Let's talk about the V-word

Melissa L McElroy, PT, DPT, WCS

JANUARY 30, 2018

woman in a red dress with hands covering her pelvis

It's been less than a year since we, at Dunn Physical Therapy, started our blog. Yes, I know… We're not behind, just "fashionably late". Since we started our blog we have addressed a multitude of topics from incontinence to postpartum concerns to pelvic pain, but I wanted to take a step back; A large step back, and talk (or write, as the case may be) about anatomy.

Head, Shoulders, Pelvis, Toes… or something like that…

Some may have already started scrolling down or decided to skip this post all together thinking, "I already know I have a vagina", but let's be real: There is an alarming number of women in this world that aren't confident in their ability to identify or explain, or even say out loud what (or where) certain quite important body parts are. Ladies, THIS IS NOT OKAY! I feel very strongly about this; Not from the "I am woman, hear me roar" feminist sort of movement (although I'm down with that as well). I feel strongly about it because these are YOUR body parts. You own them. Don't you want to know what and where they are?

Through song and dance, we teach our children at young ages the names of other body parts. So, short of making a song about it (Now there's an idea!) I will attempt to give a basic overview of the female anatomy:

We, as women, have 3 openings through the muscles that make up the bottom of the pelvis; we call these muscles the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor is your last line of support for your internal organs. It also assists in maintaining bowel and bladder control (continence), and plays a role in sexual function and pleasure. There are 3 openings of the pelvic floor. The front opening allows for the urethra to come through (for urination), the middle opening is for the vagina (sexual pleasure, childbirth) and the back opening is for the rectum (for defecation). As you can see in the picture below, the pelvic floor is an intricate sling of muscles that all work together for these functions.

diagram of pelvis diagram of pelvic floor

As mentioned above, the middle opening is for the vagina. So, now let's talk about that V-word: Vagina. That's what we consider the female body part that we see in the mirror if standing naked. What if I told you that the vagina can't be seen from the outside? (Gasp.) The vagina is simply the tube or canal that connects the outside structures to the uterus. You cannot see your vagina by simply looking in the mirror (unless you can… and if you can, that's another blog altogether). Everything you see from the outside is termed the Vulva. The vulva is made up of a few structures: the tissue padding the pubic bone, known as the mons pubis, the labia majora (the outer lips), the labia minora (the inner lips), the clitoris, and the specific tissue that connects the outside to the inside, called the vestibule. (We can think about this as the door frame).

Okay, so far: The Vulva on the outside is connected by the Vestibule to the Vagina on the inside… Lots of V-words.

diagram a female anatomy

Still with me? One more time: Vulva – outside; Vagina – Inside.

Now let's travel from the vulva, through the vagina, and up to the uterus. The uterus is also known as the "womb". Its primary function is to house and nurture the fetus as it develops and matures. The lowest portion of the uterus is called the cervix. We know of this part primarily due to its function in childbirth: the cervix is the part that dilates to allow for the baby to pass into the vagina for delivery.

How are we doing so far?

Next we have the fallopian tubes. The fallopian tubes connect the uterus to the ovaries and function as a highway, if you will, for the egg, released by the ovary, as it travels to the uterus. It also is the highway and location for sperm, when present, to meet the egg for fertilization.

If my words are failing you, here's a visual:

transparent image of pelvis

Last, but not least, (as far as the reproductive system goes) are the ovaries. The ovaries are the primary reproductive organs in the female body. Note: this is where eggs and all the hormones that we blame so much on, are produced!

This is just a general overview of what we have going on inside; A Public Service Announcement, if you will. Are the other names we call our body parts wrong? No. Call it what you want to call it! Now you have the information so when someone calls it by another name you're in the loop too! They are our bodies, we should be empowered to know!

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