Got a vagina? What about a cervix? Or maybe you don’t have either but you’re curious to know what it all means? You’ve come to the right place. We hear and say these words a lot, but sometimes we use them interchangeably to mean pretty much the same thing; the bits inside that hole you stick your tampon in. But they’re actually two separate entities, and we’re here to break down the difference between the two.
The word ‘vagina’ is usually used as a sort of umbrella term for all parts that make up the female genitalia, and more specifically people use it when they mean the vulva - the outer part of the sexual organs. The vulva includes the labia, the clitoris, the urethra, and the vaginal opening, which is where the vagina actually is.
The vagina is the part where your period comes out, the part that you insert your tampon into, the part that stuff may go into during sex (penis, fingers, toys, etc.) and the part a baby comes out of during childbirth. It’s pretty multi-functional.
The vagina is a muscular canal that expands and contracts as needed, with a squishy, flexible lining. This can produce natural lubrication during sex, and it connects to the uterus via the cervix.
The cervix is the entryway to the uterus. It’s actually part of the uterus, but made up of different tissue, and is cylindrical in shape and around 2 inches long. You’ll find it at the very bottom of the uterus and the top of the vagina, and its role is to keep the uterus happy and healthy, to widen during childbirth so a baby can come out, and to allow menstrual blood from the uterus to enter the vagina. It’s also the gatekeeper for any sperm that want to swim up to the uterus to try fertilising an egg.
When your GP is looking up at the cervix while doing your smear test, the part they see is called the ectocervix. It has an opening in the middle which is called the ‘external os’, and this opens when needed, such as when a baby comes out.
That magical cervical tube connects the uterus to the vagina, and this comes in handy each month when you have your period. The lining of your uterus thickens and - if an egg isn’t fertilised - eventually sheds in the form of tissue and blood, moving though your cervix and into your vagina.
The cervix is super intuitive, and during pregnancy, it’s actually thick and closed. When it comes time to give birth, contractions draw the cervix up further into the uterus, and it thins and opens. This opening of the cervix is the part in the movies where doctors say “you’re dilated!”, and when it reaches about ten centimetres dilated, contractions help the baby move from the uterus through the cervix and down into the vagina, ready to be born.
It can be hard to picture them when they’re inside your body. You may have experimented with looking at the opening of your vagina using a hand mirror, but if not, we recommend taking a look-see at what you’ve got going on down there. It’s not so easy to see inside the vagina, however, and the cervix is rarely seen - most of us will never even catch a glimpse.
If we could see our full reproductive system outside of the body, we’d see that both the vagina and the cervix are generally cylinder shaped. Vagina shape varies from person to person though, with some more oval shaped. If you’re not squeamish, Women’s Health magazine has some fascinating (and rather graphic, be warned) photos of a cervix as it appears throughout the month - definitely check them out as they might surprise you.
They pretty much take care of themselves. When it comes to the cervix, make sure you attend your cervical screening exam (every 3 years if you're aged 25-49, every 5 if you’re 50-64). This is where they test cells from your cervix to ensure everything is healthy in there. Many people put off doing this, but it can literally save your life as it catches any abnormal cells that can lead to cervical cancer - don’t skip this test!
Other things you can do for a healthy cervix is to get your HPV vaccine which also protects against cervical cancer, practice safe sex, and get tested for STIs reguarly so you know everything is healthy.
The vagina can be a tricky one, as there’s a bit more going on. You may be having sex, putting a tampon in there, and washing the outside (the vulva) with products in the shower. If you find you get any irritation or infections easily, you may want to try switching to a gentler product to clean - the vulva only, remember. The vagina is a self-cleaning organ, so always avoid cleaning the inside by douching or using products in there. It takes care of itself.
If you want to treat your vagina to even more of a good time, you can also try switching to organic period care, using a natural lubricant that suits your skin sensitivity, and always wearing breathable cotton underwear for a happy vagina.
Got a question about your cervix or vagina? Let us know what’s on your mind over in our private Facebook group or drop us a note on Insta@itsyoppie. Don't forget that our personalised period box can get organic tampons, PMS supplements and more delivered easily and regularly through your letterbox, so that's one load off your mind about everything going on down there!
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