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Modern Fertility posted this article penned by Alex Shea exploring the topic of vaginal anatomy, with valuable input by our own Heather Jeffcoat. Read on for informative tips on getting to know your own body better.

Growing up, we all watched the standard puberty video: You know, that video that told us a whole lot of nothing — conversely leaving us with a whole lot of questions? How many times have you glanced down there just out of curiosity? It may be time to grab a mirror and catch up with what’s actually going on with your vagina.

Vulvovaginal anatomy and how it all actually works

First things first, the proper term for what you may call your vagina is really your vulva. The vulva is the exterior part of your genital anatomy whereas your vagina is the tube that connects your vulva and your cervix — or the “neck of the uterus” as Doula and birth educator, Amy Lewis, says. Be aware that no two vulvas look the same. That said, listed below are the anatomical parts of your vulva and vagina that you can familiarize yourself with to help you identify what exactly your normal is.

Vulvas typically include:

  • A set of anatomical body parts: the labia majora, labia minora, clitoris, clitoral hood, and opening to the vagina (vestibule)
  • Bacterial colonies that make up your vaginal microbiome

Vaginas include:

  • A combination of smooth muscle and ridges, known as rugae
  • Secretion of certain fluids: Cervical mucus and other vaginal discharge
Female anatomy
Vulvovaginal anatomy (external)

 

Starting from the outside of your body, where the vulva is…

  • Mons pubis. That area right above your vulva where you get pubic hair during puberty.
  • Labia minora/labia majora. The inner (minora) and outer (majora) lips that wrap around your vaginal opening.
  • Clitoris. Sometimes known as the clit, where the lips of your labia minora meet at the top. In other words, the tip of the iceberg. Oftentimes, you cannot see the clitoral gland without pushing back the overlying tissue called the “clitoral hood.” Note: Both your inner and outer labia, as well as your clitoris, swell or engorge when you’re aroused.
  • Urethra opening. Located a little below your clitoris, this is the hole that you pee out of.
  • Vaginal opening. Where menstrual blood leaves your body, where babies come out of (most of the time — C-sections happen ~32% of the time), and where sex toys, penises, and fingers can potentially go inside.
  • Vagina. Your vagina is a tube that connects your vulva to your cervix.
  • Pelvic floor. A set of muscles that wrap around the vagina, urethra, and rectum, and provides support for your organs, helps you with continence (control of urination and bowel movements), and aids in orgasmic pleasure.

Once you travel through the vagina, you then get to the internal parts of your reproductive system like the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.

There isn’t a whole lot you have to do besides let your vulva do its thing. A few ways to do that include…

Promote a healthy environment. Your vagina and your vulva are extremely sensitive areas of your body. It’s important to create a healthy vulvovaginal environment to reduce the risk of vulvar irritation or bacterial infections. On the outside, Lewis recommends wearing undergarments that can breathe — like cotton! On the inside, Dr. Heather Jeffcoat, physical therapist and owner of Femina Physical Therapy, recommends drinking more water. “If your mouth feels dry, just imagine how your vagina feels!”

A few ways your vulvovaginal health can impact you if you ignore it:

Sexual dysfunction. One in every three people with vulvovaginal areas experience some form of sexual dysfunction. According to Dr. Jeffcoat, the pain you experience during sex can be a result of how much water you drink in a day or how often you perform kegels. Note: there are many other conditions that can contribute to pain with sex, or dyspareunia. While kegels are good for incontinence, Dr. Jeffcoat also recommends doing kegels to “learn to let go and lengthen” your pelvic floor muscles. Hyperactive pelvic floor muscles and vaginal dryness can make sex painful and less enjoyable.

Continue reading the full article here.

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Testimonial by R.H.

No one could tell me why I was having pain during sex--sharp pain, not just uncomfortable, pain. I was referred to Heather Jeffcoat after researching several different options. I had seen a specialist who told me physical therapy would not help and my only option was surgery. I really didn't want to go that route, so when we got a referral, I decided to try it--it can't hurt, I thought. I am so glad I did. She diagnosed the problem right away, which was a relief in itself.

