Image Caption : Medical visualization of the lumen of the vaginal canal looking back towards the cervix. Far from being a smooth tube, the vagina contains many folds and ridges. During sexual intercourse the sperm that may be deposited within the vaginal canal will benefit from the pH buffering makeup of semen because the vaginal environment is acidic. The vagina also produces lubrication to make penetration less difficult during intercourse. The vaginal opening, seen in this view in the extreme foreground, tightens involuntarily as intercourse progresses.
The vagina is a muscular and tubular part of the female genital tract, which in humans extends from the vulva to the uterus. The outer vaginal opening may be partly covered by a membrane called the hymen. At the deep end, the cervix (neck of the uterus) bulges into the vagina. The vagina allows for sexual intercourse and childbirth, and channels menstrual flow, which occurs periodically as part of the menstrual cycle.
The location and structure of the vagina varies among species, and may vary in size within the same species. Unlike mammalian males, who usually have the external urethral opening as the only opening for urination and reproduction, mammalian females usually have the urethral opening for urination and the vaginal opening for the genital tract. The vaginal opening is much larger than the nearby urethral opening, and both are protected by the labia in humans. In amphibians, birds, reptiles and monotremes, the cloaca is the single external opening for the gastrointestinal tract and the urinary and reproductive tracts.
While the vagina plays a significant role in human and non-human sexuality, its role with regard to human female sexuality (including heterosexual and lesbian sexual activity) is especially documented. Less is known about the vagina of other animals. In human females and a number of other female mammals, vaginal moisture is increased during sexual arousal by vaginal lubrication, which reduces friction and allows for smoother penetration of the vagina during sexual activity. The texture of the vaginal walls create friction for the penis during sexual intercourse and stimulate it toward ejaculation, enabling fertilization. In addition, a variety of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other disorders can affect the vagina. Because of the risk of STIs, safe sex practices are recommended.
Cultural perceptions of the vagina have persisted throughout history, ranging from viewing the vagina as the focus of sexual desire, a metaphor for life via birth, inferior to the penis, or as visually unappealing or otherwise vulgar. In common speech, the word vagina is often incorrectly used to refer to the vulva.
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