As we mentioned before, the vagina opens externally into the vestibular area. During childhood a thin membrane called the hymen protects the entrance to the vagina. However, this membrane is perforated to allow menstrual fluids to flow through. An intact hymen has long been seen as a sign of virginity, but it actually has a tendency to rupture before a woman's first intercourse during exercise or sporting activities. However, even if it's still only partially in place it can make the first time of intercourse uncomfortable and produce a little bleeding for a young woman. Thankfully, as the obsession of the western civilization with women's virginity has lessened, so has the importance of the hymen and the prevalence of the myths about the painfulness of having it broken by the penis during first intercourse. (Click on the images below to enlarge them. They show the remains of the hymen tissue around the vaginal opening.)

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At the back end of the vagina lies the cervix, the narrow opening of the uterus into the vagina, situated in the front wall of the vagina. The vagina does not lead straight into the cervix; rather, the uterus sits next to the vagina at a right angle to the front and upwards from it. This arrangement leaves a little pouch at the end of the vagina called the fornix. The fornix is much less sensitive than the cervix. It absorbs the main thrusts during intercourse and forms a reservoir for the pool of sperm which is left behind in the vagina after a man has ejaculated. The location of the cervix means it is conveniently bathed  in the pool of ejaculate if the woman is lying on her back after or during intercourse. 

 

The G-spot

The G-spot is one of the parts of the female sexual anatomy, which has been hotly debated for a long time. It is named after the German gynecologist Ernst Grafenberg, who found it while looking into new methods of contraception (that's where  the G in G-spot comes from).

 

 

 

The G-spot is a particularly sensitive area in the front wall of the vagina, often situated quite close to the vaginal opening, but always in the first third of the vagina. However, it is not a single spot, but a small area, which is more sensitive than other parts of the vaginal wall. Deborah Sundahl, author of the book Female Ejaculation And The G-Spot, sees the G-spot as the area of the vaginal wall which touches most closely on a vast network of erectile tissue around the vagina made up in part of a gland which is equivalent to the prostate gland in men (therefore she calls it the female prostate).

Newer research (see New Scientist 23rd of February 2008) shows that the G-spot definitively exists and seems to be linked to the ability to have vaginal orgasms in women. The bad news is that it does not show up in all women, or potentially even the majority in women. An Italian team of scientists found clear anatomical evidence that women, who have vaginal orgasms have a thicker layer of tissue between the vagina and the urethra, where the G-spot is said to be located. However, it is open to debate at this point in time whether the tissue of the G-spot comes from a distinct anatomical source or whether it is simply an extension of the clitoris. Another possibility is that the whole area, which is rich in blood vessels, glands and muscle tissue also contains elements of the Skene's gland, the remnant of the embryological prostate in women.

What about the women, who do not experience vaginal orgasms and who were not found to have a thickened layer of tissue between urethra and the vagina in the Italian study? It is possible that both options are normal, healthy variations of female sexual anatomy and that women are either born with a G-spot or not. On the other hand, all women experience more sensitivity to stimulus in this area, whether they have vaginal orgasms or not. It is possible that some women learn to experience vaginal orgasms and that their G-spots become more sensitive and enlarged due to practice over time just like any other muscle tissue in the body.

Despite these findings many women and men still doubt the existence of the G-spot because they have exaggerated ideas about how it should work. If you think of the G-spot as a convenient button which you can push at any time to be rewarded by instantaneous, gigantic orgasms, you're only going to be disappointed! As with other erectile sexual tissue in women's genitals, the area of the G-spot needs time and stimulation to become filled with blood; it then becomes receptive to stronger stimuli and produces stronger, more pleasurable sensations. The G-spot area enlarges and protrudes more obviously into the vagina, the more aroused and sexually excited the tissues are. Therefore, if you want to look for your G-spot, give it time: you need to play with yourself for a while until your body responds with arousal.

If you are thinking about developing your G-spot as a woman have a look at Deborah Sundahl's book. Completing the Kegel exercises on a regular basis would strengthen all of the muscles and tissues in and around your vagina and in your pelvic floor. Additionally, you could massage the area where your G-spot is located gently and on a regular basis with a well lubricated finger. The G-spot will be located in the vaginal wall towards the front side of your body, but how far inside your vagina it is located varies in women and you will need to experiment. When exploring you will need to take your time so that the tissues can become erect and your body can guide you as to where you experience the most interesting sensations. If you experience numbness or unpleasant sensations when gently stroking the upper inside wall of your vagina, stop for a moment and check whether the rest of your body is comfortable or tense. Try to relax and just breath deeply for a few moments. Let yourself know what is happening in your body. Then see whether you want to change your approach in any way, for example changing the quality of your touch or using more lubricant, before continuing. Many women are very cut off from the sensations in their genitals, which can then end up feeling numb or uncomfortable. You may need to massage your G-spot area gently over time to nurture it back into its full capacity for sexual sensitivity.

 

Other related topics: 

Female sexual anatomy: Uterus, Fallopian Tubes and Ovaries

Female sex hormones and reproductive cycle

 

Source for the facts cited in this page: 

ABC of Sexual Health (2005) Second edition edited by John M Tomlinson, British Medical Journal Books and Blackwell Publishing.

Fabled G spot traced at last (2003) Linda Geddes, New Scientist 23rd of February, pp. 6-7

Principles of anatomy and physiology (2000) Ninth edition by Gerard J. Tortora and Sandra Reynolds Grabowski. Publishers: John Wiley and Sons

Female ejaculation and the G-spot (2003) by Deborah Sundahl. Hunter House Publishers

page last updated by Anna 15.6.09


 
 

 

 

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