James W. Hicks, M.D.

The Vulva

In Sexploration* on October 15, 2010 at 11:53 am

If a woman undresses in front of you, you probably will not see her sexual organs, because they are folded together between her legs and covered by a triangular patch of pubic hair. The pubic hair grows from the skin of the lower abdomen and from the labial mounds between the legs. It is generally curlier than hair on the head, though it may be fairly straight in women of Asian or Native American background. If the woman has shaved her pubic area, you may see a cleft where the two labial mounds press together, concealing the rest of the genitals, though the inner labial lips may protrude a little, depending on their size. Only when the woman spreads her legs while sitting, lying, or bending over, do the labia unfold to reveal the nestled, elliptical structures around the vagina.

The labial mounds are fatty folds of skin that have hair and sweat glands. They are anatomically similar to scrotal skin in men and similarly sensitive to touch; running fingers through the hair can increase blood flow and lubrication to the region. Inside the labial mounds are the even more sensitive, thinner labial lips, which are hairless and usually darker in color. The lips come together at the top in a hood which can be gently pushed back to reveal the clitoris, a small knob of tissue that is the focal point for sexual pleasure in most women. The hood of the clitoris, also called the prepuce, is analogous to the foreskin of the male penis. Pulling gently on the hood or labial lips will also stimulate the clitoris.

Below the clitoris and between the labial lips is a small area of pink or reddish skin which serves as the floor into which the vagina opens. Doctors refer to this area as the vestibule. There is a tiny mound for the urethral opening, or pee-hole, in this area, midway between the clitoris and the vaginal opening. When a woman is sexually aroused, the urethra closes, and lubricating fluids are released from ducts opening invisibly into the urethral mound. Some women ejaculate a small amount of clear or milky fluid at the time of orgasm.

In girls, the reddish skin of the vestibule is continuous with the hymen, a small curtain of mucous membrane that incompletely covers the opening to the vagina. The hymen is rich in blood vessels and may bleed a little when it is torn during first sexual intercourse. This was (and in parts of the world continues to be) an important sign of virginity, especially for girls who married at an early age. The hymen becomes increasingly translucent, thin, and elastic with age, so many women now do not experience any bleeding by the time they first experience penetration. During childbirth, the hymen stretches to the point where it is no longer visible, or only tiny remnants may be visible around the edge of the vaginal opening.

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