Table of Contents
Definition of Vagina of Women
The muscular passageway between the cervix and the vulva (outside of the body). The vagina serves as the portal through which the menstrual flow leaves the body with menstruation, the erect penis enters during sexual intercourse, and the fetus passes during childbirth.
The outer structures of the vagina are strong muscles that have the ability to vary the inner diameter of the vagina from its normal state in which the vaginal walls touch each other to four or five inches to accommodate the birth of a child. Deep folds of mucous membrane (the vaginal mucosa) line the vagina.
The folds, called rugae, give the vagina its ability to expand. The vaginal muscles also relax to extend the depth (length) of the vagina, facilitating sexual intercourse.
Vagina and The Hymen
The vaginal tissue near the opening of the vagina (the vaginal introitus) has an abundance of sensory nerve endings though the rest of the vaginal mucosa has few sensory nerve endings. A small ring of vaginal mucosa, called the hymen, extends partially across the opening of the vagina.
The degree to which the hymen restricts access to the vagina varies widely among women. Though conventional wisdom purports that penetration of the erect penis with a woman’s first experience of sexual intercourse tears or ruptures the hymen, this may or may not be the case.
A hymen that does not extend very far across the vaginal opening may not impede the entry of the erect penis. The hymen may also rupture or tear as a result of other factors such as insertion of tampons or activities such as horseback riding.
Vagina and Vaginal Mucosa
The Bartholin’s glands and Skene’s ducts near the entrance to the vagina and the nabothian glands (cervical glands) that cover the cervix provide secretions to moisten and lubricate the interior of the vagina. These secretions diminish with the loss of estrogens that characterizes menopause.
As a result the vaginal mucosa becomes thin and fragile and the vagina less flexible after menopause.
|HEALTH CONDITIONS THAT CAN AFFECT THE VAGINA|
|Candidiasis (vaginal yeast infection)||Chlamydia|
|Escherichia coli infection||Genital herpes|
|Human papillomavirus (hpv)||Sexual assault|
For further discussion of the vagina within the context of the structures and functions of reproduction and sexuality, please see the overview section “The Reproductive System.”
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