Five Things Worth Knowing About the Vagina

By Una Lee, MD

Ever wish certain body parts came with an instruction manual? Particularly the parts that are less visible and tend to multi-task? Today we pull back the curtain on some interesting facts on a complex apparatus about half of us own: a vagina. Female pelvic medicine expert Una Lee, MD, shares five things worth knowing about the vagina. (You’re welcome.)

While there’s plenty more to talk about when it comes to a woman’s vagina, and especially throughout the stages of life, consider this a little primer for vagina basics.

Dr. Una Lee

Una Lee, MD

1) The vagina is surrounded by important structures.  The vagina is just one part of the genital urinary tract, which includes the outer genitals, or vulva. The vulva consists of the inner and outer labia, and the clitoris. You could say the visible part of the clitoris is truly the tip of the iceberg, as several centimeters of the gland are below the surface, forming two root-like structures. The entire gland contains thousands of nerve endings.

The vagina itself is a canal of ridged tissue that is usually collapsed, but can expand for intercourse or childbirth. Vaginal tissue can start to lose its natural elasticity due to lower levels of estrogen, usually after menopause. Because the urethra and the bladder are supported by top wall of the vagina, any changes to the vagina, such as those related to childbirth and aging, can affect normal urinary function. In fact, the entire hammock of muscle supporting the pelvic organs, called the pelvic floor, can become weakened and lead to a host of concerns, but women should take heart: there are a variety of effective treatment options.

2) The vagina can fall (and may need help getting up). Yes, the walls of your vagina can lose their support and protrude outside the vaginal opening. Sometimes the uterus, cervix, bladder and even the rectum can also bulge out of the vagina. Different forms of the disorder are actually quite common, though many of us will struggle to even talk about it. The condition is known as pelvic organ prolapse, and about 40 to 50 percent of women will experience it to some degree in their lifetime. The good news is symptoms of prolapse can often be managed without invasive treatment or surgery. However, about 7 percent of women do undergo surgery to correct prolapse, usually when symptoms impact a woman’s quality of life.

3) The vagina is a haven for good bacteria. There are millions of helpful bacteria that live in harmony in the vagina and genital-urinary organs. Disruptions in this complex environment can result in uncomfortable symptoms, and sometimes infections. There is emerging research on how promoting these helpful microorganisms of the vagina (lactobacillus, acidophilus, and probiotics) can help prevent infections.

4) The vagina is self-cleaning. While vaginal discharge may not make your day, it’s the vagina’s way of flushing out cells and unwanted organisms. Douching is unnecessary and potentially harmful, since it can strip the vagina’s natural defenses. So no need to tidy up inside; washing outer areas with a mild soap is all the hygiene required.

5) The vagina benefits from a work-out. Kegel exercises, also known as pelvic floor muscle training, work to strengthen the muscles that surround the vagina, bladder, and bowels. Doing Kegels not only keeps the vaginal walls standing strong, but also helps prevent the prolapse of other organs. That’s why Kegels are often prescribed for helping to treat bladder or bowel incontinence.

An added bonus of a stronger pelvic floor is the possibility of more intense sexual orgasms. You can do Kegels on your own (click the link above for instructions) or with a pelvic floor physical therapist, who is like a personal trainer for your pelvic muscles to make sure you are doing the exercises correctly and effectively. Talk to your primary care provider or make an appointment with a pelvic floor specialist, and take charge of your vaginal (and pelvic) health!

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Una Lee, MD, is board certified in Urology and subspecialty certified in Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery at Virginia Mason. 

Trackbacks

  1. […] writing the post “Five Things Worth Knowing about the Vagina,”  I’ve been meaning to give equal time to the complex organ belonging to the other team: the […]

  2. […] writing the post “Five Things Worth Knowing about the Vagina,”  I’ve been meaning to give equal time to the complex organ belonging to the other team: the […]

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