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The external genital organs of the female are collectively known as the vulva (plural vulvae, vulvas). In common speech, the term vagina is often used improperly to refer to the vulva or female genitals generally - even though strictly speaking the vagina is a specific internal structure and the vulva is the exterior genitalia only.
- the mons pubis
- the labia, consisting of the labia majora and the labia minora
- the external portion of the clitoris (Latin: Clitoral glans) and the clitoral hood
- the vulval vestibule
- the cleft of venus
- the frenulum labiorum pudendi or the fourchette
- the opening (or urinary meatus) of the urethra
- the opening (or introitus) of the vagina
- the hymen and
- the perineum
- the Sebaceous glands on labia majora
- the vaginal glands:
The soft mound at the front of the vulva is formed by fatty tissue covering the pubic bone, and is called the mons pubis. The term mons pubis is Latin for "pubic mound" and is gender-nonspecific. There is, however, a variant term that specifies gender: in human females, the mons pubis is often referred to as the mons veneris, Latin for "mound of Venus" or "mound of love". The mons pubis separates into two folds of skin called the labia majora, literally "major (or large) lips". The cleft between the labia majora is called the pudendal cleft, or cleft of Venus, and it contains and protects the other, more delicate structures of the vulva. The labia majora meet again at a flat area between the pudendal cleft and the anus called the perineum. The color of the outside skin of the labia majora is usually close to the overall skin color of the individual, although there is considerable variation. The inside skin and mucus membrane are often pink or brownish. After the onset of puberty, the mons pubis and the labia majora become covered by pubic hair. This hair sometimes extends to the inner thighs and perineum, but the density, texture, and extent of pubic hair coverage vary considerably, due to both individual variation and cultural practices of hair modification or removal.
The labia minora are two soft folds of skin within the labia majora. While labia minora translates as "minor (or small) lips", often the "minora" are of considerable size, and protrude outside the "majora". Much of the variation among vulvas lies in the significant differences in the size, shape, and color of the labia minora
The clitoris is located at the front of the vulva, where the labia minora meet. The visible portion of the clitoris is the clitoral glans. Typically, the clitoral glans is roughly the size and shape of a pea, although it can be significantly larger or smaller. The clitoral glans is highly sensitive, containing as many nerve endings as the analogous organ in males, the glans penis. The point where the labia minora attach to the clitoris is called the frenulum clitoridis. A prepuce, the clitoral hood, normally covers and protects the clitoris, however in women with particularly large clitorises or small prepuces, the clitoris may be partially or wholly exposed at all times. The clitoral hood is the female equivalent of the male foreskin. Often the clitoral hood is only partially hidden inside of the pudendal cleft.
The area between the labia minora is called the vulval vestibule, and it contains the vaginal and urethral openings. The urethral opening (meatus) is located below the clitoris and just in front of the vagina. This is where urine passes from the bladder to the outside of the body.
The opening of the vagina is located at the bottom of the vulval vestibule, toward the perineum. The term introitus is more technically correct than "opening", since the vagina is usually collapsed, with the opening closed, unless something is inserted. The introitus is sometimes partly covered by a membrane called the hymen. The hymen will rupture during the first episode of vigorous sex, and the blood produced by this rupture has been seen as a sign of virginity. However, the hymen may also rupture spontaneously during exercise or be stretched by normal activities such as use of tampons, or be so minor as to be unnoticeable. In some rare cases, the hymen may completely cover the vaginal opening, requiring surgical separation. Slightly below and to the left and right of the vaginal opening are two Bartholin glands which produce a waxy, pheromone-containing substance, the purpose of which is not fully known.
The appearance of the vulva and the size of the various parts varies a great deal from one female to another, and it is also common for the left and right sides to differ in appearance.
As with nearly any aspect of the human body that is involved in sexual or excretory functions, there are many slang words for the vulva.
- For slang terms for the "vulva", see WikiSaurus:female genitalia — the WikiSaurus list of synonyms and slang words for female genitalia in many languages.
Disorders affecting the vulva
Blemishes and Cysts
- Candidiasis (thrush)
- Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
- Warts (due to HPV or condyloma acuminata)
- Molluscum contagiosum
- Herpes Simplex (genital herpes)
- Herpes Zoster (shingles)
- Tinea (fungus)
- Hidradenitis suppurativa
- Lichen simplex (chronic eczema)
- Lichen sclerosus
- Lichen planus
- zoons vulvitis (zoons balanitis in men)
- Pemphigus vulgaris
- Pemphigoid (mucous membrane pemphigoid, cicratricial pemphigoid, bullous pemphigoid)
- Septate vagina
- Vaginal opening extremely close to the urethra or anus
- An imperforate hymen
- Various stages of genital masculinization including fused labia, an absent or partially-formed vagina, urethra located on the clitoris.
