Vagina & Vulva

What some refer to as the vagina can be the vulva, the external genitalia of the female reproductive system. The vagina is part of the internal female genitalia and is a canal for (but not limited to) childbirth, a penis, or other sexual activity. The opening to the vagina is part of the vulva.

Vulva parts include (depending on the source) mons pubis, labia majora, labia minora, clitoris (see the Clitoris Topic), vestibular bulbs, vulva vestibule, Bartholin’s glands, Skene’s glands, hymen (see the Hymen Topic), and vaginal opening or vestibule. Some sources and diagrams include a few of these parts, while others include more as part of the anatomy of the vulva.

The look of the vulva may vary among individuals. Even on an individual, some parts may differ in size and thickness or the skin color may vary from lighter to darker.

The following sources should provide more information on the differences between the vulva and vagina.

  1. Gynecological Anatomy

    “The vulva is located on the outside of the body. … The vulva is the external part of the female genitalia. It protects a woman’s sexual organs, urinary opening, vestibule and vagina and is the center of much of a woman’s sexual response. (1) The outer and inner ‘lips’ of the vulva are called the labia majora and labia minora. The vestibule surrounds the opening of the vagina, or introitus, and the opening of the urethra, or urethral meatus. The perineum is the area extending from beneath the vulva to the anus.”

    National Vulvodynia Association, nva.org, accessed 5/23/2022

  2. What Are The Parts Of The Female Sexual Anatomy?

    “The vulva is the part of your genitals on the outside of your body — your labia, clitoris, vaginal opening, and the opening to the urethra (the hole you pee out of). While vaginas are just one part of the vulva, many people say ‘vagina’ when they really mean the vulva. But the vulva has a lot more going on than just the vagina. No 2 vulvas look exactly the same, but they’re made up of the same basic parts. Labia … Clitoris … Opening of the urethra … Opening of the vagina … Anus … Mons pubis … The mons is the fleshy mound above your vulva.”

    Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc., plannedparenthood.org, accessed 5/23/2022

  3. What Do ‘Normal’ Labia Look Like?

    “Vaginas — or more accurately, vulvas, and all their components — come in different shapes, sizes, and colors. They even have different smells. Many people worry that their genitalia doesn’t look ‘normal,’ but there really is no normal. The only normal out there is what’s normal for you. And unless your normal involves pain or discomfort, everything is likely fine.”

    Annamarya Scaccia and Adrienne Santos-Longhurst; Medically reviewed by Carolyn Kay, MD, healthline.com, updated 3/21/2022

  4. What You Didn’t Learn About The Vagina In School

    “Vulva … What it’s been called: The ‘pudendum’ in several medical textbooks up until a few years ago, Gross says. Latin translation: ‘the part to be ashamed of.’ The term was originally used for both sexes, Gross says. But its application to men in textbooks dropped off a long time ago. Another term that’s related to the vulva: ‘schamlippen.’ It’s the German word for labia, which means ‘shame lips.’ We’re sensing a theme”

    Carly Mallenbaum, Becky Murray, Anthony Rivas, Eleanor Goldberg, and Jane Ackermann, theskimm.com, 2/24/2022

  5. Innies & Outies: The Vagina, Clitoris, Uterus And More

    “Where the pubic hair is, below your belly button, is a fatty area of tissue (skin) called the mons (mahns). Your pubic hair usually, if you don’t mess with it, cover the mons, will move downward, as will that fatty tissue, around your labia majora (lay-bee-ah) .., which some people call ‘lips.’”

    Heather Corinna, scarleteen.com, updated 12/14/2021

  6. A Diagram Of The Female Body

    “… Bartholin glands: Bartholin glands sit on both sides inside the vaginal opening. They release some of the secretions that lubricate the vagina to increase comfort during sexual intercourse.
    Skene’s glands: The Skene’s glands are located on either side of the urethra and lubricate the urethral opening. Skene’s glands are sometimes referred to as the female prostate. While scientists debate if female ejaculation exists, some believe these glands are its source during sexual arousal.”

    Brandi Jones, MSN-ED RN-BC; Medically reviewed by Lauren Schlanger, MD, verywellhealth.com/, 11/29/2021

  7. Taking The ‘Shame Part’ Out Of Female Anatomy: Anatomists Have Bid Farewell To ‘Pudendum,’ But Other Questionable Terms Remain.

    “When her [Allison Draper, as a first-year medical student at the University of Miami] teacher handed her a copy of the ‘Terminologia Anatomica,’ the international dictionary of anatomical terms, she learned that the Latin term for the vulva — including the inner and outer labia, the clitoris and the pubic mound — was pudendum. Translation: the part to be ashamed of. There was no equivalent word for male genitals. That’s when she really got fired up.”

    Rachel E. Gross, nytimes.com, 9/21/2021

  8. Anatomy, Abdomen And Pelvis, Female External Genitalia

    “The female external genitalia is fascinating due to the fact it is made up of both urinary tract and reproductive structures. These structures collectively fall under the term vulva. The definition of ‘vulva’ is covering or wrapping. From the exterior observation of the female external genitalia, it does appear to be covered or wrapped by skin folds. These skin folds are called the labia majora and labia minora. Both labia majora and labia minora are part of the vulva. The components of the entire vulva are the mons pubis, labia majora, labia minora, clitoris, urethra, vulva vestibule, vestibular bulbs, Bartholin’s glands, Skene’s glands, and vaginal opening. The external female genitalia serves the purposes of reproduction and urination.”

    John D. Nguyen and Hieu Duong, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, 7/31/2021

  9. Vagina Parts: Just A Handy Diagram And Guide To The Anatomy Of Your ‘Down-There’ Area

    “… Well, recent research from the Eve Appeal showed that half of women aged 26-35 were unable to label the vagina accurately – and that fewer than a quarter of women aged 16-25 said they felt confident that ‘they were well informed about gynaecological health issues.’ This isn’t really a surprise when 65% of the age groups combined said they have a problem even saying the words ‘vagina’ or ‘vulva.’”

    Lydia House, womenshealthmag.com, 7/29/2021

  10. Most Britons Cannot Name All Parts Of The Vulva, Survey Reveals

    “‘It’s horrifying that people know so little about the vulva and female anatomy,’ said Lynn Enright, the author of Vagina: A Re-education. ‘It’s not that surprising though. I think we are much more familiar with diagrams depicting the female reproductive system – the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries – than images of the external genitalia, correctly labelled.’”

    Linda Geddes, theguardian.com, 5/30/2021

  11. Is My Vagina Normal?

    “‘The female anatomy can differ a lot from girl to girl or woman to woman,’ says Ob/Gyn Oluwatosin Goje, MD. ‘And in one person, the appearance can change with age.’”

    Cleveland Clinic, clevelandclinic.org, accessed 5/7/2021

  12. What Is A Vulva? Anatomy Explained

    “The word ‘vulva’ is said to come from the Latin words for wrapper (volvere) and for womb (volva). Vulva is a collective term that refers to all parts of the external genitalia, including the mons pubis, labia majora (outer lips), labia minora (inner lips), clitoris, urethra, vulva vestibule, vestibular bulbs, Bartholin’s glands, and Skene’s glands. Some consider the vaginal opening to be a part of the vulva, as it is technically outside. However, as the vagina is an internal organ, we have not included it in this piece.”

    Monica Karpinski, thefemedic.com, 12/30/2020

  13. Is It Normal For Your Labia To Stick Out?

    “It is perfectly normal for the labia to stick out. Every vagina is different. The vulva is the visible external part of the female genitals. The vulva has two parts:
    -Labia minora (inner lips) … Labia majora (outer lips)
    Vulvas and vaginas are unique in shape, size, texture, and color. Labia come in different shapes and sizes.”

    Medical author Divya Jacob, PharmD; Medical reviewer Pallavi Suyog Uttekar, MD, medicinenet.com, 12/11/2020

  14. Vulvovaginal Anatomy 101: Understanding Your Vulva And Vagina In A New Way

    “First things first, the proper term for what you may call your vagina is really your vulva. The vulva is the exterior part of your genital anatomy whereas your vagina is the tube that connects your vulva and your cervix —  or the ‘neck of the uterus’ as Doula and birth educator, Amy Lewis, says. Be aware that no two vulvas look the same.”

    Alex Shea, modernfertility.com, 9/18/2020

  15. Inside The Vagina: What It Looks Like

    “The vagina is an elastic tube that connects the uterus and cervix to the vulva. The vagina is about 3 inches long. … The vaginal opening is where blood leaves the body during menstruation, a penis enters during sexual intercourse, and a baby leaves the body during birth. The hymen is a thin layer of tissue that surrounds and partially covers the vaginal opening. Sexual intercourse or exercise can stretch or tear it.”

    Beth Sissons; Medically reviewed by Carolyn Kay, MD, medicalnewstoday.com, 3/17/2020

  16. Vagina Diagram & Anatomy: Everything You Need To Know

    “Labia Majora/Outer Lips: These are the first things you see, and hair grows on them naturally. … Labia Minora/Inner Lips: The labia minora provide the second layer of protection for the underlying structures and openings, and they also have oil glands that secrete lubrication to keep you comfortable. … Clitoris and Clitoral Hood: According to [Melanie Davis, PhD, a certified sexuality educator and sexuality education consultant], the tiny bit of the clitoris that is outwardly visible, … Urethra: This small opening, which is where urine comes out, is right below the clitoris. … Vestibule: Right below the urethra lies the introitus, also called the vestibule or the opening to the vagina. …”

    Cheryl Wischhover, teenvogue.com, 12/25/2019

  17. Vulva And Vagina: Parts of the Female Genitalia Explained

    “Labia majora … The labia majora, also called the outer lips, are the folds of skin that enclose other parts of the external sexual anatomy. They help protect these tissues. …

    Labia minora … The labia minora are also called the inner lips, and this tissue plays a role in sexual stimulation. …

    Clitoris … The clitoris is located at the top of the labia minora. …

    Clitoral hood … The clitoral hood is a flap of tissue that covers the clitoris. …

    Urethral opening …

    Vaginal opening …”

    Olga Adereyko, MD, flo.health, updated 11/4/2019

  18. What’s The Difference Between ‘Vagina’ And ‘Vulva’? Let Us Explain

    “There are three different holes in the genital area: the urethra, the vagina, and the anus. The urethra is the hole where urine comes out, and is located between the head of the clitoris and the vaginal opening. The vagina is located a little further back, between the urethra and the anus. The anus is the hole furthest to the back.”

    Medically reviewed by Louise Bourchier, MPH, o.school, accessed 9/19/2019

  19. Reproductive Organs

    “The vagina is a muscular tube about three to four inches long that ends the birth canal. This is where a man’s penis enters the woman during sexual intercourse. The vaginal opening is visible from the outside but it is protected by the labia when a woman stands and during most activities.”

    The Healthline Editorial Team; Medically reviewed by the Healthline Medical Network, healthline.com, updated 1/19/2018