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Info For Teens

Your Vulva, Vagina, and Breasts

You probably already know that every woman has breasts, but did you know that every woman also has a vulva? Here are answers to questions that are commonly asked about the vulva, vagina, and breasts.

 

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    What’s a vulva?

    The vulva is the whole female genital "package" — labia, clitoris, vagina, and the opening to the urethra. This part of our anatomy gets called lots of funny names — coochie, woo-woo, "down there," and it's sometimes confused with the vagina — the stretchable passage that connects a woman's outer sex organs with the cervix and uterus.

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    What does the vulva look like?

    Because women's genitals, unlike men's, are hidden, they can seem mysterious, confusing, and even shameful in a way that's usually not the case with the penis.

    Some women get to know their bodies by standing or sitting over a mirror and looking at the vulva. Examining the vulva allows a woman to recognize these common parts and also notice how the vulva is unique.

    The parts:

    • outer labia (lips)
    • inner labia (lips)
    • clitoris
    • clitoral hood
    • opening to the urethra
    • opening to the vagina
     

    Key Parts: Female External

    Key Parts: Female Internal, front view

    Key Parts: Female Internal, side view

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    What does “labia” mean?

    The word labia means "lips" in Latin. The outer labia are two folds of skin and fatty tissue on each side of the opening to the vagina. They are covered with pubic hair after puberty and more or less hide the rest of the vulva. They can be large or small, short or long, and even (like breasts) two different sizes. This is all normal and part of what makes us each unique. They can be sexually sensitive and can swell a little when a woman gets aroused (turned on).

    The inner labia are also sensitive and can swell up when you're aroused. These are the folds of skin, inside the outer labia, that go from the clitoral hood to below the vaginal opening. Some people think they look like wings. The inner labia can vary in color from pink to brownish black depending on the color of a woman's skin. Like nipples, the inner labia can change color as women mature. Sometimes, after puberty, they stick out from between the outer labia, and they can be wrinkled or smooth.

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    What’s a clitoris?

    The clitoris is located beneath the point where the inner labia meet and form a hood over the clitoris. The head, or glans, of the clitoris may vary in size from smaller than a pea to bigger than a child’s finger. But only the tip of the clitoris can be seen at the top of the vulva in the soft folds where the labia meet, under the skin of the clitoral hood. The rest of the spongy shaft of the clitoris divides into two "legs" that reach inside the body up to more than five inches. The sensitivity of the legs of the clitoris may be different for different women. Like the penis, the clitoris becomes stiff and swollen during sexual arousal. Unlike the penis, the clitoris is designed only for pleasure.

    The clitoris is the pleasure center of the vulva. It's a pretty cool organ. It doesn't have a central role in reproduction like the penis and the vagina do. The clitoris is basically there just to make women feel good! And it’s SUPER sensitive: the clitoris has thousands of nerve endings in it! This can be good news and bad news. While the clitoris is made for intense pleasure, for a lot of women, it can be too sensitive to touch directly. To get the maximum mileage out of this organ, women need to figure out for themselves how they like to be touched, then communicate this to their partners.

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    What does the vagina do?

    The vagina is the passage that connects a woman's outer sex organs — the vulva — with the cervix and uterus. It's often called the birth canal because it's the way the fetus is pushed out of the body during childbirth. This is also where menstrual fluid leaves the body and where the penis goes during vaginal intercourse.

    At birth, girls have some skin called the hymen that stretches over part of the vaginal opening. Some girls have hymens that cover most of the vaginal opening, and some girls have so little hymenal tissue they may seem to have no hymen at all. The hymen can stretch open at first sexual intercourse, through masturbation, or while participating in sports or other vigorous activities.

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    Is the vulva supposed to smell? And am I supposed to have discharge?

    Like most of the human body, the vulva can be a little bit messy. During puberty, the vagina starts to produce a discharge that can be white or clear. It’s called leukorrhea. This is the self-cleaning feature of your vagina. Discharge carries germs and other unwanted stuff out of the body. And when we're ovulating or turned on, our vaginas produce a different discharge that is slippery and clear. It's also a natural lubricant. The cervix also secretes a mucus that changes color and texture at various times in a woman's cycle.

