Illus­tra­tion by Kaos Design­stu­dio

Everyone’s body changes dur­ing puberty. Dur­ing this time the internal and external sexual char­ac­ter­ist­ics neces­sary for sexual activ­ity and repro­duc­tion develop. Often we are only roughly famil­iar with our dif­fer­ent body parts. Terms such as vagina and vulva are fre­quently mis­used in every­day lan­guage. How­ever, it is import­ant to know your sexual organs and to use the terms cor­rectly. So let’s take a little jour­ney together through the body of men­stru­at­ing people.

Vulva vs. vagina

The entirety of the external primary sexual organs of a men­stru­at­ing per­son is called the vulva. The vulva con­sists of the mons pubis, the labia, the urethra open­ing, the vaginal ves­ti­bule and the clit­oris. A large part of the vulva is covered by hair start­ing with the begin­ning of puberty. In every­day lan­guage, the vulva is often mis­takenly called the vagina. How­ever, the vagina is a primary sexual organ that is tubu­lar in shape and con­nects the outer cer­vix to the vaginal ves­ti­bule. The vagina  opens into the vaginal ves­ti­bule of the vulva and is between eight and twelve cen­ti­metres long. Only the entrance to the vagina is vis­ible from the out­side. This is because it pro­tects the sexual organs that lie deeper in the body. As part of the birth canal, it is flexible.

Have you heard of our Men­strual ABC?

In our Men­strual ABC there are many more explan­a­tions of terms related to the ana­tomy of the gen­it­als, men­stru­ation and hor­mone-free con­tra­cep­tion. There you will find detailed men­strual know­ledge from A for adenomy­osis to Z for zero waste menstruation.

Can you see me in the mirror?

The slight hilly elev­a­tion just above the labia, caused by an accu­mu­la­tion of fatty tis­sue, is called the mound of venus. From puberty onwards, hair grows on the mons pubis. The vaginal ves­ti­bule is part of the vulva and lies between the labias. Around the vaginal ves­ti­bule are glands that are respons­ible for moisten­ing the vagina. The clit­oris is a sexual organ, the small part of which is vis­ible on the out­side of the upper end of the labia. It con­sists of two thighs that con­nect to the front of the body and lie inside the body. The clit­oris, also called clit, straight­ens up dur­ing sexual arousal due to the erectile tissue. 

Insights into the inner life: uterus, cer­vix and uter­ine orifice

The uterus is part of the sexual organs and extends from the outer cer­vix to the open­ing of the fal­lopian tubes. It resembles a pear stand­ing on its head and is a hol­low organ in which the egg cell can settle and develop after fer­til­isa­tion. The cer­vix is the con­nec­tion between the uterus and the vagina. This nar­row sec­tion makes up the lower third of the uterus and extends as the cer­vix into the upper part of the vagina. The nar­row open­ing of the cer­vix, which is sur­roun­ded by mucous mem­brane, pro­tects the uterus from germs. 

Where the pre­par­a­tion for a baby is done

The fal­lopian tubes are a paired part of the sexual organs that start from the uterus on both sides and end near the respect­ive ovary. They are lined with mucous mem­brane. Ovar­ies are part of the primary sexual char­ac­ter­ist­ics, where eggs and sex hor­mones are pro­duced. The eggs are sex cells that con­tain all the genetic make-up of a men­stru­at­ing per­son and are passed on to the chil­dren. With the begin­ning of puberty, one egg matures in the ovar­ies dur­ing each men­strual cycle. Eggs can be fer­til­ised for a max­imum of 24 hours. 

Peti­tion for a lan­guage without shame: Vulva lips

In Ger­man the word for labia has the word shame in it. In the Ger­man dic­tion­ary the term ‘shame lips’ is used. How­ever, the word cre­ates a false idea of this part of the body, because there is noth­ing to be ashamed of. Quite the oppos­ite! With the help of the peti­tion ‘Away with the shame: “Vulva lips” in the dic­tion­ary!’ the estab­lish­ment of the term vulva lips and its inclu­sion in the Ger­man dic­tion­ary is fought for. Also the term venus lips would also be an option. The vulva lips are part of the external sexual organs. The term includes both the outer and inner vulva lips. What is your opin­ion about the terms? Do you per­haps have another good idea what we could call our labia? Then please write us a mes­sage with your sug­ges­tions!

Britta Wiebe, period education, Vulvani
Britta 
Co-Founder Vul­vani | britta@vulvani.com | Web­site | + posts

Britta Wiebe is the co-founder of Vul­vani. She loves research­ing, writ­ing and design­ing new art­icles or innov­at­ive edu­ca­tional con­cepts about men­stru­ation all day long. When she is not trav­el­ling the world, she enjoys spend­ing time with her loved ones in the beau­ti­ful city of Ham­burg in Germany.