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 fibromuscular elastic tubular tract (passage) which is a sex organ and mainly functions for the facilitation of sexual intercourse and childbirth. In mammals (especially primates), menstruation, which is the periodic discharge of blood and mucosal tissue from the inner lining of the uterus through the vagina, is another primary function of the vagina and usually signals fertility. The location and size of the vagina varies among species, and may vary in size within the same species. In humans, the vagina leads from the opening of the vulva to the uterus (womb), but the vaginal tract ends at the cervix.
Unlike mammalian males, who usually have the urethral orifice as the sole external urogenital orifice, mammalian females usually have two external orifices, the urethral orifice for the urological system and the vaginal orifice for the genital system. The vaginal opening is much larger than the urethral opening, and both openings are protected by the labia. In amphibians, birds, reptiles and monotremes an opening called the cloaca functions as the sole external orifice for the intestines, urological tract, and reproductive tract.
The vagina plays a significant role in human female sexuality and sexual pleasure. During sexual arousal for humans and others animals, vaginal moisture increases by way of vaginal lubrication, to reduce friction and allow for smoother penetration of the vagina during sexual activity. In the absence or presence of sufficient vaginal lubrication, the texture of the vaginal walls can create friction for the penis during sexual intercourse and stimulate it toward ejaculation, enabling fertilization. In addition, a variety of sexually transmitted infections (STIs/STDs) and other disorders can affect the vagina. Because of the risk of STIs/STDs, health authorities, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), or other health outlets, recommend safe sex practices.
Cultural perceptions of the vagina have persisted throughout history; these perceptions range from viewing the vagina as the focus of sexual desire, a metaphor for life via birth, an organ inferior to the penis, or as visually unappealing or otherwise vulgar.
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