Dr J's Sex Facts

Fun sex facts and accurate information from a clinical sexologist for a hotter and more fulfilling sex life.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Lost… and Found Again! All about Vulvas for Women and Those Who Love Them

“Our own physical body possesses a wisdom which we who inhabit the body lack. We give it orders which make no sense.”
Henry Miller

Men have a penis, and women have a…what?

If I tell you this post is about women’s crotches, what word comes to mind? Vagina? Most of us think that the vagina is analogous to the penis/scrotum, but that’s inaccurate. The vulva is the analogous organ, and the vagina is just one part of the vulva. The vulva consists of the crotch and everything that lives in it—most importantly, the clitoris, which is the epicenter of women’s arousal and orgasm.

So where does this misconception come from? I believe it stems from a history of reproductive bias in our sexual attitudes. Many people have been taught that the main purpose of sex is reproduction. And the vagina is primarily a reproductive organ. The clitoris has only one function—sexual arousal and orgasm. However, it’s been ignored for so long that women think their most important sexual part is their vagina.

In addition, women’s crotches are not as visually accessible to them as men’s. And few women have been given permission to explore their vulvas, so most of us have no idea about their structure and function.

On the other hand, when boys are very young, they're given a positive endorsement for touching their penises! All boys eventually learn to urinate standing up, during which they hold their penises (“What a big boy you are!”), helping them to essentially claim the penis as their own.

What do girls learn? They receive either no message at all (which is the same as receiving a negative message), or they are given two washcloths—one for their body, and one for “down there.” Now there’s a negative message for you: It’s so dirty, you can’t touch it with the same cloth you’d use on the rest of your body!

As a result, many women don’t “own” their vulvas, and this estrangement is a major contributor to sexual concerns.

About the term “crotch”: I don’t use the term “genitals” because it actually means “organs of generation (reproduction),” and that reinforces the idea that there’s only one appropriate use for our crotches. Crotch is a function-neutral word that merely describes a location on the body.

When I introduce the subject of vulvas to women, I often use this little scenario:

“You’re at Macy’s, and the public address system announces ‘We have 20 vulvas in our Lost and Found. If yours is missing, please claim it.’ How many of you could actually claim your vulva?” Are our vulvas as important as our faces? Certainly. Isn’t it sad that so many of us don’t even know what ours looks like?

The first step in claiming your body as your own is to learn about it and take responsibility for its care and pleasure. Here’s some brief but useful information about women’s crotches:

Crotches are as varied as noses and come in a vast array of sizes, shapes and colors.

Clitoris: Actually consists of three parts—the glans (the small “head” which is most visible), the hood which covers the glans, and the shaft which extends into the pelvic area. The glans is packed with as many nerve endings as the head of the penis, but in a much smaller space. It is extremely sensitive, and that’s why it’s protected by the hood. If we didn’t have hoods, we’d be distractedly twitching in pleasure with every movement. Even walking would be delightfully difficult!

The nerves associated with the clitoral structure are actually a vast network extending into the pelvis, so it’s erroneous to describe the clitoris as a smaller version of the penis, because though not visible, the actual subcutaneous structure is just as large.

Clitorises vary slightly in size and shape—some women have a glans that’s divided like two pearls—but all have the same capacity for arousal and orgasm.

Inner and outer lips: Also referenced by their Latin term, “labia.” These vary widely in size and shape. Some women’s outer lips are smaller than their inner lips and vice versa. And, like our faces, they are asymmetrical; one lip may be smaller and shaped differently than the other. The inner lips may meet at the clitoral shaft—or they may end somewhere below.

Just above the vaginal opening is the urethra, which passes urine from the body. Many women are surprised to find out that the urethra is separate from the vagina.

Vagina: Only the outer third of the vaginal barrel has enough nerve endings to generate much sensation; however, in some women there is an extremely sensitive area called the “G Spot.” If we were to visualize the vaginal opening as a clock, the G Spot would be about 1 inch deep in the vagina, between the hours of 10 and 2.

The vagina is a self-cleaning organ: since it contains fewer bacteria, it’s cleaner than your mouth. A healthy, clean vagina has a mild odor. Because of “unclean” myths discussed above, some women feel they must deodorize it with commercial douching solutions. These are unnecessary and can be harmful because they often contain alcohol-based perfumes, and alcohol can irritate delicate tissue and alter the healthy vaginal environment by ridding it of its natural mucus that protects against infection. Women do not need to douche to wash away blood, semen, or vaginal discharge. The vagina routinely flushes it out. Your physician will probably tell you that you should only douche if it’s recommended for some medical reason. For cleansing the crotch, use only water and mild, unperfumed soap. Some women’s clinics recommend douching with acidophilus yogurt, which can be helpful after infection for restoring the vagina’s chemical balance.

The most empowering thing we can do as women is to learn about our crotches: 1) Do a self-exam: Get a good mirror, sit down, find all your parts and get to know them. Look at your unique colors and shapes and revel in this wonderful gift you’ve been given! 2) Look at photos of vulvas. Excellent books are available from
http://www.libida.com and http://www.goodvibes.com/

As always, your comments and questions are welcome.

Next week, we’ll explore men’s and women’s crotches in more detail and investigate how everything works and why it’s important.

With Pleasure,

Dr. J


  • At 9:20 PM, Anonymous Sprite said…

    This is all so calm and reassuring. Wish I'd known someone like you when I was 16?!!! Thank you for giving me something important to share with my (future) daughter.

  • At 11:50 AM, Anonymous Dr. J said…

    Dear sprite: Most women I talk with tell me they never received any information from their mothers except to reinforce fear and ignorance. I'm glad you're going to be one of those moms who cnanges that. Dr. J


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