The vaginal opening, also called the vaginal vestibule or introitus.

Vagina Overview

When people talk about the vagina, they’re usually referring to the vulva, which is the outer part of the female genitalia. The vulva includes the:

labia

vaginal opening

clitoris

urethra

The vagina is a muscular canal lined with nerves and mucus membranes. It connects the uterus and cervix to the outside of the body, allowing for menstruation, intercourse, and childbirth.

Anatomy and function

Vaginal opening

The vaginal opening, also called the vaginal vestibule or introitus, is the opening into the vagina. It’s located between the urethra and the anus. The opening is where menstrual blood leaves the body. It’s also used to birth a baby and for sexual intercourse.

Vaginal wall

The vaginal wall is made of muscle covered in a mucus membrane, similar to the tissue in your mouth. The wall contains layers of tissue with many elastic fibers. The surface of the wall also contains rugae, which are pleats of extra tissue that allow the vagina to expand during sex or childbirth.

The tissues of the vaginal wall undergo hormone-related changes during the menstrual cycle. The cells in the outer layer of the tissue stores glycogen. During ovulation, this layer is shed. The glycogen is broken down by bacteria and helps maintain a pH level to protect the vagina against potentially harmful bacteria and fungi.

Hymen

The hymen is a thin membrane that surrounds the opening to the vagina. Though hymens can range in shape and size, most are shaped like a half-moon. This shape allows menstrual blood to leave the vagina.

When someone first has intercourse or inserts something into the vagina, the hymen may tear. This can also happen during vigorous exercise.

Certain hymen shapes and types can interfere with menstrual flow, wearing tampons, or having intercourse. These include:

Imperforate hymen. An imperforate hymen completely covers the opening to the vagina, blocking menstrual flow. It needs to be repaired with minor surgery.

Microperforate hymen. A microperforate hymen is a very thin membrane that almost completely covers the vaginal opening. Minor surgery is used to create a larger opening.

Septate hymen. The membrane of a septate hymen includes an extra band of tissue that creates two openings. It’s treated with minor surgery.

Explore the interactive 3-D diagram below to learn more about the vagina.

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