- Vulvar lymphangioma
- Paget's disease
- Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN)
- Bowen's disease
- Bowenoid papulosis
- Vulvar varicose veins
- Labial adhesions
- Perineodynia (perineal pain)
- Desquamative Inflammatory Vaginitis (DIV)
- Childbirth tears and Episiotomy related changes
Altering the female genitalia
- Main article: Genital modification and mutilation
The most prevalent form of genital alteration in some countries is female genital cutting: removal of any part of the female genitalia for cultural, religious or other non-medical reasons. When performed on female minors these procedures can be highly controversial. In some cases, people elect to have their genitals pierced, tattooed or otherwise altered for aesthetic or other reasons. Female genital enhancement surgery includes laser resurfacing of the labia to remove wrinkles and clitoral repositioning for those not achieving optimum stimulation as well as labiaplasty and vaginal tightening.
In some cultures, including modern Western culture, some women have shaved or otherwise depilated part or all of the vulva. This is a fairly recent phenomenon in the United States, but has been prevalent, usually in the form of waxing, in many eastern European and Middle Eastern cultures for centuries, usually for the purpose of hygiene. High-cut swimsuits compelled their wearers to shave the sides of their pubic triangles. Shaving may also include all or nearly all of the hair. Some styles retain a "racing stripe" (on either side of the labia) or "landing strip" (directly above and in line with the vulva). See the article on pubic hair.
Since the early days of Islam, Muslim women and men have followed a tradition to "pluck the armpit hairs and shave the pubic hairs". This is a preferred practice rather than an obligation, and could be carried out by shaving, waxing, trimming, or any other shaving method. This is a regular practice that is considered in some more devout Muslim cultures as a form of worship, not a shameful practice, while in other less devout regions it is a practice for the purpose of good hygiene. The reasons behind removing this hair could also be applied to the hair on the scrotum and around the anus, because the purpose is to be completely clean and pure and keep away from anything that may cause dirt and impurities according to Al-Munajjid, Sheikh Muhammad Saleh (Released 27th July 2004). "Islam Ruling on Shaving the Pubic Hair, Scrotum and Around the Anus".
Many cultures have commonly viewed the vulva as something shameful that should be hidden; for example, the term pudendum, which denotes the external genitalia, literally means "shameful thing." However, some cultures have celebrated and even worshipped the vulva; some Hindu sects revere it under the name yoni,[How to reference and link to summary or text] and texts seem to indicate a similar attitude in some ancient Middle Eastern religions. As an aspect of Goddess worship such reverence may be part of modern Neopagan beliefs, and may be indicated in paleolithic artworks. Other cultures consider some or all parts of the vulva to be "unclean" and may go as far as to advocate female "circumcision".
Many sculptors and painters have chosen not to display vulvas in their works, even when depicting nude women. The pubic region was often covered with a piece of cloth, figleaf or a hand. When it was displayed or posed, it usually lacked pubic hair (see glabrousness) as well as the physical depiction of the vulva, irrespective of whether the vulva would actually be visible in that pose. In modern times Japanese anime artists often depict female characters without vulvas (even in hentai pornography) to comply with censorship laws.
As throughout history the actual or artistic display of vulvas was uncommon, aesthetic standards for the depiction of the vulva in the West developed after visual pornography became more widespread.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Currently, color desaturation is often used to purge photographic images of pornographic associations.
- WikiSaurus:vulva — the WikiSaurus list of synonyms and slang words for vulva in many languages
- Cleft of venus
- Vulvovaginal health
- L'Origine du monde, a realistic painting of a vulva
- Sheela Na Gig
- Vulvar Anatomy Video - Video tour of the vulva detailing all the structures
- Vaginas in Mythology, History and Art - This article by Kirsten Anderberg explores vaginas in empowerment mythology, in history and in art.
- The Vulva Revealed - Extensive descriptions and numerous illustrations showing the large variations in vulva shape among women; some may consider explicit
- Featuring many beautiful pictures of the clitoris, labia, vulva and vagina
- Numerous 'tasteful' illustrations showing the variation in appearance
- Pink Parts - "Walk through" of female sexual anatomy by noted sex activist and educator Heather Corinna (illustrations; no explicit photos)
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