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vaginal openinga word derived from the Latin “to go” and “into,” meaning the entrance to a canal or tunnel.

The term is most commonly used to refer to the vaginal entrance, the external opening to the vaginal canal.

Read on to learn about the anatomy of the vaginal opening, various health conditions that can cause pain, discomfort, or itching in the area, and tips for keeping your mouth healthy.

anatomy

The introitus is the outer opening of the vaginal canal — a muscular passage that extends from the female external genitalia to the cervix (the opening to the uterus).

The vaginal opening is located at the back of the female external genitalia (vulva).The vulva contains inner and outer fleshy folds of skin called labia minora (inner folds) and labia majora (outer folds). The vaginal opening is located between the labia minora, behind (or below) the opening of the clitoris and urethra.

Before first intercourse or penetration, the vaginal opening is covered by the hymen, a thin, tough sheath of tissue. The intact hymen is usually half-moon-shaped and covers only part of the vaginal opening, allowing the passage of menstrual blood.

The hymen is blocked

Sometimes the hymen completely covers the vaginal opening, a condition called an imperforate hymen. An imperforate hymen can block the flow of menstrual flow and force menstrual blood back into the vaginal canal. In turn, backflow of blood can lead to abdominal pain, back pain, and urination problems.

During insertion and delivery, the muscles and tissues of the vaginal opening and vaginal canal are flexible and stretched.

State of health

Because of its location, the vaginal opening and surrounding tissues are affected by many health conditions, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs), fungal infections, and cysts (fluid-filled sacs).

These conditions are sometimes asymptomatic but can cause discomfort, itching, pain, or a foul odor.

cyst

Several types of cysts may develop in the area around the vaginal opening. Most cysts do not cause any symptoms. Occasionally, cysts can become infected, become red and tender, and cause pain during intercourse.

Large cysts may block the vaginal opening. You may need surgery to remove large or infected cysts, including:

  • Bartholin’s cyst: Bartholin’s glands are located on the labia near the vaginal opening and produce fluid that lubricates the vagina. These glands sometimes develop cysts, usually due to infection or injury. Some Bartholin cysts resolve on their own. An infected Bartholin cyst, also called an abscess, can cause pain or discomfort and may require treatment.
  • Inclusion Cyst: The most common cyst of the vulva, an inclusion cyst develops from the surface tissue of the vulva. They are usually caused by injuries, such as tears during childbirth. These cysts are usually white or yellow, small and painless.
  • Epidermal cysts: These cysts are sebaceous glands Blockage of the vulvar (oil-producing) glands. The gland’s normal secretions build up under the surface, creating a cyst.

yeast infection (candidiasis)

Yeasts are a normal part of the vaginal microbiome—the collection of bacteria and other microorganisms that live on the vaginal surface and surrounding tissues.

Yeast overgrowth in the vagina and surrounding tissues can lead to yeast infections, which can lead to:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • itching in and around the vagina
  • white, cheese-like discharge
  • pain or discomfort when urinating or having sex

Smell is not a common symptom of yeast overgrowth and infection. The presence of a strong odor usually indicates bacterial vaginosis or other infection.

Why you keep getting yeast infections

bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) occurs when certain bacteria overgrow, which disrupts the normal bacterial balance and acidity in the vagina.

Symptoms of BV include:

  • pain, itching, or burning in the vagina or surrounding tissues
  • thin, white, or gray vaginal discharge
  • Strong fishy smell, especially after sex
  • burning pain when urinating

The cause of bacterial vaginosis is unknown. This condition is associated with having a new sexual partner, having multiple sexual partners, using an IUD, and douching.

BV increases your risk of STIs and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). If you are pregnant, bacterial vaginosis can increase your risk of preterm labor.

BV is treated with antibiotics. Unfortunately, even after treatment, BV tends to recur.

Vulvar pain

Vulvodynia is chronic pain, burning, soreness, or discomfort in the vaginal opening and surrounding tissues. To be considered vulvodynia, pain or discomfort must:

  • lasts at least three months
  • no identifiable reason

Symptoms of vulvodynia vary from person to person. Pain may come and go, only occur when the area is touched, or it may persist for most of the day.

