NT 009: Vulvas, Vaginas, & Penises – Oh my!

If I asked you to tell me the difference between your vulva and your vagina, could you do it? (This is assuming, of course, that you are a woman!) Seriously though, there is a ton of confusion and misinformation about our bodies.


Are You Embarrassed to Ask/Answer Questions?

The problem mostly lies in the fact that as children, many of us aren’t taught the proper names for our body parts, especially the ones our parents were too embarrassed to mention.


One of the things that is most important to me in raising my own 3 girls is for them to not feel ashamed of their bodies or embarrassed to talk about them. I’m as guilty as the next parent about turning off a movie if it gets too touchy in that way, but I want to do a better job of not just turning it off, but addressing the topic so that my girls know that nothing is taboo to discuss with their mom.


But not only do we feel embarrassed if our kids ask questions, we don’t even talk about it as adults. We may feel shame for having questions about our bodies or sex. And let’s face it, things change as we age. Your sex drive may decrease or increase. Your body changes and you may not feel certain about what’s going on.


But if you never learned how your body actually works or which part is which, it will be even more difficult for you to get to the root of any issues you may be facing. This is why it is so important to know about our bodies and how they work.


In this series of episodes, I want to cover some of those basics you may have never learned about and let’s talk it through in an adult way with zero shame or embarrassment.

Differences Between the Sexes


One reason we as women are so confused about our bodies and the main reason some of us deal with shame is that we don’t tend to see other women’s private areas of their bodies.


Think about it, if a man walks into a public restroom or the shower at the gym, he sees penises everywhere he looks. Men tend to not be quite as modest as women in this area so they expose themselves much more freely. Not to mention that fact that their penis isn’t hidden like a woman’s vagina is.


But the men get to see many different kinds of penises in those restrooms or locker rooms. Some hang one way, some hang another. Some are larger, some are smaller. This gives men more of a chance to compare their own bodies with the bodies of other males.


Women don’t have the same opportunity. Do you remember the last vulva you saw on another woman? Yeah, I didn’t think so. We don’t get the chance to see different vaginas and vulvas so we only have one idea of what it should look like.


My Lack of Education on My Body


Now again, I have a mom and a sister and I definitely saw them naked as we were growing up. My daughters certainly see me when I get out of the shower or if I’m looking for a bra. But what I was seeing and what they are seeing is what’s on the outside, not the hidden parts.

I never saw porn as a kid (thankfully) and just didn’t have any kind of teaching on the different parts of the private areas of my body.


I think it was when I was in 9th grade that I first saw the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes, which remains one of my favorite movies to this day. There is a scene in that movie where one of the female characters goes to a women’s empowerment group and each woman is given a mirror and told that they are going to examine their vaginas.


And I remember thinking, “Okay, that is not for me. I would never do that.”


I had become a Christian during middle school so I was very hesitant to do anything wrong. Something like masturbation was also completely out of the question for me.


I did go away to college and ultimately ended up having sex with my boyfriend. But that was the extent of my knowledge of my body; I knew a penis went inside me and how it felt when it did. That was it.


Fried Green Tomatoes – Round 2


Eventually, I ended up married. I had my first baby and when she was 10 months old and I was newly pregnant with baby number 2, I left my husband.


At this point, I knew all about the “penis in” part, and now I had experience with the “baby out” part, as well. But still, I knew no more about the different parts of my private areas than I did before.


And along came Fried Green Tomatoes again. It’s now 2005 and I am once again watching the scene with the women in their empowerment group. And for the first time, I thought to myself, “I am going to do this.”


*Note- I don’t recommend doing this for the very first time if you’re pregnant. Trust me on this one.


So, there I was, feeling worse about my body than before. I’m sure a lot of was the fact that I was dealing with pregnancy hormones, along with poor self-image from my marriage breaking up.


Furthering My Own Education


You may wonder why it even matters if you know the difference between your vulva and your vagina.


One reason you want to know the difference is so that you can speak knowledgeably to your doctor if you need to. Being able to give your doctor the correct names will help them to get a better understanding of what you’re dealing with.


