Vagina vs Vulva: What’s the Difference?

Fans and owners of vaginas alike (and those who fall into both categories) may argue about which slang terms for this part of this body are sexy vs offensive, but we are here to get technical. We want to take a deep dive (ha!) into the question ‘what is a vagina?’ and more specifically, is it the same as a vulva? 

difference between vagina and vulva

What is a Vagina?

While many people use the term ‘vagina’ as a catchall for the entirety of sexual organs belonging to cis women. However, the vagina is actually just one special part of it all! The vagina refers exclusively to the inside part of cis female anatomy (and assigned female at birth anatomy) that leads from the vaginal opening and ends at the cervix. 

We’ve talked about how deep a vagina is before, and if you care to have a brush up, it’s really quite an amazing part of the body! We tend to talk a lot about penis size, but what about the size of it’s common counterpartner? Good news, vaginas are elastic in the sense that they are biologically capable of retaking shape after penetration. When aroused, it ‘opens’ up and self lubricates to allow a penis, sex toy, fingers, etc to comfortably enter. It can also accommodate a whole infant human leaving, and has the support of pelvic floor muscles to return back to shape!

What is a Vulva?

The vulva is the entirety of the external sex organs. That includes the opening of the vagina, but it’s so much more than that! The clitoris is included in the vulva, as well as the labia majora and minora. Basically, if you can see it, then you’re in vulva territory? Just a friendly reminder that female stimulation typically occurs in this area. The clitoris is equipped for pleasure with a lot of nerve endings that can be aroused through different methods

Why is the Difference Important?

Education about our bodies, especially the sexual parts, tends to be overlooked. This can lead to confusion and shame about things that can be totally normally, and should be as innocuous as talking about your elbow! Masturbation can only be enhanced when exploring and understanding how stimulation differs between the vagina and vulva, which is how blended orgasms can occur. Knowing the correct names (and having an understanding of how it all works) certainly has its pleasurable applications, sure. But being able to explain to a doctor, for example, pain experienced around the vulva vs in the vagina is pretty important when it comes to seeking medical attention! 

Written by: Katy Thorn

Katy Thorn
Katy Thorn is a post-grad writer with a passion for writing about sex, sexuality, and all things rated R. She received her degree in Women’s Studies with a focus in Intersectionality at the University of California, Berkeley (Go Bears!). She has a cat named Yoko, drinks too much black coffee, and hates writing bios.

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