Understanding your basic reproductive and sexual anatomy is essential to learn, so you know what is going on inside your body. This knowledge isn’t only useful for maintaining your reproductive health and understanding when something is wrong, but it can also be helpful in the bedroom. Our reproductive anatomy includes sex organs on the surface of the body as well as internal reproductive organs.
Understanding Basic Anatomy:
When you think of external female sex organs, many simply think of the breasts and the vaginal area. But, our bodies include thousands of nerve endings within our skin, which can also bring pleasure and enjoyment. Be it the neck, behind the ear, or a sensitive location on the mid-section, these pleasure spots are all considered erogenous zones and differ from person to person.
Working top to bottom on external parts, we first review the mons pubis. This is the slightly puffy mound above the vagina that is naturally covered in pubic hair. This tissue collection effectively protects the pelvic bone and internal sexual organs.
The vulva is the external genitalia that you can see; you likely mistakenly call it your vagina. The vulva is comprised of several basic parts. Keep in mind, vulvas are just as unique as you, and no two are truly identical. The vulva consists of the following parts:
- Labia: The labia is what many refer to as vaginal lips. These are skin folds around the vaginal opening that enclose and protect the vagina and other external genital organs. The labia can come in a number of shapes, sizes, and colors. The outer lips are larger and generally naturally covered in pubic hair, while the inner lips are covered by the outer lips and are usually smoother and smaller.
- Clitoris: The clitoris has one purpose, to increase arousal and increase sexual satisfaction and drive. That is because the clitoris has more nerve endings than any other part of your body. The clitoris is the spongy tissue located at the top of the vulva and the inner lips. It ranges in its proximity to the vaginal opening as well as in size. The clitoris is like an iceberg, in that you only notice the top of it that you can feel; but the clitoris continues internally for roughly 5 inches.
- Vaginal Opening: The opening of the vagina is exactly what it sounds like. It is the primary opening under your inner lips, and where many enjoy sexual intercourse. It is also where menstrual blood and tissue escapes the body.
- Urethral Opening: The urethra is what carries urine outside of the body. The urethral opening is the tiny hole that you urinate out of. It is located inside the inner lips and just below the clitoris. Because it is located so close to your vaginal opening, it is crucial to go pee after sex to get rid of any bacteria that could have been pushed back into the urethra during sex. This will ensure fewer urinary tract infections.
The last external part is the anus, aka- the butthole. Apart from removing waste from the body, the anus has sensitive nerve endings. Some individuals experience sexual pleasure both internally and externally around the anus.
The internal parts consist of several reproductive organs and their functions. For simplicity’s sake, we will not review all these parts, rather the majority that may impact your hormonal, sexual, and contraceptive health. This includes:
- Vagina: Your vagina is your internal muscular structure that spans from your vulva to the cervix and uterus. It is the area that we insert tampons, menstrual cups, and for those who enjoy penetration, it is where fingers, penis’, and toys are inserted. The vagina also includes your pelvic floor, which is the muscular area that helps with urination and sexual enjoyment. IMPORTANT: Because the vagina is a muscular tube, any toys, tampons, or condoms will remain inside the vagina if not removed because it is an enclosed tube. If you cannot locate something in your vagina, it is essential to use your fingers to find the item and remove it. Remember, your vagina is enclosed, and these items will not simply disappear in your abdomen.
- Cervix: The cervix is a tube that extends down from the uterus and into the vagina. It is located at the end of the vagina and functions as the connection between the vagina and the uterus. In the center of the cervix is a tiny hole that allows sperm to enter to fertilize an egg. This hole also releases menstrual blood during your period. The menstrual blood and tissue come from your uterus and are expelled out through your cervix and then into the vagina. Although the cervical opening is comparable to the size of the tip of a cotton swab, it can stretch. In fact, during vaginal births, the baby comes from the uterus, out of the cervix, and through the vagina. WOW!
- Uterus: If you’ve ever heard of the “womb,” then you have already heard of the uterus. A womb is just a societal term we have given to a uterus that is holding a baby. The uterus is a small muscular organ that is vital to menstruation and pregnancy. The inner layer of the uterus is named the endometrium. It serves as the tissue where a fertilized egg can implant. In a typical cycle, when pregnancy does not happen, the endometrial tissue is what your body gets rid of, leading to menstrual bleeding.
- Fallopian Tubes: Fallopian tubes are the two narrow tubes extending off the left and right sides of the uterus. These tubes connect the uterus to the ovaries. Sperm travels through the fallopian tubes to reach an egg released by the ovaries. If successful, a fertilized egg moves down the fallopian tube to attach to the endometrium within the uterus.
- Ovaries: The ovaries are our last stop of internal reproductive organs that we will review. The ovaries are small circular/oval structures that house the eggs. One or more egg(s) are released monthly from the start of your period until menopause. Many women experience periods for 35+ years of their life.
Just like an individual’s external sexual anatomy is visually different, what goes on hormonally is considered just as unique. At birth, you were likely labeled as a male or a female based on your external anatomy; this is referred to as your assigned sex at birth. But sometimes that does not coincide with an individual’s gender identity. Your gender identity is your own personal sense of gender. Gender expression typically reflects an individual’s gender identity. We will try to refrain from generic definitions since everyone is unique, but we will discuss broad concepts, so you can understand gender identity a little better.
If your assigned sex at birth and your sense of gender align in a similar way, this is considered cisgender or cis for short.
Alternatively, if your assigned sex at birth differs from your sense of gender, then this is often considered transgender or trans for short. Some individuals may also have sexual anatomies or hormones that do not fit male or female. While some of these instances are noticed at birth, others might go undiscovered until puberty. Individuals who might not fit the typical definition of male or female are often referred to as intersex.
The most crucial part of understanding gender identity is the fluidity of these terms and concepts. As hormones change in our bodies throughout our lives, some individuals discover their new truth later. Gender identity is a personal journey that can be intimidating, uplifting, and freeing all at the same time. If you are questioning your gender identity, it is important to speak with others who have previously experienced a similar journey and create trusted networks.