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Your Vagina - What's Normal? What's Not?

What is the vagina? Women’s sexual organs are both inside the body (the uterus, the ovaries, and the vagina) and outside the body, the vulva (inner and outer labia, clitoris, and the opening of the vagina).

The vagina is a tube that is approximately three inches long connecting the cervix or neck of the uterus to the vulva, where it opens between the legs. The vagina is extremely elastic so that it can stretch around a penis during intercourse, or around a baby during labor and delivery.

Pelvic floor exercises, otherwise known as Kegel exercises, can help keep your vagina toned and improve both sexual function and help with labor and delivery during pregnancy. Pelvic floor muscles support the bladder and bowel and provide control when you urinate. As you get older, your pelvic floor muscles may weaken and can cause problems such as urinary incontinence and reduced sensitivity during sex.

Your Vagina – What’s Normal? What’s Not?

Kegel exercises are easy to do, can be done anywhere and at any time, and will help keep your pelvic floor toned. To practice these exercises, sit comfortably and squeeze the same muscles you would use to stop the flow of urine. Don’t hold your breath or overdo. Rest between sets of squeezes. Over time you will see results.

Everyone’s vagina is unique. What someone else’s vagina looks like may be perfectly normal for them, but won’t necessarily look like yours. For example, some women have large labia, which may cause them concern. For the most part this isn’t a problem. In rare cases, for example if you are a professional cyclist, large labia may affect your ability to sit comfortably on the seat for an extended period of time, but this is rare.

Vaginal discharge is normal and the amount will vary during different stages of your menstrual cycle. Even clean, healthy vaginas may have a mild odor. However, if your normal discharge changes color or smells bad, have your AOA doctor test for infection.

Vaginal itching is not normal. Itching can result in an infection, such as a yeast infection or thrush, or it can be the result of a generalized skin problem like eczema. It can also result from benign or malignant changes to the skin. All forms of vaginal itching should be treated. If itching persists over several weeks, see your AOA physician to find and treat the cause of the condition.

Your vagina also will change after giving birth. It may feel wider and more swollen, but as your body recovers from delivery, the swelling will reduce. It will probably not return to your pre-birth shape, but it will not be a problem. Again, pelvic floor exercises can help you regain tone and muscle strength.

Because of the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases and the impact they can have on your life, health professionals recommend that everyone practice safe sex. A recent study from China suggests that using condoms not only protects your body from sexually transmitted infections; they can also help keep your vagina healthy by protecting healthy bacteria known as lactobacilli. These lactobacilli keep the natural pH balance in your vagina, which can prevent yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis and urinary tract infections.

While all women have the same reproductive parts, each woman is different and what’s normal for one woman may not be normal for another. Get to know and understand your body and what’s normal for you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Talk with your AOA health provider and get the answers you need to feel confident about your health.

Learn more about keeping a healthy vagina: