The source of life itself, the vagina, is an area of the body that is simply not spoken about often enough. This very important part of a woman’s body plays a key role in her overall health. Since a healthy vagina usually indicates a healthy body, it makes sense that an unhealthy vagina can signal moderate or possibly serious health problems.
In this article, we venture down south and discover what constitutes a healthy vagina, and conversely, what signs or symptoms should prompt you to visit your gynecologist.
Technically speaking, the vagina is the muscular canal that extends from the vulva to the neck of the uterus. That said, the term often refers to the entire area between a woman’s legs, the various parts of which are described below.
The vulva consists of a clitoris, which is protected by a hood, and outer and inner labia (also known as ‘lips’). The outer lips are large, fleshy folds of tissue, which can feal fatty and are often covered in pubic hair. The inner lips are around two inches wide, and are usually much thinner in nature.
Between the inner labia lies the vagina and the urethra (or bladder opening). Often, the vulva and vagina are confused, however the vagina, also known as the birth canal, is inside the body and only the opening can be seen from the outside.
Some women will have a thin, stretchy membrane at the opening of the vagina, known as the hymen. The hymen can rupture during an initial sexual encounter, but may also rupture on its own. The vagina itself is a tube-like orifice extending from the vulva to the cervix and measuring around 8 cm, or 3 inches, in length. Its walls are made up of tightly folded and highly elastic tissue.
Just south of the vagina is the perineum and the anus. The perineum is the tissue between the vagina and anus, and often tears during childbirth.
If you’re doing a vaginal self exam, you’re not going to get as in-depth a view as your gynecologist, who checks for things like ovarian cysts, sexually transmitted infections, uterine fibroids, and more.
It's important to note that all vaginas are not created equal, as they can vary in size, shape and color. Some vaginas are egg-shaped, while others are large and cylindrical. Color variation ranges from light pink to deep reddish-brown.
Doing a self-exama in between gynecology check-ups is recommended. Here is what to look for:
Watch out for these unusual signs when performing your vaginal exam. They may may be indicative of a vaginal health problem.
Strong-smelling discharge (sometimes green, gray, brown, or yellow in color)
Thick, white, cottage cheesy-style, odourless discharge
This can sometimes indicate thrush, or a yeast infection, which happens when a fungus called candida grows out of control
Swelling around the vulva
This is another indicator of thrush, or a yeast infection, though it could also signal something more serious
Small red bumps
These may itch or hurt, or you may not feel them at all
No amount of itching is normal or healthy in the vagina
Open sores, blisters, or warts, on or around the vulva
Sores or growths along the vaginal wall
Lumps anywhere on the inside or outside of the vagina
Small cuts or bleeding outside of menstruation
Bleeding during the menstrual cycle that is heavier or longer than normal
Blood or stool in urine
A vulva that is redder, whiter, or more tender than normal
More frequent need to urinate
Any sort of discomfort in the region
Should you encounter any of these warning signs while performing your vaginal self-exam, it’s best to make an appointment to see your gynecologist as soon as possible.
Reviewed by Dr Roy Kedem, MD
Information last reviewed 10/13/21