Overview: the female body
You’ve got sexual organs on the inside as well as the outside. The word ‘vagina’ is often used to describe the genitals, but actually, it’s just one part of them.
The vagina is the opening that connects the inner and outer sexual organs.
The external sexual organs are what you see on the outside of your body – between your legs. In women and girls, this is called the vulva:
The vagina is the passage between the vulva (the sexual organs on the outside) and the womb (uterus).
It’s where menstrual blood leaves the body, where the penis goes in during intercourse, and where a baby comes out when it’s born.
The vagina is a muscular passageway lined with mucous membranes – skin which produces moisture, like the inside of your mouth. This moisture acts as a lubricant for sex, making it more comfortable and pleasurable, and it protects against infections.
When you get sexually aroused, your vagina becomes wetter and relaxes. This allows you to fit a finger or penis into the vagina. Because the vagina is a muscle, it can tense up or relax, and you can have some control over it.
Feel for yourself
- Squeeze and release your muscles when you are urinating. You can have some control over the speed and amount of urine. These muscles are the same ones used to tighten the vagina. You can also use them during sex.
- Take a mirror and look at the opening of your vagina. Use your fingers to feel what your vagina is like.
- Put a finger inside your vagina. The inside feels soft like the inside of your cheeks, and also feels a bit bumpy like the top of your mouth.
- Stroke your vagina and clitoris. See what feels nice and makes you feel aroused. This is how you can have an orgasm. Female masturbation – sex on your own – is a good way to find out what you like. The better you know what turns you on, the easier you will find it to enjoy sex with another person.
The pelvic floor muscles are the muscles around your anus, vagina, and urethral opening, between your pubic bone and coccyx.
The pubic bone is the bone below your belly, just above your vagina. The coccyx, or tailbone, is the bottom of your backbone, just above your anus.
Feel for yourself
- Tense and relax your pelvic floor muscles. One way to see what this feels like is to stop your urine in mid-flow. You do that by tensing your pelvic floor muscles.
- You can feel the muscles around your vagina tense and relax with a finger. Put a finger inside your vagina, then squeeze the muscles around your vagina.
The womb, or uterus, is where a baby can grow in your belly. It’s like a bag made of strong muscle, quite low down in your belly.
When you’re not pregnant it varies between 7.5 and 10cm (3 and 4 inches) in length. It’s shaped like an upside-down pear.
The inner lining of the womb is where a fertilised egg can develop into a baby. To be able to hold the baby, the uterus can stretch to become as big as 31cm (12 inches) in length.
The womb is also where blood comes from when you have your period. If no fertilized egg fixes itself to the lining of the womb, the uterus sheds its lining and it comes out of the vagina as blood.
Cervix – feel for yourself
The cervix is the entrance to the womb. You can feel it yourself by putting a finger right inside your vagina. Your cervix is all the way at the end. It’s smooth and firm, like the tip of your nose.
You might have trouble reaching it if you’re aroused because then it moves up to make the vagina longer.
The ovaries are on either side of the womb. They produce egg cells and hormones called estrogen and progesterone. Oestrogen is the hormone that tells your body to change during puberty, so you develop breasts and become sexually mature.
Along with estrogen, progesterone makes the lining of the womb get thicker during menstruation and pregnancy.
The fallopian tubes, one on each side of the womb, join the ovaries to the womb. They carry unfertilised eggs from the ovaries to the womb.
All girls are born with around 250,000 unfertilised eggs in their ovaries. That means the egg that might one day grow to become your son or daughter is already somewhere inside your ovaries when you are born! The eggs are the size of a very small pinhead.
When you reach puberty, hormones start signalling to the ovaries to release one unfertilised egg cell every month – roughly 28 days. This is called ovulation. The egg then travels down the fallopian tube.
If a sperm cell gets to the egg to fertilize it, it will fasten itself to the lining of the womb and start growing into a baby. If it isn’t fertilized, it will just come out of your vagina with the blood when you have your period.
Around the time of ovulation, you are at your most ‘fertile’ – able to get pregnant. This means five days before or one day after your ovulation.
The anus is the opening of your bowel – where the stool comes out. There are little hairs around the anus, often spreading between the buttocks.
The anus is a sensitive area, which is why some people include it in their lovemaking. You can stroke your partner’s anus when you make love, or your own when you masturbate. It can also feel nice if your anus is licked. Some people like having a penis or finger inside their anus. This is called anal sex.
If you’re a woman, make sure you don’t touch your anus and then your vagina. If your partner is performing anal sex, make sure he knows not to take his penis out of your anus and put it straight into your vagina.
Bacteria from the bowel region can get into the vagina, causing a bladder infection or worse – a sexually transmitted infection.