It’s no secret that sex education in the UK is lacking, to say the least. While some of us are lucky to have had positive experiences when it comes to learning about sex, reproduction, and the (literal) ins and outs of the birds and the bees, many of us have been left ill prepared by the education system.
But it’s not just sexual intercourse that has many people, young and old, scratching their heads. The education system has also failed to teach most of us about our own sexual anatomy in a way that is actually, you know, useful in any way, shape or form.
Sure, we get a few Biology lessons about the reproductive organs. We label a couple of diagrams, pointing out the fallopian tubes and testes, and make a few pages of notes about the ingredients necessary for conception — but for most of us, that’s where it ends. Especially if you have a vagina.
“Many of us with vaginas just don’t have a clue what should or shouldn’t be going on down there”
Centuries of institutionalised misogyny have left vaginas relegated to a few bare-bones pages of textbooks and that, combined with societal shame and internalised misogyny, means that many of us with vaginas just don’t have a clue what should or shouldn’t be going on down there.
This lack of education isn’t just annoying or inconvenient or misogynistic on an intellectual level, though. Knowing nothing about a significant part of our anatomy is dangerous and has real, physical implications that are far worse than any embarrassment caused by talking openly about vaginas. From physical injury to undiagnosed cervical cancer, this lack of education is leaving large swathes of the population at risk.
So, in the name of science, feminism, and public good, here are just a few things about vaginas that I wish I’d known sooner.
Vaginas and vulvas aren’t the same thing
Most of us — myself included — use the term vagina to encompass everything from the labia to the clitoris to the vaginal opening. But the term we actually should be using is “vulva”.
All vulvas look different, but vulvas are generally made up of labia (the folds of skin around the vagina opening), the clitoris (located at the top of the vulva where the inner lips meet), the opening of the urethra (where you pee out of), the vaginal opening, the anus, and the mons pubis (the fleshy mound above your vulva which cushions your pubic bone).
The vagina, on the other hand, is part of the internal sexual anatomy. It’s the tube that connects your vulva with your cervix (the bit that divides your vagina and uterus, which lets menstrual blood out and sperm in) and your uterus (the organ where fetuses grow).
“If any other internal organs started leaking, we’d be rightly freaked out and worried, but when it comes to vaginas, discharge is totally normal”
Discharge is totally normal
If any other internal organs started leaking, we’d be rightly freaked out and worried, but when it comes to vaginas, discharge is totally normal — no matter what jeering teenage boys might tell you. Discharge is simply the vagina’s way of cleaning itself. These secretions are mildly acidic, but no more so than coffee. Read more about 1p Tampons and Other Myths About Period Poverty.
White discharge at the beginning or end of a menstrual cycle is totally normal. The only time you should be concerned is if the discharge is accompanied by itching, or is thick and “chunky”, as this can be a sign of an infection.
Clear and watery, clear and stretchy, and brown or bloody discharge are all also perfectly normal and healthy.
The only discharge that you should be concerned about is yellow or green discharge, particularly if it’s thick or accompanied by an unpleasant smell. These types of discharge can be signs of an infection, and you should head to a doctor if you’re experiencing this.
You don’t need to clean your vagina
There is an entire industry based on the misconception that vaginas are dirty and smelly and need cleaning with fragrant soaps and washes, but the reality is that (cis) vaginas are self-cleaning. Squirting soaps up there can mess with the pH balance of your vagina and cause a lot of serious problems, while vigorously scrubbing your vulva can cause painful scratches or tears.
Yes, vaginas do have a ‘smell’, but they are not ‘smelly’ or ‘dirty’, and you don’t need floral soap to mask something that is completely and utterly natural.
“Vaginas and cervixes and everything stretch to let an entire human baby emerge from them”
Vaginas don’t get loose after a lot of sex
I mean, vaginas and cervixes and everything stretch to let an entire human baby emerge from them. I don’t think a few penises are gonna seriously alter them in any lasting way.
This is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to vaginas and vulvas and the typically female anatomy. There’s a plethora of marvellous things that are bodies are capable of, and we shouldn’t let shame or misogyny or societal expectations stop us from talking about them, learning about them, and teaching them.
Editor’s Note: Nobody at The Nopebook is a doctor, and none of the above should be taken to be medical advice. If you are having any issues with your vagina or any other part of your reproductive anatomy, please see your GP.