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Although many people call the female external genitals the vagina, this is a misnomer. Rather, the vulva is the correct name for women’s external genitals.
The vagina is an internal muscular tube that extends about 3 inches from the cervix to the opening of the vulva. The cervix is the lower portion of the uterus; the internal female organ where fertilized eggs implant and develop into fetuses during pregnancy.
The vulva comprises several different parts.
The mons is the layer of fatty tissue that covers the pubic bone.
The labia majora (outer lips) are two thick, fatty folds of skin that extend downward from the mons, forming the outer borders of the vulva. Most of the differences in the appearance of different women’s vulvas are due to differences in the size, shape and color of the two sets of labia.
The labia minora (inner lips) are two thin folds of skin endowed with blood vessels and nerve endings. As a result, they are quite sensitive to the touch. The minor lips merge at the top to form a single fold of skin, which covers the clitoris. This fold is also called the clitoral hood.
The clitoris is located below the mons at the point where the inner lips meet. The clitoris is a short cylindrical organ composed mainly of erectile tissue. Much like the penis in the male, this tissue can quickly fill with blood, causing the organ to stiffen and increase in size. The clitoris plays an essential role in female sexual excitement and enjoyment. Although It is analogous to the penis, it is the only human body part that serves no purpose other than to provide pleasure. While the male penis experiences pleasure during sex, it is also used for urination.
The vaginal opening, or vaginal orifice, is the entrance to the vagina. It is below the clitoris.
The opening of the urethra (the urinary meatus), which delivers urine from the bladder to the outside of the body, is also located in the vulva. It is located below the clitoris and above the vaginal orifice.
The vulva changes appearance during sexual arousal. As blood pools in the area, moisture collects on the vaginal walls and flows out, lubricating the vulva. The labia enlarge somewhat and spread apart, while the clitoris increases in size and hardness. Two sets of glands open into the vulva and supply additional secretions, which may contribute to vaginal lubrication during intercourse. These are the Bartholin’s glands and Skene’s gland.
Some experts have speculated that the Skene’s gland, which is analogous to the prostate gland in men, is the site of the G spot. The G spot is an area within the vulva that is reputed to be especially sensitive among some women. Touching this spot is believed to bring about an intense orgasm. However, some experts do not believe the so-called G spot exists.
The male external genitals consist of the penis (including the head and shaft), and the scrotum, which contains the two testicles.
The penis is a tube-like organ that contains erectile tissue. Three elongated spongy bodies extend the length of the organ. Two of these run parallel on top. One runs along the underside. The one on the underside contains the urethra; a tube that releases urine and semen. During sexual arousal, these spongy bodies quickly fill with blood. This causes them to stiffen. As a result, the penis becomes erect and capable of penetrating the vagina.
The glans is the head of the penis. It is highly sensitive to touch, due to its high concentration of nerve endings.
The foreskin (or prepuce) is a roll of loose skin that covers the head of the penis. It is rich in nerve endings, so is also sensitive to touch. Surgical excision (removal) of the foreskin is called circumcision.
The coronal ridge is a circular ridge of flesh demarcating where the head of the penis and the shaft join.
The frenulum is a thin strip of flesh on the underside of the penis that connects the shaft to the head.
Finally, the scrotum is a bag or pouch of skin that hangs between the thighs at the base of the penis. It contains the testicles. Inside the scrotum there are two separate compartments, each containing one testicle and its spermatic cord.
During sexual arousal, the penis quickly fills with blood. This causes it to stiffen. As a result, the penis becomes erect and capable of penetrating the vagina.
Written by: Pamela Rogers, MS, PhD
Medically reviewed on: Jul 21, 2014: George Krucik, MD, MBA
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