In Depth: Reproductive Organs
Although a woman’s external genitals are commonly referred to as the “vagina,” the vagina is actually one of several organs that comprise this section of a woman’s body.
Collectively, these parts are called the vulva. Rich with nerves, the vulva can provide sexual pleasure when properly stimulated.
The vagina is a muscular tube about three to four inches long that ends the birth canal. This is where a man’s penis enters the woman during sexual intercourse. The vaginal opening is visible from the outside but it is protected by the labia when a woman stands and during most activities.
The labia majora are two folds of skin that extend from the front of the vaginal opening to the back of it. The outer surfaces of the folds have darker-colored skin and stronger hairs, while the inner folds are smoother.
The labia majora join to form the cleft shape of the female genitals. This is also known as the pudendal cleft or the cleft of Venus, after the Roman goddess of love.
Between the labia majora are the labia minora, two folds of skin that also extend down from the clitoris and around the vaginal opening. These vary in size from woman to woman. They are joined together by a small fold of skin known as the fourchette, or “little fork.” This can be torn during childbirth or during acts of sexual violence, and doctors often use sutures to repair it.
The clitoris is a crucial element for sexual arousal in most women. This small sexual organ at the top of the vagina at the junction of the labia minora appears outside the folds of skin like a small pink button.
During sexual stimulation, the clitoris functions much like a man’s penis in that it becomes erect thanks to signals from the brain. The shaft under the skin has erectile tissue, which becomes engorged with increased blood flow. The clitoris is a very sensitive area when stimulated. Most women cannot achieve orgasm without direct stimulation to the clitoris.
The outer female genitals also include the urethra. Located between the vaginal opening and the frontal connection of the labia minora, the urethral opening is where a woman expels urine from her body.