Vulvodynia can cause severe pain during sex or even after sitting for long periods of time.

See your doctor if you think you have vulvodynia. A healthcare provider can rule out other explanations and help treat your symptoms.

prolapse

Pelvic organ prolapse occurs when the muscles and supporting tissues of the pelvic organs (bladder, uterus, or rectum) weaken, causing the organ to protrude into the vagina or through the vaginal opening.

Anything that causes trauma or physical strain to the pelvic area can cause pelvic organ prolapse, including:

  • Hurt
  • Operation
  • persistent abdominal pressure
  • weightlifting
  • multiple vaginal births
  • gave birth to a baby weighing more than 8.5 pounds
  • hormonal changes associated with menopause

Depending on the severity, pelvic organ prolapse can be treated with pelvic floor exercises, a pessary (a device placed in the vagina to help support the uterus), or surgery.

What happens with pelvic organ prolapse surgery

vaginal stricture

Vaginal strictures occur when scar tissue hardens, narrows, or shortens the vaginal canal, causing dryness and pain during intercourse and vaginal exams.

Cancer-related surgery and radiation therapy in the pelvic region are the main causes of vaginal strictures. Chemotherapy can make the condition worse.

Vaginal strictures can be treated with dilators, moisturizers, and hormone therapy.

lichen hardening

Lichen sclerosis is an uncommon immune-related disorder that affects the skin around the vulva and rectum. Most commonly seen before puberty and after menopause.

It may not cause any symptoms, or it may cause intense itching, discomfort, and white, shiny patches of skin. Topical steroids can help with symptoms. If left untreated, this condition can lead to permanent scarring and difficulty urinating, defecation, and vaginal penetration.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

STIs are infections that are spread through direct skin-to-skin contact and may be asymptomatic.

Consistent and correct condom use can reduce the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections, including:

  • Herpes is a common viral infection that affects more than one in six adults. Herpes can cause periodic painful blisters in and around the vaginal opening.
  • Genital warts are small, raised, painless bumps that may grow in clusters. These warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • Gonorrhea is a very common sexually transmitted infection. In women, gonorrhea may cause intermenstrual bleeding, increased vaginal discharge, and a burning sensation when urinating, but it usually causes no symptoms. Antibiotics can cure gonorrhea. If left untreated, it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, fallopian tubes (the tubes that carry fertilized eggs from the ovaries to the uterus), and infertility.
  • Chlamydia is another very common STI that usually causes no symptoms, but it can cause abnormal vaginal discharge and a burning sensation when urinating. Antibiotics can cure chlamydia. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), scarring of the fallopian tubes, and infertility.
  • Trichomoniasis is a common sexually transmitted infection caused by a protozoan parasite. Like other STIs, trichomoniasis usually causes no symptoms, but can sometimes cause vaginal and vulvar itching, burning or soreness, painful urination or intercourse, a fishy smell, and changes in vaginal discharge.

Nursing and Hygiene

The vaginal opening maintains its own acidity with the help of its microbiome, which naturally keeps the vagina clean and helps prevent infection.

To keep the area healthy and its microbiome balanced:

  • Change or wash your underwear every day.
  • Breathable cotton underwear.
  • Avoid synthetic fabrics that absorb moisture.
  • Avoid using excess laundry detergent.
  • Keep the area clean by washing with lukewarm water once a day.
  • If you do need to use soap, use mild, unscented soap.
  • Avoid excessive bathing, which can lead to dryness and itching.
  • Avoid sprays, scented or scented creams or sprays, and douches, which disrupt the microbiome and increase the risk of infection and bacterial vaginosis.
  • Immediately change out of sweaty underwear and wet swimsuits.
  • Do not use talc or talc-based products.

VigorTip words

Your vaginal opening and vaginal canal have extraordinary natural cleaning power and reduce the risk of infection. It’s best not to interfere with this natural process: Avoid potentially harmful products like rinses and feminine sprays, and only wash with warm water or mild, unscented soap.

When you have concerns, be sure to see a healthcare provider promptly. Most medical conditions that affect the vaginal opening are highly treatable, but some can lead to serious complications if left untreated.