The vagina is part of the female reproductive system. It serves as the external connection of the uterus, with the labia and the vulva forming the entrance. On the interior end, the cervix—or the neck of the uterus—is directly connected to the vagina.
The vagina serves as the exit for menstrual flow, which begins from the uterus. During sexual intercourse, the vagina’s elastic muscles and soft, flexible lining provides both sensation and lubrication as the penis enters the vagina. This organ also serves as the exit for an infant during childbirth.
The appearance of the vagina varies across different ages and races, but it is mostly reddish pink in color. Anatomically, it is located behind a female’s urethra and bladder. Both the vagina’s orifice and the opening of the urethra—where urine passes through—are protected by the labia, also known as the organ's outer lips.
The vaginal wall is consists of four layers of tissue; a mucosal layer made up of non-keratinized stratified squamous epithelium, the lamina propria which is made of connective tissues, a fibrous layer of smooth muscle, and on the outmost layer, the connective tissue known as adventitia.
The blood circulation to the vaginal area is provided by the uterine, vaginal, middle rectal, and internal pudendal arteries.
Common Vagina Problems/Conditions
Vaginal diseases are pathological conditions that can partially or completely affect the vagina. Many gynecologists note that exercising proper vulvovaginal health maintenance can prevent the development of these diseases.
Sexually transmitted diseases or STDs. These infections, also known as venereal diseases, can be transmitted through vaginal intercourse. Sexually active females who do not practice safety measures can be vulnerable to infections such as gonorrhea, herpes genitalis, chlamydia, and HPV (human papillomavirus).
Vaginal lumps. Lumps in the vaginal walls or the base of the orifice are always considered abnormal. One of the most common types of vaginal lumps is the Bartholin’s cyst formed by a blockage in the glands near the vaginal orifice. Lumps can also be caused by herpes simplex and are characterized by numerous growths with a crust formed by clear fluids from within the lumps.
Candidal vulvovaginitis. Also known as vaginal yeast infection, this condition involves excessive yeast growth in the vaginal area, which could result in severe itching, burning urination, painful sexual intercourse, redness or swelling around the vagina, and white, thick fluid discharge.
Bacterial vaginosis. This disease is caused by excessive bacterial growth in the vaginal area and is typically characterized by foul-smelling white or gray vaginal discharge. Unlike yeast infection, this condition often does not involve itching and other telltale symptoms.
Common Vaginal Procedures and Surgeries
Vaginal hysterectomy. This procedure surgically removes the cervix and the uterus through the vagina.
Vaginal rejuvenation. This is an aesthetic procedure that aims to improve the appearance of the vagina and involves tightening the vaginal canal and/or reshaping the labia and vulva.
Vaginectomy. This involves the complete or partial removal of the vagina and can be recommended for patients with vaginal cancer.
Vaginal reconstruction. This is often recommended for patients who have undergone vaginectomy and involves creating a new or artificial vagina.