It remains astounding how much mythology permeates understanding of basic human anatomy. Astounding because the internet has opened a portal of information, allowing us research and ask the “stupid” questions. A prime example is the limited understanding we continue to have about the vagina, both as a sexual organ and in its everyday function for women. This lack of understanding has led to issues with how women treat their vagina and how they allow their vagina to be treated. I sat down with Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Dr Rotimi Jaiyesimi, to break down five specific misconceptions about the vagina.
Understanding the Anatomy: The vagina, located in the pelvic body cavity is covered by two folds called the labia, which is believed to protect the vagina by preventing the entrance of bacteria. Also, present at the entrance of the vagina, is the hymen, a thin membrane of tissue that surrounds and narrows the vaginal opening. The hymen has a small hole at the centre which allows the monthly menstrual blood to flow out from puberty onwards.
For sexual intercourse to occur, the vagina, receives the penis. Men must have some knowledge of where the vagina is against where the anal opening is otherwise they risk encountering some degree of awkwardness. It is also important to undertake some foreplay to allow for natural lubrication of the vagina prior to intercourse as it ensure a pleasurable rather than painful experience
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) or Urinary Tract Infection (UTI): BV, is a different entity from UTI’s. It is a clinical condition, characterised by a change in the normal bacteria (Lactobacillus species) to a different type of bacteria (Gardnerella vaginalis). This bacterial change, results in a rise of the vaginal ph to above 4.5, where the normal ph of young women ranges from 4.0 – 4.5. Accounting for 40-50% of vaginal discharge, it is the most common cause of vaginal discharge in women of childbearing age.
The health implications of BV are, amongst others, increased susceptibility to sexually transmitted infections and premature delivery. Although sexually transmitted, BV is not classed as an STI owing to the lack of a single causative agent and its absence in men. BV, not always detectable, sometimes manifests itself in white or green vaginal discharge, itching, unpleasant odours and burning sensation when you pee. Should these symptoms occur, it is advisable that one visits their gynaecologist.
Unlike BV that affects the vagina, UTI’s are infections caused by bacteria involving the female urinary tract: the urethra, bladder, ureters and kidneys. Causes of UTI’s are sex and poor hygiene. The opening of the urethra is close to the vagina and the opening of the anus. For this reason, women are advised to wipe from front to back after toilet use to prevent bacteria from the anus, spreading across the urinary tract.
UTI’s manifest in a myriad of ways: burning sensation when one pees, frequently peeing, pain in the lower abdomen or back, fever and chills. In addition, the urine may look cloudy or blood stained and could have a strange smell. It is imperative that women pee after sexual intercourse as failure to do so could lead to the development of cystitis borne rom bacteria getting into the urethral opening. Treatment, comprising of antibiotics is to be gotten from a doctor and taking the full dosage is important to avoid developing antibiotic resistance. Untreated, UTI’s could lead to kidney failure.
The Vagina Bounce-Back: At about 3 inches in length and below an inch in diameter, the vagina is a muscular tube with great elasticity. The tissues surrounding the vagina gives it the elasticity needed to stretch or be stretched. This elasticity aids penetration during intercourse both in length and width. At an average of 5 inches long and 1.5 inches wide when erect, the supposed impact of the male penis, pales in comparison to that of babies, which are usually 6 inches or larger at birth. However, sex does not affect the long-term elasticity of the vagina as the muscles are designed to retract and contract to accommodate the penis. This means that regular or frequent sexual intercourse is unlikely to affect the size of the vagina to the point that sex becomes less pleasurable.
Rose-scented Vagina Goals: There is no such thing as the perfect vagina smell. A clean vulva prevents infection. Personal hygiene after everyday activities: sweating, period cycles, peeing, prevent the growth of bacteria. Supplements found on the internet are populous because they exist in an unregulated market. Many of these supplements alter vaginal ph and cause infections. In the same way, douching: the practice of putting liquid into, to rinse out the vagina is also a no-no, as it cleans out all the good bacteria and leaves one prone to bacteria. Cotton lined underwear, proper hygiene and water are all your vagina needs to maintain its unique and normal smell.
Designer Vagina Hype: A ‘vaginoplasty’ is a surgical procedure designed to “tighten” the vagina, performed
on women who believe their vaginas to be loose. This laxity usually follows childbirth or menopause. Childbirth is known to affect the long-term elasticity of the vagina as well as reduced oestrogen which occurs during menopause.
Pegged as a cosmetic procedure, many doctors do not see the need for this procedure, sighting Kegel exercise as a suitable avenue through which to maintain a strong vagina. There are regulated products available on the market for women looking to get a stronger pelvic floor through Kegel exercise.
All information is from Dr. Jaiyesimi but has been edited and modified by Nikki Igbaroola to suit the needs of the article Professor Rotimi Jaiyesimi, MBBS, FRSPH, FWACS, FRCOG, MBA, LLM (Medical Law) Associate Medical Director for Patient Safety and Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist Basildon and Thurrock University Hospital, England