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 fibromuscular tube, about 10 cm long, that extends from the cervix of the uterus to the outside. It is located between the rectum and the urinary bladder. Because the vagina is tilted posteriorly as it ascends and the cervix is tilted anteriorly, the cervix projects into the vagina at nearly a right angle. The vagina serves as a passageway for menstrual flow, receives the erect penis during intercourse, and is the birth canal during childbirth.
The external genitalia are the accessory structures of the female reproductive system that are external to the vagina. They are also referred to as the vulva or pudendum. The external genitalia include the labia majora, mons pubis, labia minora, clitoris, and glands within the vestibule.
The clitoris is an erectile organ, similar to the male penis, that responds to sexual stimulation. Posterior to the clitoris, the urethra, vagina, paraurethral glands and greater vestibular glands open into the vestibule.
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.
More is known about the vagina in humans than in other animals, and its role with regard to human female sexuality (including heterosexual and lesbian sexual activity) is especially documented. In humans and a number of other 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 creates friction for the penis during sexual intercourse and stimulates it toward ejaculation, enabling fertilization. In addition, a variety of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and disorders can affect the human 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, which can impact knowledge of the female genitalia.
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