Vagina

Overview

What is your vagina?

Your vagina is a stretchy, muscular canal that’s an important part of your reproductive anatomy. Many people refer to “vaginas” as a stand-in for all the reproductive parts associated with being assigned female at birth (AFAB). But your vagina is just one essential organ that’s part of your reproductive and sexual health.

Your vagina is an essential part of your external genitals, or your vulva, which allows you to experience sexual pleasure. And, it’s an important part of your internal reproductive system, which makes pregnancy and childbirth possible.

Who has a vagina?

People who are assigned female at birth (AFAB) have vaginas. AFAB people include cisgender women — people who are AFAB and identify as women — and some transgender men and nonbinary individuals. Some intersex individuals have cervixes, too.

Some transgender women and nonbinary individuals who aren’t AFAB choose to have gender-affirming surgery called a vaginoplasty. A vaginoplasty constructs a vagina out of a person’s genitals.

Function

What does your vagina do?

Your vagina enables you to experience sexual pleasure, channels period blood outside of your body, and plays a role in both pregnancy and childbirth.

  • Sexual pleasure: The walls of your vagina contain nerve endings that allow you to experience pleasure when a penis, a finger or fingers, or a sex toy penetrates your vagina. Your vagina expands and becomes lubricated when you’re aroused to prevent the friction from feeling painful instead of pleasurable.
  • Menstruation: You shed your uterus lining (endometrium) each month during your menstrual cycle unless you become pregnant. The lining exits your body through your vagina as menstrual blood. You can insert tampons and menstrual cups inside of your vagina to manage the blood flow.
  • Pregnancy: During penis-in-vagina sex (intercourse), sperm may get released into your vaginal canal if your partner ejaculates. Sperm has to swim from your vagina and through your uterus and fallopian tubes in order to fertilize an egg.
  • Childbirth: People sometimes refer to the vagina as a “birth canal” when referring to its role during childbirth. Your baby travels from your uterus and through your vagina to be born. Your vaginal opening is your baby’s last stop on its journey from your body to the outside world.

Interesting facts about your vagina

Sometimes, a vagina sometimes is compared to a self-cleaning oven because it cleans itself without any outside help. Your vagina is host to a variety of bacteria and fungi that keep it healthy. These tiny organisms coexist in a delicate ecosystem, sometimes called your microbiome or vaginal flora. When you have the right balance of these organisms in your vagina (especially a lot of Lactobacilli, the “good” bacteria in your vagina), your vagina is infection-free. An imbalance of bacteria or an overgrowth of fungus can lead to infection.

Anatomy

Where is your vagina located?

Many people confuse “vaginas” and “vulvas,” but your vagina and vulva aren’t the same. Your vagina is a canal-like organ located inside of your body that opens outside of your body. It’s a powerful passage that leads from your uterus (inside of your body) to your vulva, which includes your external reproductive organs, or genitals.

Inside of your body

Your vagina extends from your cervix, a neck-like piece of tissue that connects your vagina to your uterus. Your vagina ends as a hole outside of your body, called your vaginal opening. Your vagina is between your bladder (which holds your urine, or pee) and your rectum (which holds your poop).

Your G-spot is located just a few inches inside of your vagina, on the front wall. Many people find it pleasurable when this area is stimulated (with a finger or penis) during sex.

Outside of your body

Your vagina ends at a hole called your vaginal opening, which is part of your vulva. Your vulva includes folds of skin on both sides of your vaginal opening. The outer folds are called your labia majora. The inner folds are called your labia minora (inner lips). Your clitoris (clit) is located where your inner lips meet toward the top of your vulva. Your vaginal opening is located where your inner lips meet toward the bottom of your vulva. Sometimes, your inner lips wholly or partially cover your vaginal opening. You may have to part your inner lips with your fingers to feel your vaginal opening.

Your vaginal opening is one of three essential holes in your vulva area that link your body’s internal and external functions. Your urethral opening is at the top. Your vaginal opening is in the middle. And your anus is at the bottom.

  • Urethral opening: A tiny hole located beneath your clitoris that allows you to pee. The tube that carries urine from your bladder (urethra) empties outside of your body at this opening.
  • Vaginal opening: This is where your baby exits your body during childbirth and where period blood flows during menstruation. It’s also the hole where a penis, finger, sex toy, tampon or menstrual cup can be inserted. A thin membrane called a hymen usually surrounds or partially covers your vaginal opening. This membrane may be stretched during sex, exercise or even when you’re inserting a tampon. This stretching may or may not be painful.
  • Anus: The organ that carries poop from your colon (rectum) empties outside of your body at this opening.

What is the average depth of a vagina?

The average vagina (unaroused) is a little over 3.5 inches deep. But your vagina’s size depends on various factors, including your age, weight and whether or not you’ve gone through menopause. Surgeries involving your pelvic cavity may shorten the overall length of your vagina, too.

Your vagina is an elastic organ that can increase in depth up to a certain limit. When you’re aroused, the organ that connects your vagina to your uterus (cervix) tilts upward, lengthening your vaginal canal in the process. Your vagina can stretch to fit a penis, finger or sex toy. Still, the experience can become uncomfortable if an inserted object makes contact with your cervix. Communicate with your partners about what’s pleasurable for you.

