Every woman looks and feels different, and every woman’s vagina is different.
Illustration of female genitals
The vagina opening is located directly below the urethral opening. Outside of the vaginal opening are the labia minor, the smooth inner lips of the vulva. Outside of the inner lips are the labia majora. The fleshier outer lips that are typically covered in hair after puberty.
The Clitoris is a small organ, which is extremely sensitive, with over 6000 nerve fibres concentrated into an area the size of a fingertip. Its function is to provide sexual pleasure. When a women gets sexually aroused, it engorges with blood, as it contains erectile tissue. When a woman is sexually aroused the vagina produces lubrication that assists penetration. The clitoris has a glans (or head), shaft, hood and two nerves, that separate at the base of the shaft and extend within the pelvic area to either side of the urethra, vagina and anus. Three quarters of the clitoris is hidden from view within a woman’s body, and the average length of the vaginal canal is anything between five and seven inches.
It is worth bearing in mind that the vagina is not a hole or cavity inside the body, but rather an elastic, muscular tube that allows for penetration. The walls of the vagina are normally touching each other until something is inserted between them.
When a woman is sexually aroused the vagina produces lubrication that assists penetration.
At the top of the vagina is the cervix or the ‘neck’ of your uterus. In the middle of the cervix is a small opening, or ‘external’ orifice that leads to the uterus. The external orifice is the small opening through which menstrual blood flows, and is the same small opening that expands during childbirth. This is also the site from which cells for a cervical smear will be taken.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
It is important for women of all ages to maintain pelvic floor muscle strength. It is estimated that most women will experience stress incontinence at some point in their lives. Women with stress incontinence, that is, those who leak urine when coughing, sneezing or exercising, should especially benefit from these exercises. For pregnant women these exercises help the body to cope with the increasing weight of the baby. As women grow older it is important to keep the pelvic floor muscles strong because at menopause the muscles change and may weaken. A pelvic floor exercise routine help to minimise the effects of menopause on pelvic support and bladder control.
How to identify the pelvic floor muscles
The first thing to do is to correctly identify the muscles that need to be exercised. Sit or lie down comfortably with the muscles of your thighs, buttocks and abdomen relaxed. Tighten the ring of muscle around the back passage as if you are trying to control diarrhoea or wind. Relax it. Practice this movement several times until you are sure you are exercising the correct muscle. Try not to squeeze your buttocks.
When you are passing urine, try to stop the flow mid-stream, then restart it. Only do this to learn which muscles are the correct ones to use and then do it no more than once a week to check your progress, as this may have an effect on bladder health.
If you are unable to feel a definite squeeze and lift action of your pelvic floor muscles or are unable to even slow the stream of urine as described above, you should seek professional help to get your pelvic floor muscles working correctly. Even women with very weak pelvic floor muscles can be taught these exercises by a physiotherapist or continence advisor with expertise in this area. There are also medical tools available to help women to gain stronger pelvic floor muscles.
How to do pelvic floor exercises
Once you have identified the pelvic floor muscles, exercise them by:
Tightening and drawing in around the anus, the vagina and the urethra all at once, lifting them UP inside. Try and hold this contraction strongly as you count to five then release and relax. You should have a definite feeling of ‘letting go’.
Repeat (‘squeeze and lift’) and relax. It is important to rest for about 10 seconds in between each contraction. If you find it easy to hold for a count of five, try to hold for longer – up to ten seconds. Repeat this as many times as you are able up to a maximum of 8-10 squeezes.
Now do five to ten short, fast, but strong contractions.
Do the whole exercise routine at least 4-5 times every day. While doing the exercises:
- DO NOT hold your breath
- DO NOT push down instead of squeezing and lifting up
- DO NOT tighten your tummy, buttocks or thighs
Fewer good exercises will be more beneficial than many half-hearted ones.