Have you got the low-down on your vagina? It’s been a while since we were in awks-inducing sex ed classes labelling Fallopian tubes.
Luckily, it seems they’re quite the hot topic right now. Athletes, such as Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui and fitness guru Kayla ltsines, are candid about how periods affect their performance, while celebs share everything from vagina-steaming pics (Chrissy Teigen, we’re looking at you — doctors advise against it, BTW) to stories of endometriosis. Heck, singer Janelle Monáe even wears vulva-shaped trousers in her music video for Pynk. And we’re 100 percent here for it.
So, in the spirit of myth-busting, behold the trivia you never knew you needed to know about your vagina et al. Class is officially in session.
1. What actually counts as the vagina?
- A. The stretchy, muscular passageway from the vulva to the cervix.
- B. Everything going on down there.
- C. The lips outside the genitals.
High-10 if you got this one right: a British survey by The Eve Appeal found 44% of women couldn’t point out the vagina on a diagram of the reproductive tract. “People often get mixed up with their vagina and their vulva,” says family planning specialist Dr Deborah Bateson.
So, how can you tell them apart? Think of the vagina as the stretchy, muscular internal passageway from the opening of the vagina to the cervix at the top, which leads to the uterus. Whereas the vulva is the outside part of your genitals, including the inner and outer lips (labia), the clitoris, urethral opening (for pee) and vaginal opening. V enlightening.
2. How long is the average clitoris?
- A. 1 to 2cm
- B. 5 to 6cm
- C. 9 to 11cm
Yep, you’re packing down there. The pea-sized part you can see (named the head or glans) is just the tip of the iceberg – a tip that contains 8 000 nerve endings (double the amount in the penis, not that it’s a competition). “The clitoris is a large organ hidden beneath the surface, with four legs and a long neck,” explains Dr Nina Brochmann, co-author of The Wonder Down Under: A User’s Guide To The Vagina. “It can measure up to 11cm within the body, surrounding your genitals.”
3. Your body needs a break from hormonal contraception.
- A. True
- B. False
A US survey of almost 900 young women published in the journal Women’s Health Issues (no relation) found that more than half thought they should hit pause on their contraception to stay healthy. But unless you’re trying to get pregnant, there’s no need, says Bateson. “If you’ve found a pill that works for you, there are no health benefits in stopping.” In fact, stopping and starting may cause unwanted side effects because of the fluctuations in the reproductive hormones.
Better to do your research first. “A growing number of women would rather have something more natural – either lower doses of hormones or no hormones at all, so it’s important to be aware of your options,” she says. “If you do want to switch, make sure you’re aware of the need to take other precautions if you don’t want to become pregnant right now.”
4. Lady Boners: The Real Deal?
- A. Legit.
- B. Surely not.
Your clitoris is made of the same erectile tissue as the penis, meaning you too can get it up – and get it up you do. “Women have up to eight ‘boners’ a night,” says Brochmann. “In fact, there’s little anatomical or physiological difference between female and male sexual arousal – you also have a sexual organ that is erect and responds in the same way as the penis.” The female version of nocturnal arousal goes by the not-so-sexy name “nocturnal clitoris tumescence” and it explains why you might prefer sex in the morning. Rise and shine indeed.
5. How many women will get thrush at some point?
- A. 35%
- B. 75%
- C. 95%
Three-quarters of women will experience the fungal infection at least once in their life, according to healthcare company Bupa, along with the symptoms (itching, burning and general discomfort) it can trigger.
Thrush is mostly harmless, but this doesn’t mean you should swerve the GP visit. “It’s common for women to self-diagnose thrush and other female health problems when it might be something else. So it’s important to go to your doctor and get checked out, even if there are over-the-counter products available,” says Brochmann.
As for those home remedies you found on an online forum? Ja… No. “Most are a waste of time and resources,” she advises, citing yoghurt and cranberry juice on the safe-but-basically-pointless list.
And ditch douching at all costs, which upsets the pH balance of your vagina. “That can lead to all sorts of problems, such as bacterial vaginosis,” adds Bateson. If you do have recurring thrush, opt for loose clothing to keep the area dry, wear cotton undies and avoid panty liners to ease the itch.
6. What’s the function of the female orgasm?
- A. To promote both loyalty and bonding between sexual partners.
- B. The muscle contractions help suck sperm up to the ovaries.
- C. Experts don’t actually know – it’s probably useless.
Female orgasms are still a mystery and although all of the above have been theorised at some point, the general consensus among experts is that the big O doesn’t do all that much. According to Brochmann, female orgasms are just a (really) fun bonus of male and female anatomy starting from the same point as foetuses develop in the uterus. Essentially, while men’s orgasms function to deliver sperm and fertilise eggs, we have orgasms simply because men do.” It’s just a great evolutionary by-product,” she says. We couldn’t agree more.
7. The future of your vaginal health is bright, thanks mainly to…
- A. Social media.
- B. Femtech.
- C. Europe.
Obvs. Female technology, otherwise known as femtech, is a relatively new – and welcome – category in healthcare, with the market predicted to be worth R749 billion by 2025. Categorised as tech developments primarily focused on women’s health issues – including pregnancy, fertility, gynaecological conditions and the menstrual cycle – this can only be a good thing for your vagina.
Ironically, one of the industry’s strongest areas is focused on weakness, namely that of your pelvic floor, a group of hammock-like muscles that support your organs and ensure you only wee when you choose to. Vaginal trainers, such as Elvie, go inside your vagina and send signals to their respective apps to measure the strength of your pelvic floor and show how well you do your Kegel exercises.
Viveve, a US company, has led clinical trials to prove the efficacy of its treatment for female sexual dysfunction, which uses a device to deliver a patented cryogen-cooled radio frequency to renew tissue and maximise blood flow in the vaginal canal.
Then there’s Ohnut, a Kickstarter-funded product for the 75% of women who have experienced pain during sex, whether because of conditions like endometriosis, after childbirth or due to muscle spasms. Made of stackable silicone rings, you pop it on a partner’s penis or insertable toy, letting you choose a depth that feels good for you.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the contraception delivery services in South Africa bringing women’s health needs to the forefront. One pioneer of this is Zoie Health, an all-in-one women’s health digital clinic, community and shop, offering virtual consultations with fertility experts, doctors, gynaecologists, psychologists, midwives, doulas and more. Happy, enlightened vagina times all round.