The vagina is a flexible tube that joins the uterus to the vulva. Vaginas are usually around 3 inches long, but they can vary widely in color, size, and shape.
Getting to know what the inside of a vagina looks like and what is normal for each individual can help people feel more familiar with their body. It can also help with identifying abnormal changes.
Here, we look at the anatomy of the vagina and how to do a self-exam. We also discuss symptoms that can indicate a health issue with the vagina and explain when to see a doctor.
The diagram below shows the placement of the vagina in the vulva, visible externally.
The diagram below shows the inside of the vagina, and how it connects to the uterus.
The vagina is an elastic tube that connects the uterus and cervix to the vulva. The vagina is about 3 inches long.
The shape of a vagina can vary from person to person. Some vaginas are oval like an egg, while others can be more cylindrical.
The opening of the vagina is between the urethra, through which urine leaves the body, and the anus.
The vaginal opening is where blood leaves the body during menstruation, a penis enters during sexual intercourse, and a baby leaves the body during birth.
The hymen is a thin layer of tissue that surrounds and partially covers the vaginal opening. Sexual intercourse or exercise can stretch or tear it.
The cervix connects the uterus to the vagina. A small hole in the cervix allows menstrual blood and sperm to pass through. During childbirth, the cervix dilates.
The vagina expands through arousal and sexual stimulation. During sexual arousal, the uterus and cervix lift upward, elongating the vagina. People refer to this process as tenting.
The Bartholin’s glands are on either side of the vaginal opening. People cannot usually see or feel these glands. During arousal, the glands release fluid that lubricates the vagina.
The Gräfenberg spot, or G spot, sits a few inches inside the vagina at the front. During arousal, the G spot swells.
The area visible externally, the vulva, is what many people refer to as the vagina. However, the only part of the vagina visible outside of the body is the vaginal opening. The vulva includes the labia minora and majora, or the “lips,” which protect the vaginal opening. Learn more about the vulva here.
A person can carry out a self-exam of their vagina to check for any unusual changes that may indicate a health issue. Self-exams are helpful alongside regular gynecologist pelvic examinations and cervical screening.
People can carry out a self-exam of their vagina when they are not menstruating. For a self-exam, they will need:
- a handheld mirror
- a small light or torch
- pillows, for comfort
People can carry out a self-exam by following these steps:
- Wash the hands with soap and water.
- Remove clothing from below the waist.
- Lean against a wall or pillows to support the body.
- Bend the knees, keeping both feet flat on the floor and the legs wide apart.
- Hold the mirror and light in front of the vagina.
- Use one hand to spread the opening of the vagina.
- Place a finger inside the vagina and gently feel the walls of the vagina, which will feel similar to the roof of the mouth.
- Feel for any lumps, bumps, or raised areas that could be sores or unusual growths.
- To feel for the cervix, it may help to move to a squatting position.
- Gently insert the finger deeper into the vagina to feel the cervix, which may feel similar to the tip of the nose.
Vaginal discharge can change slightly in consistency and color during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause. Healthy discharge is usually clear to white or pale yellow, and it can have a mild odor.
If a person notices any significant change in their vaginal discharge, this could indicate an underlying issue. The individual can see their doctor for a checkup and report any other symptoms.
A range of conditions can affect the vagina and how it looks and feels inside. Signs and symptoms of conditions affecting the vagina may include unusual discharge, pain, or visible changes.
Here are some health conditions that may affect the inside of the vagina:
Vaginitis is an inflammation or irritation of the vulva or vagina. There are many causes, including sexual activity, reduced estrogen levels, or douching. Symptoms of vaginitis include:
- a red, itchy, or sore vulva or vagina
- an itching or burning sensation in the vagina or vulva
- pain during sex
- frequent or stinging urination
- abnormal discharge
Vaginismus is a sudden tightening of the muscles surrounding the vagina that occurs when a person tries to insert something into it. Vaginismus is an automatic response of the body over which the person has no control.
- trouble inserting a tampon into the vagina
- difficulty with vaginal penetration
- a burning sensation or stinging pain during sex
Sexually transmitted infections
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause symptoms in and around the vagina. Many of these STIs may appear without noticeable symptoms, or they may seem similar to other conditions, such as vaginal infections.
Due to the overlap in symptoms between different STIs, it is not usually possible to diagnose one based on the symptoms alone. Therefore, anyone who experiences symptoms in this part of the body should visit a healthcare professional to undergo diagnostic tests.
Some STIs that affect vaginal health include:
- a small collection of flesh-colored bumps around the genitals or inside the vagina, which may have a cauliflower-like texture
- bumps around the mouth and lips
- an itching and burning sensation or discomfort
If people have trichomoniasis, they may experience:
- foamy, yellow-green discharge
- foul smelling discharge
- spots of blood in the discharge
- discomfort when urinating
- itching, redness, or burning around the genitals
Gonorrhea shares symptoms with vaginal infections. Although some people with this STI will not experience any symptoms, those who do may
- a burning sensation or pain when urinating
- an increase in vaginal discharge
- bleeding between periods
- painful bowel movements
- itching or soreness around the genitals
Chlamydia does not always produce symptoms, but when it does, these may
- abnormal discharge
- burning sensation when urinating
- pain in the rectum
- bleeding between periods
An overgrowth of yeast and bacteria in the vagina can cause infections, including:
- bacterial vaginosis
- vaginal candidiasis
Symptoms of a vaginal infection include:
- gray, green, or yellow discharge
- a burning or stinging sensation when urinating
- pain or bleeding during sex
- swelling, pain, or redness of the vagina
- itching sensation of the vagina
- unusual or foul smelling vaginal odor
- odorless discharge that resembles cottage cheese
Vaginal cancer can cause symptoms if it spreads deeper into the walls of the vagina or the surrounding areas. Symptoms include:
- vaginal bleeding after sex
- abnormal discharge
- feeling a lump in the vagina
- painful sex
- pain when urinating
- pain in the pelvis, lower abdomen, or back
- swelling in the legs
In some cases, a person may have vulvar cancer, which can also cause painful sexual intercourse, bleeding, and pain, among other symptoms. However, both of these cancers are rare.
Vaginal prolapse happens when the uterus, bladder, or bowel descends into the vagina. Vaginal prolapse can occur as a result of pregnancy, childbirth, or an existing medical condition.
Higher stages of prolapse can cause symptoms, which include:
- a lump inside or protruding from the vagina
- a heavy or dragging sensation in the vagina
- aching pain in the pelvis or back
- a frequent need to urinate or difficulty urinating
- recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
The vagina is an elastic tube that connects the uterus and cervix to the vulva. The shape, size, and color of the vagina can vary among individuals.
Anyone who notices any unusual symptoms, such as growths, in or around their vagina should see their doctor or gynecologist for a checkup. Signs of a health issue may include:
- discharge with an unusual color, such as green, gray, or dark yellow discharge
- discharge with a foul smelling odor
- foamy discharge
- lumps or bumps inside the vagina
- pain when urinating or during sex
People can also carry out a self-exam of their vagina to check for any unusual changes or growths. However, self-exams should not replace regular pelvic examinations with a healthcare professional.