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The vulva and the vagina are parts of the female reproductive system, which also includes the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus and cervix.
Sometimes called the birth canal, the vagina is a muscular tube about 7–10 cm long that extends from the cervix to the vulva. The vaginal opening is where menstrual blood flows out of the body during a period, sexual intercourse occurs, and a baby leaves the body.
The vulva is a general term for a female’s external sexual organs (genitals). The main parts of the vulva are the:
- mons pubis – the soft, fatty mound of tissue covered with pubic hair, above the labia
- labia majora – two large, outer fleshy lips, which surround and protect the inner lips known as labia minora
- labia minora – two inner lips (may be smaller or thinner than the labia majora)
- clitoris – the main organ for sexual pleasure in females. It is located where the labia minora join at the top of the vulva. During arousal, the clitoris fills with blood and becomes erect, and touching it can lead to sexual climax (orgasm)
- Bartholin glands – two small glands near the opening of the vagina. They produce mucus to moisten (lubricate) the vagina.
Urethra, anus and perineum
Below the clitoris is the urethra, for passing urine. Further down is the entrance to the vagina, and behind that is the anus. The area of skin between the vagina and the anus is called the perineum.
Understanding Vulvar and Vaginal CancersDownload PDF
This information is reviewed by
This information was last reviewed October 2020 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Alison Brand, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Ellen Barlow, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Royal Hospital for Women, NSW; Jane Conroy-Wright, Consumer; Rebecca James, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Suparna Karpe, Clinical Psychologist, Gynaecological Oncology, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Dr Pearly Khaw, Consultant Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Sally McCoull, Consumer; A/Prof Orla McNally, Gynaecological Oncologist and Director, Oncology/Dysplasia, The Royal Women’s Hospital, and Director, Gynaecology Tumour Stream, Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, VIC; Haley McNamara, Social Worker and Project Manager, Care at End of Life Project, Queensland Health, QLD; Tamara Wraith, Senior Clinician – Physiotherapy, The Royal Women’s Hospital, VIC.