The embroidery on Gillian Anderson's stunning Gabriela Hearst dress see at this week's Golden Globes has brought up the age old question - vulvas vs vagina. We turned to Dr Raelia Lew, LOVERS Co-Founder and Gynaecologist for the answers.
What is a vagina?
Your vagina is an organ, lined with ruched mucosa or mucous membrane, with folds called rugae that make it really stretchy.
It’s a kind of tunnel leading from the vaginal introitus or opening on the female perineum, into the pelvis. At the top of the vagina you’ll find the cervix, the opening to the womb or uterus.
The stretchiness and moisture of the vagina and supportive glandular secretions are stimulated by the hormone estrogen. Before puberty, when you are breast feeding and from perimenopause onwards when estrogen production is low, the vagina is drier and much less stretchy.
So what is the vulva?
The vulva refers to the labia majora and minora (major and minor skin folds and cushioning fat pads) that make up much of the female external genitalia.
When you part the labia minora, you can see the opening of the vagina. Before a female has been sexually active, this is where you will see a small membrane called the hymen. Even before a woman has first had sex, the hymen is usually incomplete, allowing menstrual flow to exit the vagina.
Labia majora and minora come in many shapes and sizes. There is heaps of variety in what we consider totally normal.
And where does the clitoris fit in?
The clitoris is technically part of the vulva, but much of the internal aspects of the clitoris is actually anatomically located deep to the labia.
The clitoris is a butterfly shaped area of very sensitive tissue, rich in thousands of nerve endings and is one of the female organs of sexual pleasure.
Knowing your anatomy can be empowering, if only so we can correctly refer to Gillian's dress.