The vagina is a flexible tube that joins the uterus to the vulva. Vaginas are usually around 3 inches long but may vary widely in color, size, and shape.
People commonly describe the vagina as the general area of the female reproductive system.
However, the vagina specifically applies to the internal canal of the genitals, whereas the vulva describes the outer genital area.
Knowing the anatomy of the inside and outside of a vagina may help people feel more familiar with their bodies. It may also help with identifying atypical changes.
This article reviews the anatomy of the vagina, how to do a self-examination, and some vaginal health conditions.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
The diagram below shows the placement of the vagina in the vulva, visible externally.
The diagram below shows the inside of the vagina, and how it connects to the uterus.
The vaginal opening is the only part of the vagina visible outside the body. It is between the urethra, where urine leaves the body, and the anus.
The vaginal opening is where:
- blood leaves the body during menstruation
- a penis enters during sexual intercourse
- a baby leaves the body during birth
Vulvas may look different, but they all have the same components.
The tip of the clitoris sits at the top of the vulva. However, it extends back inside the vagina on both sides for approximately 5 inches.
The urethra is the bladder opening, where urine comes out from a person with a vagina.
Labia minora and majora
Also known as the “lips,” these are folds of skin around a person’s clitoris and vagina opening. The labia majora are on the outside of the vagina, while the labia minora sit inside the labia majora.
The vagina is an elastic tube that connects the uterus and cervix to the vulva. Its shape may vary from person to person — some vaginas are oval like an egg, while others may be cylindrical. On average, it is around
The inside cavity of the genitals has many parts.
The two ovaries store a person’s eggs and are the primary reproductive organs. They produce hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone. They are on each side of a person’s uterus and resemble the
These two muscular tubes have delicate hair-like structures. They help an egg travel from a person’s ovaries down to the uterus and help sperm travel up from the uterus to the ovaries to fertilize an egg.
The hymen is a thin layer of tissue that surrounds and partially covers the vaginal opening. Sexual intercourse or exercise may stretch or tear it.
The cervix connects the uterus to the vagina. A small hole in the cervix allows menstrual blood and sperm to pass through. During childbirth, the cervix dilates.
The uterus is an organ typically the size of a clenched fist. It is where a fetus grows when a person is pregnant.
The vagina expands through arousal and sexual stimulation. During sexual arousal, the uterus and cervix lift upward, elongating the vagina. People refer to this process as tenting.
These glands are on either side of the vaginal opening, and people cannot usually see or feel them. During arousal, they release fluid that lubricates the vagina.
The Gräfenberg spot, or G spot, sits a few inches inside the vagina at the front. During arousal, the G spot swells.
A person may self-exam their vagina when they are not menstruating to check for any unusual changes that may indicate a health condition. Self-exams are helpful alongside regular gynecologist pelvic examinations and cervical screening.
For a self-exam, people will need:
- a handheld mirror
- a small light or torch
- pillows for comfort
People may carry out a self-exam by following these steps:
- Wash hands with soap and water.
- Remove clothing from below the waist.
- Lean against a wall or pillows to support the body.
- Bend the knees, keeping both feet flat on the floor and the legs wide apart.
- Hold the mirror and light in front of the vagina.
- Use one hand to spread the vaginal opening.
- Place a finger inside the vagina and gently feel the vaginal walls, which will feel similar to the roof of the mouth.
- Feel for any lumps, bumps, or raised areas that could be sores or unusual growths.
- It may help to move to a squatting position to feel for the cervix.
- Gently insert the finger deeper into the vagina to feel the cervix, which may feel similar to the tip of the nose.
Vaginal discharge may change slightly in consistency and color during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause. Healthy discharge is usually clear to white or pale yellow and may have a mild odor.
If a person notices any significant change in their vaginal discharge, contacting a doctor is important, as this may be a symptom of an underlying condition.
A range of health conditions may affect how the vagina looks and feels, including:
- bacterial vaginosis
- vaginal candidiasis
- yeast infection
- vaginal and vulvar cancer
- vaginal prolapse
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) may also affect the vagina, including:
If a person experiences any of the following symptoms, it is a good idea for them to contact a doctor:
|unusual discharge||• gray, yellow, yellowish green, or green discharge|
• foamy, thick, or clumpy discharge
• foul-smelling discharge
• bleeding between periods or after menopause
• spotting after sex regularly
• a frequent need to urinate or difficulty urinating
• recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
|pain||• itchiness, pain, or discomfort in the vagina or vulva|
• a burning sensation during urination or sex
• difficulty inserting a tampon into the vagina
• painful bowel movements
• pain in the pelvis, lower abdomen, or back
• a heavy or dragging sensation in the vagina
|visible changes||• flesh-colored bumps around the genitals or inside the vagina|
• redness or swelling around the genitals
• leg swelling
• a lump inside or protruding from the vagina
The vagina is an elastic tube that connects the uterus and cervix to the vulva. The vagina’s shape, size, and color may vary among individuals.
It is advisable for anyone who notices unusual symptoms in or around their vagina to contact their doctor or gynecologist for a checkup.
People can also perform a self-exam of their vagina to check for any unusual changes or growths. However, self-exams should not replace regular pelvic examinations with a healthcare professional.