To know why I was having pain eased my mind immensely. And to hear that she could fix it without surgery was another relief. She said she could fix the problem in 6 weeks. I think it was actually 4 for me. She was very methodical, and treated me as an intelligent human being capable of participating in my own recovery. I would absolutely recommend her to anyone. She did not try to prolong my session numbers, she worked hard to accommodate my schedule (and the fact that I had to bring a baby to sessions), and she was completely honest the entire time. It is so hard to find someone with these characteristics, much less a professional who is so good at what she does. She has my highest respect.

-- R.H.

Testimonial by Jamie M.

I have been going to see Heather for a while now, and I can't tell you enough how much she has improved my quality of life. Heather specializes in issues like pelvic floor, but I see her for other orthopedic issues.

I have a lot of chronic joint pain and dysfunction issues (back, hips, neck) that require that have ongoing physical therapy maintenance. The effects of my problem joints/areas overlap and interconnect with each other in complex ways, so helping me requires really having a complete understanding of the entire skeletal and muscular system. Pain does not always appear where the problem actually is, the human body is a twisty, many-layered puzzle. I have an exercise program I do at home and I am very functional, but there are just something things I need a PT to help me out with.

Read more: Testimonial by Jamie M.

Testimonial by M.M.

My husband and I were married for 5 years and unable to have intercourse, but I never knew why. After numerous awful experiences at doctor’s offices (where many doctors told me I “just needed to relax”), a surgery that didn’t fix the problem, and a year of owning dilators that didn’t get me anywhere, someone finally referred me to Heather for Physical Therapy. I finally had answers and information from someone who knew exactly what I was dealing with!

Read more: Testimonial by M.M.

Testimonial by A.W., age 32

I wanted to let you know that my pelvic floor held strong and gave me no trouble whatsoever in my trail race this morning (12 miles)! In a way, I felt like I ran better than ever because my core feels so rock solid from all the exercises you have me doing. That was especially valuable on the technical downhill - I just flew down the trail because I had confidence in my balance and form. Thank you for helping me get back to doing what I love.

-- A.W., age 32
(completed Post-partum Renewal Program using the InTone biofeedback/stim unit)

Testimonial by A.B.

Before I was referred to Heather Jeffcoat I was living in a nightmare. I had been married to my husband for three years and I was suffering from Vaginismus. That all changed when I visited my OBGYN and she said she knew of someone with a great success rate. To be honest I was hesitant at first because my first doctor had already told me that all I needed to do was order dilators from the internet and I should overcome my problem. She was wrong because I had followed the book on how to use the dilators with absolutely no advancements in my condition. However, that all changed when I went in for my first visit and Heather took the time to explain my condition and how we were going to work together to overcome it.

I remember leaving her office with a glimmer of hope that I could live a normal life. As my sessions continued I began to see immediate results. With only four sessions and a strict dedication to my home programs I was cured of Vaginismus. In the beginning of this process I was made aware that my health insurance company might not cover the costs, which was disappointing but today I can say one hundred percent that it was the best money I ever spent. Now thanks to Heather I am finally enjoying my life to the fullest with my husband. Thank you Heather, I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate all that you have done for me. I will never forget it. Those who are suffering from these types of conditions don’t be afraid because she makes you feel so comfortable and the end result is worth it. Good luck to you all and I hope you experience the success I have.
-- A.B.

Testimonial by T.H.

I started seeing Heather in October 2014. For more than two years, I had been suffering from painful urinary tract infection type symptoms after my bartholins gland surgery which included constant burning and urinary frequency sensation that led to more and more painful intercourse. I had made multiple visits to internist, obgyn and urologist's offices, went through a range of treatment with UTI and bladder frequency medication that included antibiotics, vesicare, estrogen cream, but nothing worked.

Read more: Testimonial by T.H.

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