“V” is for Vagina

“V” is for Vagina

I recently read a blog article that incorrectly identified the location of an important part of female genitalia. An anatomy lesson is in order to correct this error before I lose more sleep over it. The vulva, which includes the labia and clitoris, is on the outside of a woman’s body. The vagina is the muscular canal that extends from the vulva to the cervix, which is at the opening of the uterus. This means the vagina is inside the female body, which is what the other blogger got wrong.

Now that the mystery of where the vagina is located has been solved, I am going to write this blog about vagina-related topics. I am a huge fan of Bob and Tom and listen to their radio show during my morning commute. A few weeks ago, they mentioned vaginal steaming, but never discussed it in detail. Never having heard of vaginal steaming, I was intrigued and researched it. Vaginal steaming is a cleanse where a woman sits naked on a specially-designed chair under which a humidifier emits herb-infused steam for 30 to 45 minutes. Traditionally, herbs used in the process include mugwort for its anti-fungal properties and wormwood for its anti-viral properties, but other herbs can be used as well. Vaginal steaming has been used for centuries in Eastern medicine as a remedy to ease menstrual cramps and boost fertility and is used by women in some parts of South America. In the United States, vaginal steaming services are available at select spas. Do-it-yourself kits are available for purchase from online retailers. As a precaution, a woman who is menstruating should wait until her period is over before undergoing a vaginal steam.

The vagina is a bacteria-rich environment. Vaginitis is inflammation of the vagina caused by a change in the normal balance of vaginal bacteria or by an infection. Vaginitis can be the result of a yeast infection, which is caused by the fungus Candida albicans, or trichomoniasis, which is caused by a parasite and is often sexually transmitted. When the cause of vaginistis is from an imbalance in bacteria, this is referred to as bacterial vaginosis. This type of vaginistis is very common among women of all ages, with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reporting a higher prevalence of bacterial vaginosis occurring among lesbian and bisexual women with indeterminate causation. Even women who are not sexually active can experience bacterial vaginosis.

Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis, when present, include increased vaginal discharge that may be watery, white or grey in color, and sometimes have an unpleasant, fish-like odor; itching or irritation in the vaginal area; and burning during urination. Women with these symptoms should see a medical health professional as soon as possible. Bacterial vaginosis is treated with antibiotics. When left untreated, bacterial vaginosis may increase a woman’s risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection, may cause pelvic inflammatory disease in which bacterial vaginosis bacteria infect the uterus or fallopian tubes which can in turn cause infertility or ectopic pregnancy, may cause an infection after a cesarean section, abortion, or surgery on the cervix or ovaries, and, if the woman is pregnant, may cause early birth or labor.

Vaginismus is when the muscles surrounding the vagina tighten involuntarily whenever there is an attempt to penetrate the vagina. Severity of vaginismus varies from woman to woman. Some women who experience the condition are unable to insert anything into their vagina because it closes up completely while others can insert a tampon but are unable to have sexual intercourse. There are women with vaginismus who can engage in sexual intercourse, but find it to be very painful. If the condition is severe, vaginismus can make having a gynecologic or pelvic exam either difficult or impossible. Primary vaginismus is when a woman has never been able to have sex because of the condition, while secondary vaginismus occurs in women who have previously had sex but now find sex difficult or painful.

The causes of vaginismus vary, and treatment depends on the cause. If the cause is physical in nature, such as an infection, vaginitis, or injury to the vagina or vulva, medications can be used to treat the condition. If the cause is psychological, sex therapy, counseling, or cognitive behavioral therapy are among treatment options. Vaginal trainers, which are penis-shaped cones of graduating sizes, can be used to stretch the vagina, which can help reduce pain during gynecologic exams and during sexual intercourse for women who have vaginismus.

The vaginal is coated with a thin layer of moisture. During sexual arousal, increased blood flow to the vagina causes this coating to increase, which is where a woman’s wetness originates. Vaginal dryness can affect women of all ages because the amount of natural moisture in the vagina is affected by use of decongestants found in some cold and allergy medications, hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle, birth control choice, childbirth, breastfeeding, aging, menopause, and douching. An autoimmune disorder called Sjorgren’s syndrome causes the immune system to attack healthy tissue, which causes vaginal dryness in addition to dry eyes and dry mouth. Vaginal dryness is a common problem for women during and after menopause. During menopause, estrogen levels decline and cause thinning and inflammation of the vaginal walls, which is called vaginal atrophy or atrophic vaginitis. This natural process is the cause of vaginal dryness during menopause. Continual vaginal dryness is often treated with estrogen therapy, although topical or vaginal estrogen is a more effective treatment than synthetic oral estrogen. Vaginal estrogen does not decrease a woman’s testosterone levels the way oral estrogen does. Testosterone is necessary for healthy sexual function in women. For temporary vaginal dryness, lubricants and moisturizers may help. Water-based lubricants can keep the vagina lubricated for up to three hours. Glycerin causes dryness in tissue, so choose a lubricant that is glycerin-free. Vaginal moisturizers imitate natural vaginal moisture and relieve dryness for up to three days with a single application. Seek help from a medical care professional if vaginal dryness is bothersome or continuous to rule out any life-threatening conditions.

In an unaroused state, a woman’s vagina is only three to four inches long. During arousal, muscular tension pulls the vagina upward, which in turn makes the vagina longer and wider to better accommodate fingers, penises, and sex toys. This process is referred to as vaginal tenting. Increasing the amount of foreplay for female sexual partners can help make vaginal penetration more comfortable and thus more pleasurable for those women. Every vagina is different, which is why women respond differently to various stimulation. If someone is not sure what his or her female partner prefers for foreplay, he or she needs to ask his or her partner to show and/or tell those secrets and be prepared for the sexual sizzle to come.