What is the vagina made of?

Your vagina consists of several types of tissue and cells that secrete fluids that keep your vaginal walls moist, elastic and healthy. The cells in your vagina are especially responsive to the hormone estrogen. Your body produces higher amounts of estrogen in your reproductive years than during menopause. Less estrogen following menopause can cause your vaginal walls to thin and dry. Over-the-counter lubricants and estrogen-replacement therapy can help with vaginal dryness post-menopause.

Conditions and Disorders

What are the common conditions and disorders that affect your vagina?

Many conditions affect your vagina, but the most common problem is vaginitis, a variety of disorders that cause vaginal inflammation and/or infection. The most common conditions that fall under this larger umbrella are:

Other conditions include:

  • Bartholin cyst: A fluid-filled sac that can form on your Bartholin gland, a gland located on both sides of your vaginal opening.
  • Chlamydia: A sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatis.
  • Genital herpes: An STI caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV).
  • Gonorrhea: An STI caused by a bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoaea.
  • HPV infection: An STI caused by the human papillomavirus.
  • Syphilis: An STI caused by a bacteria called Treponema pallidum.
  • Vaginal atrophy: A condition occurring after menopause, where your vaginal walls dry and thin because of a decrease in estrogen.
  • Vaginal cancer: Rare type of cancer that’s most common in people with HPV infections.
  • Vulvar cancer: Rare type of cancer that’s caused by HPV infection or lichen sclerosus.
  • Vaginal prolapse: Condition where your vagina slips out of place because of weakened pelvic floor muscles.

What are common signs or symptoms of conditions involving my vagina?

You may experience a variety of symptoms depending on your specific condition. Differences in your vaginal discharge, especially, usually mean you have an infection.

What are the common tests to check the health of your vagina?

  • Pelvic exam: Your healthcare provider inspects your vagina and vulva to check for irregularities or signs of disease.
  • Pap smear: A test to check for signs of cervical cancer. In rare cases, abnormal Pap results may indicate signs of vaginal cancer.
  • Colposcopy: A procedure that uses a special lighted microscope to magnify the tissue in your vagina. Your healthcare provider can take tissue samples of any concerning areas on your vagina and test them in a lab.
  • Vaginal PH test: A test that measures your PH levels, or how acidic your vaginal fluids are. Your PH levels can help your healthcare provider diagnose an infection.
  • STI tests: Your provider may test your urine (urinalysis) or vaginal fluid to check for the organisms that cause STIs.
  • Pelvic imaging: Your healthcare provider might order an imaging procedure to examine your vagina for growths or structural problems like prolapse. Ultrasounds are most commonly used, but your healthcare provider may order magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) and computed tomography (CT) scans, too.
  • Biopsy: Your healthcare provider may take a tissue sample to test for cancer cells.

What are the common treatments for your vagina?

Antibiotics (gels, creams, pills) or antifungal medications can treat most causes of vaginitis. Vaginal changes related to decreases in estrogen, like vaginal atrophy, often improve with hormone therapy.

Vaginal cancer may require surgery or treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. Treatment depends on how serious the cancer is.

Care

Simple lifestyle tips to keep your vagina healthy

  • Get regular pelvic exams and Pap smears. Not all conditions that affect your vagina cause noticeable symptoms. Regular screenings allow your healthcare provider to detect issues and intervene early, as needed.
  • Avoid douching. Douching can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in your vaginal flora that keeps it infection-free.
  • Change out of wet or sweaty clothing. Wearing dry clothes can reduce your risk of getting a bacterial or fungal infection.
  • Do pelvic floor exercises (Kegel exercises). Exercising your pelvic floor muscles regularly may combat conditions like vaginal prolapse. Strong pelvic floor muscles also increase your ability to control and squeeze your vaginal walls, heightening sexual pleasure during arousal and orgasm.
  • Practice safer sex. Use condoms or dental dams when you’re having intercourse, anal sex or oral sex. Avoid sharing sex toys, and limit your number of sex partners. Safer sex can reduce your risk of infection.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Your vagina plays a vital role as part of both your internal and external reproductive parts. Vaginas help make pleasure, pregnancy and childbirth possible. Take care of your vagina by practicing safer sex to reduce your risk of infection. Avoid douching, which can disrupt the self-cleaning powers of your vagina. See your healthcare provider for regular pelvic exams to ensure that your vagina stays healthy.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/08/2022.

References

  • Chen X, Lu Y, Chen T, Li R. The female vaginal microbiome in health and bacterial vaginosis. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33898328/) Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 2021;11:631972. Published 2021 Apr 7. Accessed 3/8/2022.
  • Lloyd J, Crouch NS, Minto CL, Liao LM, Creighton SM. Female genital appearance: “normality” unfolds. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15842291/) (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15842291/) BJOG. 2005;112(5):643-646. Accessed 3/8/2022.
  • Paladine HL, Desai UA. Vaginitis: diagnosis and treatment. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29671516/) Am Fam Physician. 2018;97(5):321-329. Accessed 3/8/2022.
  • Tan JS, Lukacz ES, Menefee SA, Luber KM, Albo ME, Nager CW. Determinants of vaginal length. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17014819/) Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2006;195(6):1846-1850. Accessed 3/8/2022.

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