Ah, the vagina: the hardworking, life-giving, often misidentified and misunderstood body part. While we may be getting more comfortable with actually saying the word — which is a step in the right direction — we still have a long way to go before most of the population actually knows what goes on down there. To help you along, here are a few quick vag facts to help you impress your friends.
The vagina may not be where you think it is
Sure, you know the general vaginal vicinity, but contrary to popular belief, the vagina isn’t the entire opening between the legs starting at the clitoris and ending at the anus. It’s easy to refer to that entire undercarriage as the “vagina,” but really, there are a bunch of different parts down there.
Typically, when you see drawings or diagrams, it’s of the entire vulva — the name for the external female genitalia. This includes the labia majora and labia minora (the parts that look like lips), the urethra, the ever-popular clitoris and, yes, the vagina (or technically, the vaginal opening). It’s easy to slap the “vagina” label on everything, but try to use the correct terms whenever possible — each part is amazing and deserves recognition!
Yes, vaginas have natural aromas
People with vaginas have a lot to worry about already without having to stress about what they smell like. And yet an entire industry exists for the purpose of helping you make your nether-regions smell like a bouquet of freshly cut wildflowers. Those products are truly not necessary because it is perfectly normal for vaginas to smell like, well… vaginas.
The particular scent depends on the person, their specific set of bacteria, what they eat, how much they exercises — a whole bunch of factors. But if a very strong, unusual smell is emanating from your vagina, it might be time to see a doctor, as it could be a sign of conditions like bacterial vaginosis or a yeast infection or a clue that you may have something stuck up there, like a tampon or condom.
If something gets stuck, don’t worry
In a perfect world, everything meant to go inside a vagina would slip in and out with ease. However, on occasion, it is possible to get something stuck up there. The good news is that it will come out — usually on its own, but if not, it will with the help of a medical professional.
“The vagina ends at the cervix (bottom of the uterus), so foreign bodies generally have nowhere to go but stay in the vaginal canal,” Dr. Laura Hagopian, an emergency room physician tells SheKnows, so no, the object won’t somehow sneak through and end up traveling throughout your body.
They do expand
If you have a vagina or have seen one up close, you may be wondering how a penis is able to fit in one — let alone how a baby manages to use it as an exit. That’s a great question, and the answer is that vaginas have the ability to expand both for penetration (with a penis, toy or fingers) or for childbirth. Most vaginas are 3 to 4 inches deep from their opening to the tip of the cervix. When a person with a vagina gets aroused and more blood flows to the area, it allows the canal to expand and lengthen.
Vaginal orgasms exist, but not necessarily for everyone
Back in the day when we didn’t question what old white men said, Sigmund Freud’s idea that vaginal orgasms were experienced by “mature” women, while clitoral orgasms were only for “immature” girls — and this was accepted as common knowledge. Not only is that incorrect and reductive (since there are numerous ways to ‘gasm), but the idea that orgasms courtesy of the vagina (i.e., through penetration) are somehow superior is hella heteronormative.
Now, we know that’s total bullshit and that many people with vulvas can only orgasm through clitoral stimulation (and they’re not immature at all, Sigmund). In fact, only 1 in 5 women report that they are able to have a vaginal orgasm. At the end of the day, there’s no such thing as a “superior” type of orgasm, nor is having an orgasm the be-all and end-all of sex — what’s important is that all parties involved are safe, consenting and enjoying themselves.
So, as you can see, there’s a lot to know about that little opening between the legs of about half the population. Now go out and spread those… facts.
A version of this story was published March 2018.
Want to know more about different types of orgasms? Read up on some of our favorite surprising ways to climax: