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YOUR AMAZING REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM

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Never doubt the enormous power you possess. In addition to wrangling little ones, being an all-star performer at work, and saving everyone’s day in myriad ways, you’ve got an incredible champion lurking undercover: your vagina! Together with its trusted sidekick, your vulva, this dynamic duo shape-shifts, self-cleans, and even makes life more pleasurable. Believe it or not, you’ve got a whole Marvel Universe of potent players down there. Keep reading to learn all about the impressive features of the female reproductive system.

Let’s start with an anatomy refresher. The vulva is external. It includes the labia minora (inner), labia majora (outer), the clitoris, the opening of the vagina, the mons pubis, and the perineum. The vagina is internal. It’s a canal of stretchy muscles that connects to the cervix and uterus. Together, the uterus and vaginal canal stretch in the process of childbirth, and then resume their shape again afterwards. Now, on to the superpowers!

Shape-shifting

There’s no “one-size-fits-all” for vaginas or vulvas. As eloquently stated by Planned Parenthood, “People can have dangly labia, puffy labia, or barely-there labia.” So never compare your folds to someone else’s and think that one of them is better than the other. Vulvas vary in length, width, color, texture, and clitoris size. All you need to know is, if it’s between your legs, it’s the perfect one for you. It’s time to normalize vaginal individuation. It’s completely natural for vaginas to differ in dimensions, behavior, and sensation preferences. Depending on the inner angle of your canal, tampons or certain types of sexual activity can be uncomfortable — especially for people with vaginismus, or the tightening up of the vaginal muscles when faced with penetration. If you’re in this category, look for tampons that are fitted with a smooth, round tip and long-applicator designed for easier insertion.

Self-cleaning

An unanswered question for a lot of vagina-owners is: “Should I be concerned about that white stuff in my underwear?” The answer is… maybe. That white stuff is usually a type of discharge, generated during the vagina’s natural self-cleaning process. For most healthy females, there’s absolutely no need for special vulva or vaginal cleansing products or highly fragranced soaps. In fact, steer clear of those products and stick to mild soap and warm water. Chemicals disrupt the healthy bacteria needed for proper vaginal health and function and radically alter pH, which the body maintains on its own. Any foreign substances from cleansers, certain condoms, or even over chlorinated pool water can adversely affect vaginal health and cause a chain reaction of hormonal abnormalities.

Physiologic (aka normal) discharge is a collection of fluids secreted from the uterus, cervix, and vagina that typically appear in the months leading up to the first period, and then for all reproductive years to come after that. The amount is particular to each person. The vaginal microbiome contains good bacteria (lactobacilli) which keeps the vaginal pH in the normal acidic range. Estrogen keeps the vagina moist. Both help to fight infection.

Getting familiar with the color, clarity, consistency, and odor of your normal discharge can be helpful in tracking the health of the vagina and knowing what phase of the hormonal cycle the body is in. Cycle tracking is a great tool for fertility, hormonal imbalance, and for monitoring irregularities that may mean an underlying menstrual problem. There are myriad cycle-tracking apps available to make this super easy.

Fun Fact

Cervical discharge is naturally acidic, which is why you’ll sometimes find “bleached” spots in your underwear. Some people opt to wear liners to catch discharge. We recommend ones that are hypoallergenic and free of harmful chemicals, toxins, fragrances, and pesticides.

Protective Force

Despite what you may think, pubic hair isn’t just something to consider for aesthetic reasons, it’s there to protect your reproductive parts from villains like bacteria and other pathogens. Similar to eyelashes and nose hair, pubic hair creates a barrier which, according to Healthline, may prevent against the following infections:

  • Cellulitis
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Vaginitis
  • Yeast infections

A supple bush also reduces the risk of friction against clothing and is intended to provide a cushion from trauma to the pubic bone from other activities, including sex. One study referred to it as a dry lubricant. Pubic hair also serves to trap pheromones, the natural scents thought to have a role in mate selection! If you’ve gone through puberty and are noticing irregularities (i.e. not a lot of hair or excessive growth), consider checking in with your doctor.

As for styling and grooming pubic hair — that’s 100% a personal choice. Obviously, as listed above, there are many benefits to letting your garden grow, yet the majority choose to get rid of at least some of it. Modern day social norms have made hairlessness the ideal, desirable aesthetic. Still, watch out for these shaving or waxing side effects, including stubble, rashes, burns, ingrown hairs, and an increased risk of contracting some viral infections. Whatever you choose to do, be sure that your grooming habits are true to your preferences and not something you’re being pressured into.

And the Final Super Power of Vaginas… Human Life

We know all about the birds and the bees, how babies are made, and how they enter into this world. But if you’ve never gone through childbirth you may find yourself wondering how a human being, even one the size of a newborn, is going to fit through an area that holds tampons in on a monthly basis (and what the situation is like post-delivery).

During labor, your cervix, the opening to your vagina, begins to dilate until it reaches 10 cm, or about the length of a deck of cards. This allows the baby to move down the super-stretchy vaginal canal to meet parents, doctors, and nurses. Does it hurt? YES, but there are plenty of safe options to dull the pain if you so desire. Does it tear? Sometimes, but medical professionals can stitch you right up and things should heal in two to six weeks.

But the burning question is, “Will my vagina ever be the same?” Yes and no, but mostly yes. The human body has an amazing capacity to heal itself, and your lady parts are no exception. Generally, after a healthy delivery the entire vaginal canal shrinks back to “normal” in a few months. Most people continue to wear the same size tampons that they used pre-childbirth, and almost everyone goes on to have as much sex as they choose, that’s both pleasurable for them and their partners. Pelvic floor exercises like kegels can help this process, both before pregnancy and after, and there are medical options for tightening and lifting if you choose.

There’s so much to appreciate about your downunder. Celebrate your vajayjay and all of its superpowers, and take care of it so it will be able to take care of you. A great way to pamper your parts is choosing period products from brands that use ethically sourced, organic materials and specifically design their products for comfortable, easy insertion.

Cycle Tracking Apps

Gone are the days of making red dots in the corner of your planner to mark Aunt Flow’s monthly visit. Tracking your cycle and symptoms is super simple using one of these helpful apps.

Flo logo

Flo

Flo is one of the most popular cycle trackers available. The free version helps predict when you’ll get your period, how long it will last, and how heavy each day will be. It also tracks fertility and pregnancy when the time comes.

Euki logo

Euki

Euki is a sexual wellness app that adapts to individual users. It’s extremely secure and never stores or shares user data. In addition to cycle tracking, Euki provides unbiased, evidence-based information on all aspects of sexual health, including sexuality, abortion, miscarriage, contraception, STIs, and more.

glow logo

Glow

Glow allows you to track dozens of health and wellness aspects, including sexual activity, body temperature, discharge, and cramps. The breadth of its tracking ability makes the app especially useful if you’re trying to conceive or avoid pregnancy.

August makes organic cotton period products for everyone who menstruates. For more insightful tidbits, follow August on Instagram @itsaugust and to shop their products visit itsaugust.co.

Verified by: Dr. Alyssa Dweck, MS MD FACOG