If you have a vagina, chances are you’ve been using the term “vagina” to refer to your entire genitals for a long time. It’s time to pay a little more attention to the vulva! Do you know the difference between a vulva and a vagina? Don’t worry if not, we’re here to give you a rundown on vulvas, how to pleasure them and how to care for them.
What is a vulva?
The vulva is the external part of the genitals. This includes structures like the inner and outer labia, the clitoris and the urethra.
When we talk about the vagina, we’re talking about the internal canal that leads from the vulva into the cervix. The vagina is where penetration occurs and menstrual blood comes from, it’s the vessel through which babies are born.
So what do the other parts do?
Labia. The labia minora (inner) and majora (outer) are the most external parts of the vulva. Their function is to protect the more concealed parts, like the urethral opening, clitoris and vagina. The labia can be different shapes, sizes and colours. Often they’re beautifully uneven, and sometimes the inner labia protrudes outside the outer labia. Don’t be fooled by what you see in porn and movies, there are many different ways the labia can look and this may change during arousal or with age.
Urethra. The urethral opening is where the wee comes out. If you’re a squirter, the urethra is where liquid comes from (even though it’s not 100% pee). The urethra is one of three openings down there, the other two being the vagina and the anus. We know it can be a little bit confusing and there’s a lot going on, but all three openings serve different functions. Grab a mirror and have a look at your vulva to make sure you can identify each area.
Clitoris. The clitoris has both internal and external parts (no, it’s not just the little button). The clitoris glans, the most well-known part of the clitoris, is the little pea-shaped structure that you can see and touch directly. Again, these come in all different shapes and sizes. The clitoral hood sits at the top of the vulva, where the two labia connect. The rest of the clitoris sits inside the body in a wishbone-like shape. The clitoris is the most sensitive and pleasurable part of the vulva, and should not be neglected during sex.
How do I pleasure a vulva?
Clitoral stimulation. No vulva is the same, so each person will like different types of clitoral stimulation. If you’re using hands, try rubbing, circling, tapping, stroking, figure eight or pulsing motions. There are also many different types of toys to try, such as bullet, palm, wand or vacuum suction vibrators. If you find something that’s working, stick with it, there’s no rush to orgasm. Otherwise, mix things up, change directions, increase or decrease the speed, adjust the pressure, use different fingers or your other hand, or try a different toy. Just like a penis, the clitoris can become erect. The clitoris will swell, tingle or pulse and become increasingly sensitive when aroused.
Vulva contact. The clitoris might be the most sensitive, but that doesn’t mean it won’t feel nice to touch the other areas of the vulva. Trace your fingers and hands around the vulva, get to know the whole area. When applying lube, use your fingers to spread it around sensually. Bring the natural lubrication from inside the vagina up over the vulva. Cup the entire vulva with your hand to create warmth. Move to and from clitoral stimulation and broader vulva touch. Gently play with the labia lips. The labia will swell, darken and become firmer when aroused.
Vaginal penetration. You may think you already know everything there is to know about intercourse, but there’s always tips and tricks to make things better. Go slow and tease before penetration. Use lube for extra comfort. Spend some extra time at the entrance of the vagina, this is actually the most sensitive part. Once inside, stay there for a while and get to know the area, rather than only moving in and out quickly. The vagina will lubricate, lengthen and open up when aroused.
Body awareness. Engaging other parts of the body may activate stronger sensations in the vulva and increase pleasure. Lots of vulva owners like to include movement of the hips, so try grinding or rocking around in whatever direction feels right. Play around with the angle of your hips, maybe even use a pillow to hold your pelvis up. Rise into a bridge pose and engage the glutes (yes, like in pilates). Pay attention to your senses, breathe in time with the movement and allow yourself to make sound.
How do I care for my vulva?
First thing’s first, the vagina is self-cleaning so there’s no need for fancy soaps or douches. To clean the vulva, rinse only the external parts with water, a washcloth or a gentle wash that won’t alter your pH, such as our Intimate Body Wash.
Cleaning aside, vulvas can still benefit from a little bit of extra attention. While none of the following are hard and fast rules, it still might be nice to keep some of these care suggestions in mind.
Talk. Develop a positive relationship with your genitals by speaking kindly to and about your vulva. This can be out loud to other people, or internally in your mind (your thoughts matter!). Express gratitude for the functional roles your vulva plays. Stop apologising to others for having pubic hair. In a sexual scenario, check in with what your vulva and vagina need. Release any frustration you might have over taking time to become aroused.
Wear. Certain underwear and clothing choices can support vulva health. Swap out synthetic underwear for breathable materials such as cotton, bamboo, tencel or hemp. Change out of tight, moisture-wicking exercise gear after working out. Opt for loose, breathable clothing rather than always reaching for uncomfortable jeans or tight clothing.
Wee/wipe. The way you go to the toilet matters. Going to the bathroom after sex can reduce the chance of infection by flushing out bacteria. Wipe your vulva from front to back and use a separate piece of toilet paper for the anus. This is recommended to reduce the likelihood of irritating the vulva and avoid bringing bacteria or faeces from the anus to the vagina.
Sleep. Try going to bed without underwear. It can be really beneficial to allow your vulva time to breathe overnight. If you don’t sleep alone, don’t worry, you don’t have to be butt naked every night. Even wearing some loose PJ pants without underwear can help.
Touch. Masturbate regularly! It’s no secret that we are big advocates for self pleasure at VUSH. Masturbation can increase blood flow, relieve discomfort and pain, and strengthen the pelvic floor. Don’t forget to use lube. It can also be really nice to give your vulva touch and affection that is non-sexual too, for example cupping, gentle stroking or massage.
Now that you’ve read our five tips for vulva care and received a full anatomy and pleasure lesson, do you promise to give your vulva the love and attention it deserves?