I began to understand more about the vulva and vagina when I read a book called

Love and Laughter: Sexy (Meaningful) Fun for Everyone by Beth Libeling. I met Beth at a podcasting conference a few months ago and I really love her book and what she does.


In her book, Beth includes lots of pictures of different vulvas and vaginas. She puts these pictures side by side so that you can see that there really is no such thing as “normal.” Everyone is different and remember what I said before, things can change with age, hormones, pregnancy, etc.


Give yourself some love and know that as long as you are healthy and don’t have any problems going on, your vulva and vagina look exactly how they should look. Don’t worry about what anybody else’s looks like.


What Is the Difference Between the Vulva and the Vagina?


Let’s get into some definitions so that we all understand what the terms mean.


Your vulva is basically the outer portion of your private area before entering the actual vagina.


Some people may call this part the “lips.” It’s what you see when you look without going inside any further.


If you follow the vulva all the way to the top, you will come to the clitoris. The clitoris has a little hood that covers it. And below the clitoris is the urethra, where your urine comes out.


PSA to younger Jess – you don’t pee out of your vagina! (I seriously wouldn’t use tampons when I was younger as I thought my pee came out my vagina and I was also afraid of breaking my hymen by using them. THIS is why education is necessary!)


Your vagina is the muscular tube that goes from the external part that you can see all the way to the opening of the cervix. Your cervix is the opening of your uterus.


One way to figure out exactly where your vagina is is to flex your muscles. Think about making a fist or flexing your biceps. Do that but in your pelvic floor and you will feel the vaginal muscles tighten.


How and Why You Should Exercise Your Vagina


That squeezing, or flexing, I just had you do is called a Kegel. Kegels are used to tighten the vaginal muscles. I have been really good about doing them, especially after giving birth to my girls.


Why does it matter? Well, a tighter vagina makes for better sex for both you and your partner. I’ve heard men say that having sex with a woman after she gives birth is like putting his penis in a cup of warm water. Yuck!


The great thing about Kegels is that you can do them while you are doing other things! Did you know that even men can do Kegels? Yep! You can keep things moving properly down there and keep yourself tight.


Anyway, back to my point, you can be cooking, walking, driving, or whatever you want and be doing Kegels. I used to do them on my walk every day and I knew exactly how many I could do between certain streets.


Your Aging Body


I’m just like you. I see gray hairs coming in more often than they used to. I have this wrinkle that pops up when I frown, and now, it takes longer to go away. And guess what else changes?


That’s right. Our vaginas change. I remember seeing ads for labiaplasty or vaginal rejuvenation and thinking, “Oh my gosh. Is this real?”


And it is real. Labiaplasty is a surgery where you change the appearance of your labia or vulva. They cut it and make it shorter to change the appearance. There is also a laser procedure that can be done to shorten it and tighten the muscles.


I mention these so that you can make informed decisions about your body. As with any elective surgery, ask yourself why you would want to do it. Is it because you think it should look different? Do you think it would make you happy?


I’m very much a natural person. Meaning, I don’t wear much makeup and I try to do things in a natural way. I try to eat good, natural foods and take care of my body. Elective surgery is something I give a lot of thought to.


Some people are not okay with having these types of things done so just know what you’re comfortable with and do what you feel is right for you. And don’t let anybody else judge you for your decisions.


Things Always Change


I first met my husband when I was 21. Let me tell you, I had a tight body when I was 21. I may not have thought so then but now, after giving birth 3 times, I realize how amazing my body was at 21!


I had 2 daughters when we reunited and a broken marriage so my body image was also pretty broken. I had emotional issues from my first marriage. But that dear man didn’t mind what my body looked like.


I was hesitant but he put a ring on it. All that to say, you will have changes in your body. That’s just part of life. Give yourself some grace and love your body. Let your partner know how you feel and talk it through.


It is possible to enjoy sex throughout your life and in spite of any changes your body goes through. I hope this episode has helped you to understand more about your vulva and vagina.


Please comment and let me know how you deal with changes in your body and whether you were educated on your body.


One of the changes you may experience can be dryness in the vaginal area so if you need some help in that area, I love the lube called Almost Naked by Good Clean Love.


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