Know Thyself: The Female Form 101

Touring your own body can boost your love life

You probably think you know your body well, but you might be surprised. Women are often in the dark about their genitals because their bits are in the dark. So shed some light on your private parts and watch your sex life soar.

Despite the dramatically different external appearance of the genitals, men's and women's bodies are mirror images of each other. Both males and females start out as identical tissue when the sperm enters the egg. The same tissue that forms ovaries in women forms testicles in men — ditto vaginal lips and scrotal sacs and the clitoris and penis. And while there are obvious major differences in the way we experience sex — like five billion orgasms for him for every one of ours… not that I'm bitter or anything! — the journey there is remarkably similar.

But there is one major difference: Men can see their bits, and women can't. All men have to do is look down, play around a little and all is revealed. Women's bits, on the other hand, aren't in view — and that's why we know less about our bodies and our genitals, in particular. We're curious, though. Most every woman, at one time or another, has looked at her vagina in a hand mirror. But even if we have gazed in wonderment (and possibly horror) — let's face it, the genitalia of either sex are hardly going to win beauty competitions, are they? — you'd be well advised to gaze again. The more you know about how everything works, the more enjoyment you'll get from sex. So let's take a tour of your body. Draw the drapes, grab a little mirror to identify each part I'm talking about and switch off your cell phone. The next 5 to 10 minutes of exploration could make a massive difference in your sex life.

The Outside Parts

The external organs — everything you can see outside — are collectively known as the vulva. The fleshy bit with pubic hair on it is called the mons pubis or just the mons. Its function is to act as a cushion during intercourse. No matter how much you diet (and please don't, by the way), it'll still be fleshier than the rest of your body. The labia majora are the outer vaginal lips, folds of skin covered with pubic hair. Open them and you'll uncover the labia minora, the inner lips, usually purplish and slightly moist because they contain glands that secrete sebum. The outer lips usually cover the inner lips, but don't worry if yours poke out a bit: That's normal too. While we're on the subject of "normal," the color of the labia can range from bright pink to purple to dark brown. The vaginal lips turn red and swell when you're aroused. Hmm. Remind you of anything?

The hymen is the thin membrane that sometimes covers the opening to the vagina if you're a virgin. I say "sometimes" because, even if you haven't had sex, the hymen can do a bit of a disappearing act due to an overzealous workout at the gym, horseback riding, tampons, and even passionate "heavy petting" with your boyfriend. (It's not an impenetrable barrier, anyway, as it has holes to allow menstrual blood to escape.) The perineum is the smooth area of skin between the anus and the vaginal opening. It's highly sensitive to sexual stimulation because the hidden part of the clitoris lies directly beneath it (see "The Most Important Bit" for more information).

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The Inside Parts

The vaginal opening is the part of the vagina that is penetrated by the penis when you have sex. But contrary to popular perception, it's actually not a hole; it's a muscular tube. Put your fingers inside when you're not aroused, and you'll easily feel the sides touch each other. The vagina is about four inches long and tilts at an upward angle toward the small of your back, extending to the cervix, the gateway to your uterus. A penis can't penetrate farther than nature intends, because the entrance to the uterus is smaller than the width of a drinking straw. (It's only during birth that it opens wide to allow the baby out.)

When you're turned on, the uterus and cervix rise, lengthening the vaginal tube. When his penis penetrates, the walls of the vagina stretch to accommodate the difference. This is why, although the average penis is 5.1 inches long and the average vagina is four inches long, he's able to fit anyway.

The urethra is the tiny hole you urinate from — which doesn't sound terribly exciting or relevant to sex, but wait, there's more! American researchers recently unveiled the erotic potential of what's now called the U-Spot by discovering that women had a powerful sexual response when the area was gently stimulated by a finger, the tongue or the tip of the penis. Look for a small patch of sensitive erectile tissue just above and on either side of the urethral opening and get him to concentrate on this area with his tongue or finger (use lubrication unless you are really wet). During intercourse, spread your legs wide, pressing yourself against his penis and pelvis to allow maximum contact, and get him to grind rather than thrust.

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The Most Important Bit

I've written this many times, but I can't help repeating it because it's such a wonderful fact: The clitoris is the only organ on the whole body purely designed for pleasure. (Yippee!) It looks like a tiny pea covered by a protective hood of skin. Men have the equivalent of the clitoris along the upper side of their penis, but it's completely covered by skin, while the tip of our clitoris protrudes and is visible. In total, the clitoris is about four inches long, but most of it is hidden beneath the surface. When the tip is stimulated, the entire thing becomes engorged, firm and sensitive. So it's really a lie to say that some women can orgasm without clitoral stimulation, because the act of thrusting alone massages the hidden parts of it.

And here's some trivia about orgasms: Men can often reach orgasm in two or three minutes; women usually need between 10 and 20. The male orgasm lasts around five seconds while the average female orgasm lasts 15 seconds — that's right, ours is three times longer! But here's the payback: Almost all men orgasm during sex, while less than half of women do.

Missed one of Tracey's columns? Read them all here. Check out Tracey's Love Bytes video series here.

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