The simple version: The vulva is external, the vagina is internal.
But let’s dive into them both a little more...
You can SEE the vulva - sometimes it takes some maneuvering, a mirror, a bit of awkward poses, but it’s seeable.
You usually can’t see much of the vagina without a speculum and a light.
The VULVA includes things like LABIA! These are the lips, the flaps, what protects your vagina. There are two sets: labia majora (the outer set) and the labia minora (inner set). The Labia majora grows hair. The labia minora may be hidden by the labia majora, or stick out, both are totes mcgotes normal.
At the top of the vulva, the labia minora come together to form the clitoral hood, so named because it covers the...bum bum bum….CLITORIS. The part of the clitoris that we can see is called the glans, and the rest of the clitoris extends further into the body and around the vagina.
Inside the labia minora, and under the clitoris, begins the VULVAR VESTIBULE, which is sensitive, moist tissue. It contains the URETHRAL OPENING, where the urine comes out. It is a tiny hole between the vagina and the clitoris.
The INTROITUS is the entrance to the vagina.
Vulva care do’s and don’ts
DO wash with warm water and your hand
DO check to make sure folds are free of smegma (the creamy white stuff that may get stuck in the folds of the labia or under the clitoral hood) - just a discharge build-up. No worries.
DON’T use scented soaps, bath gels
DON’T wash with washcloths or loofahs - they’re too hard for that gentle area!
The VAGINA is a tube o’ muscle. It has pleats. For real.
It accordions in multiple directions to accommodate things like a penis, a toy, fingers, and giant baby. Most vaginas are about 3-4 inches long, but it widens and lengthens (called tenting) when aroused.
When blood flow increases, the blood vessels swell up, pushing fluid through the vaginal walls, to create lubrication (getting wet).
Although vaginas often create lubrication when aroused, it doesn’t always work like that. A vagina can create lubrication when someone is NOT aroused, and vice versa.
It’s always a good idea to have a lube on hand. The wetter the better - it helps protect the vagina and decreases the chance of microabrasions.
You know how cats are always cleaning themselves? Yeah, the human pussy does the same thing.
Ever see discharge in your underwear? It’s your vagina cleaning house!
That discharge is made of a variety of things with weird-sounding names, including: cervical mucus, gland secretions, cells shed from the vaginal lining. But as long as it’s not foul-smelling and dark yellow or green, it’s probably nothing to worry about.
Vagina care do’s and don’ts:
DO consider what you put inside. The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health has great information on choosing safe toys and lube.
DON’T douche, spray, or use cleaning products in your vagina. It will irritate the tissue, and throw off the pH balance and the good bacteria.
Can vulva and vagina be used interchangeably? Well, I guess you’re allowed to call it whatever you want. I can also call my mouth a throat, though, and things start getting confusing.
When we refer to everything as the vagina, we often forget that the vulva is full of fun and interesting parts, and that it needs to be treated differently. Getting to know your body, including parts’ proper names, is important for medical care as well as physical pleasure!
So, say it with me: Vulva is external. Vagina is internal.