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Surface of the human vagina

March 7, 2011

Surface of the human vagina. Magnification: x120 (at 4×4″).
© David Phillips

The vagina (from Latin vagĭna, literally “sheath” or “scabbard”)

Although there is wide anatomical variation, the length of the unaroused vagina of a woman of child-bearing age is approximately 6 to 7.5 cm (2.5 to 3 in) across the anterior wall (front), and 9 cm (3.5 in) long across the posterior wall (rear). During sexual arousal the vagina expands in both length and width. Its elasticity allows it to stretch during sexual intercourse and during birth to offspring. The vagina connects the superficial vulva to the cervix of the deep uterus.

If the woman stands upright, the vaginal tube points in an upward-backward direction and forms an angle of slightly more than 45 degrees with the uterus. The vaginal opening is at the caudal end of the vulva, behind the opening of the urethra. The upper one-fourth of the vagina is separated from the rectum by the rectouterine pouch. Above the vagina is the Mons pubis. The vagina, along with the inside of the vulva, is reddish pink in color, as are most healthy internal mucous membranes in mammals. A series of ridges produced by folding of the wall of the outer third of the vagina is called the vaginal rugae. They are transverse epithelial ridges and their function is to provide the vagina with increased surface area for extension and stretching.

With arousal, the vagina lengthens rapidly to an average of about 4 in.(10 cm), but can continue to lengthen in response to pressure. As the woman becomes fully aroused, the vagina tents (last ²⁄₃) expands in length and width, while the cervix retracts. The walls of the vagina are composed of soft elastic folds of mucous membrane which stretch or contract (with support from pelvic muscles) to the size of the inserted penis or other object, stimulating the penis and helping to cause the male to experience orgasm and ejaculation, thus enabling fertilization.

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