    The vulva has a characteristic scent, and if it's healthy the smell is not unpleasant. If your vulva smells really bad, fishy, or yeasty, or has any other strong, unpleasant odor, see a health care provider. An unpleasantly smelly discharge can be a sign of an infection that should be treated right away.

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    How do I take care of my vulva?

    In an effort to eliminate all natural smells and discharges, a lot of women and girls use douches and feminine deodorants. But the vagina is self-cleaning, so douching is unnecessary, and it can be harmful. Douching can disturb the balance of the normal amount of bacteria found in the vagina, which is one way a woman can get vaginitis, an inflammation of the vagina.

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    Why do women have breasts?

    All female mammals have breasts to provide milk for their young.  But the breasts of women play a totally different role — whether or not they ever have children.  Breasts are considered "secondary" sex organs. Although they have no primary function in sexual reproduction, they are sexually sensitive and may inspire sexual desire.

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    How do I know if my breasts look normal?

    The main thing about breasts is that they can be as different as any two women are. Almost anything is normal. They come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. And when they are developing, they change all the time. As soon as you get used to them one way, they are likely to become different.

    Breasts can range from teeny to enormous, and it seems that we all waste a lot of energy wishing ours were either larger or smaller. Whether yours are lemons or grapefruits, they're normal.

    Small: Some girls worry that having small breasts makes them less feminine. But the tiniest breasts can be really sexy and can work great for sexual pleasure and breastfeeding babies. So if yours are on the small side, try to consider them a well-kept secret.

    Large: If girls with small breasts can feel asexual, girls with big breasts often get treated like they are overly sexual. Some girls feel that once their breasts develop, no one notices anything else about them. We say — be proud of what you've got!

    Lopsided: While breasts come in pairs, they are not always a perfect match. Your two breasts can develop at different rates. Sometimes this evens out, and sometimes it doesn't — either way is normal. If you feel self-conscious about it, you can pad one side of your bra. But even after puberty's over, most women's breasts, like the two sides of our faces, differ somewhat from each other.

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    What are nipples supposed to look like?

    There’s no one way that nipples are supposed to look. Nipples come in a whole range of colors, from light pink to brownish black. The color of your nipples usually corresponds to your skin color. Got dark skin? You've probably got darker nipples. As your breasts develop, your nipples and areolae (the area around the nipples) also get darker.

    A lot of girls and women have nipples that are inverted — they're like slits instead of buttons. Guess what? This, too, is normal. Sometimes only one nipple is inverted. Sometimes they invert or pop out during development. Inverted nipples work just fine and don't mean you can't breastfeed later if you choose to.

    As you've probably noticed, puberty means hair starts cropping up in unexpected places, including your breasts. It's totally normal to have some hair growing around the outside of your areolae. You can leave it alone, or you can remove it with tweezers.

    Like the penis and the clitoris, nipples get erect. Cold, friction, sexual excitement, and even nerves can cause your nipples to become hard and sort of pop out. If this embarrasses you, sometimes rubbing your nipples can make the erection go away.

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    When do breasts start to develop? And when are they through growing?

    Everyone's breasts develop at a different rate. You can start as early as eight years old or as late as 16. Most girls' breasts develop between the ages of nine and 14. They can grow slowly or quickly regardless of when they start to develop.

    If you get your period and your breasts and nipples are totally undeveloped, you should see your doctor to just make sure that everything is on track.

    It's normal for breasts to feel sore or tender as they develop. This discomfort will go away as growth slows down.

    Many girls get stretch marks on their breasts. This is because our skin can't always keep up with the growth happening beneath it. Stretch marks may start out pink or red and raised, but will eventually fade and be much less noticeable.

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    What do breasts have to do with sex?

    Breasts can give you a lot of sexual pleasure. They are basically "freebies," since you can't get pregnant or catch sexually transmitted infection by going to "second base." Most girls' breasts and nipples are sensitive to stroking, touching, and kissing. Looking at, feeling, and kissing breasts turns on a lot of people. Some partners are clumsy in the way they handle breasts and need to be told or shown how to do it in a pleasing way. Some women, of course, aren't crazy about having their breasts touched, and this is normal, too.



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