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HealthInfo Canterbury

Overview of the vulva & vagina

Diagram showing female external genitaliaVulva is the name for the outside parts of the female genitals.

Your vulva includes the opening to your vagina, your labia (the inner and outer folds on either side of your vagina), your clitoris and your urethra.

The labia next to your vagina are your labia minora, or inner labia or lips. They are there to protect your vagina and to provide lubrication during sex.

Your labia majora, or outer labia, sit outside these, and protect your clitoris and inner vulva.

Your clitoris is above your vagina. This is the most sensitive part of your vulva, and it helps to provide sexual arousal.

Between your clitoris and your vagina is your urethra, a thin tube from your bladder, which you urinate (pee) from.

Vulva and vaginal care

Generally, it's not good to use lots of strongly perfumed and coloured soaps, lotions and potions on your genital area. They can make your vulva and vagina dry and irritated and even cause an overgrowth of normal skin bugs, which can lead to inflammation and infection.

Washing gently with warm water and a small amount of a mild soap or unscented soap, or a soap alternative, is the best way to keep your genital area healthy. Rinse and gently dry. During your period you will need to change your sanitary product regularly.

Don't douche (squirt water into your vagina to clean it) or use a feminine spray, vaginal deodorant or scented wipes. These products are not necessary and can cause harm.

Vaginal discharge is normal and healthy. It keeps the vagina clean and moist, and protects it from infection. It is a clear or white fluid or mucus and doesn’t have a strong or unpleasant smell.

If you are concerned about any vaginal discharge, smell or pain or have a persistent itch then you should see your GP.

Pubic hair

Some people want to trim or remove their pubic hair.

If you decide to trim, you can use scissors. Make sure they're clean before you use them.

Shaving and waxing can irritate your skin. They can also accidentally cut or tear your skin. As well, your pubic hair can grow back the wrong way (ingrown hairs). All of these can cause pain and infection. If this happens, you need to stop shaving or waxing until it's cleared up. Then, to stop it happening again, try a gentler way of removing the hair, such as a lady's electric razor. It's important to always use a clean razor. If you're using a blade razor, use plenty of shaving gel – don't use soap.

The links below give you more information about what's normal with your vulva and vagina and how to tell when there might be a problem.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed January 2021.


See also:

Vulval & vaginal health

Vulval irritation & pain

Page reference: 53223

Review key: HIVVC-53223