Both the vulva and the labia are parts of the woman’s outermost reproductive organ, commonly known as the vagina. The vulva refers to the general outer opening of the vagina which consists of a lot of parts, including the labia. The labia are the “lips” of the vulva that line the opening. These skin folds act to close off the vulva from any bacterial infection when the female is not urinating, cleaning or engaged in reproductive activity that would require access to the inner folds of the vulva.
Patients may have their own words for different areas of their genitalia, but medical professionals use specific words for specific body parts, even parts of the vagina. It’s good for women and girls to learn the parts of the vagina not only so that they know what their doctors and gynaecologists are talking about, but also so that they can more accurately describe symptoms.
Parts of the Vulva
The top of the vulva, right above the pubic bone is an area of fat called the mons pubis or mons venerus (after the Roman goddess of love, Venus.) This is good fat that helps keep the sensitive reproductive organs away from the pubic bone. It’s often covered in pubic hair.
Going down further is a small fleshy roundish organ called the clitoris, which also has many common names like “button” or “joy buzzer.” It is usually through stimulation of the clitoris that brings a woman to orgasm, not just through sexual penetration.
Down both sides of the vulva are the labia, acting as protective walls for the vaginal opening and the urethral opening. The labia itself is divided into two parts. There are other parts of the vulva, but these are the main parts that a girl or woman would need to know about in order to effectively communicate with her doctor.
About the Labia
The thickest, outermost parts of the labia are called the labia majora. Genital hairs often cover it but sometimes it’s bare. Inside are sweat glands and more protective fat. The thin fleshy folds are the labia minora, which are often pinkish or light tan. The shape, length, thickness and amount of folds differ from woman to woman and may even change as the woman ages.
Women and girls both wonder if the shape of their labia is normal. They may have been taunted by men that they are malformed, or have seen pictures of other women’s genitals and found their labia looks much different in comparison. There really isn’t a “normal” labia shape, length, width or color. Unless the labia hurts, bleeds, becomes intolerably itchy or suddenly swells up, there is no need to go to a doctor.
“The Joy of Sex.” Alex Comfort, M.B., Ph.D. 1986 edition. Various Publishers.
Difference Between.net: “Difference BetweenVulva and Labia.” http://www.differencebetween.net/science/health/difference-between-vulva-and-labia/
Gynae Online. “Female External Genital Anatomy.” http://www.gynaeonline.com/anatomy.htm
Planned Parenthood. “The Vuvla: An Owner’s Manual.” http://www.plannedparenthood.org/teen-talk/body-mind/anatomy/vulva-an-owners-manual-25172.htm