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Your vagina

The vagina is the opening that leads from your external genitals (between your legs) to the uterus (womb) and your other internal reproductive organs.

Your hymen

Women sometimes bleed the first time they have sex, because some hymens are more elastic than others.  Usually this is not serious and heals quickly. Others may feel some pain or discomfort. We cannot tell by looking at someone's hymen whether someone is a virgin or not. For further information, read Virginity and the Hymen Myth.

Vaginal discharge

A healthy vagina usually feels wet, it’s from a healthy discharge that keeps the vagina clean. The discharge is clear or whitish and dries yellow on your underwear. There should be no noticeable smell if you wash every day.

If there is any change to the colour, smell, amount or texture of this discharge, this could mean something is going on inside your vagina and could be an infection, especially if you have had unprotected sex. However, you don’t need to have had sex to have abnormal discharge.

Vaginal bleeding

Normal bleeding (the menstrual period) varies from woman to woman and usually lasts for three to seven days every month.

Unusual vaginal bleeding, such as between periods or after sex, may be a sign of an infection or another problem. Some of these can be serious. Common causes of abnormal bleeding include a sexually transmitted infection, a growth in the wall of the uterus, or a hormonal disturbance.

When to seek help

If you experience an unhealthy vaginal discharge, unusual vaginal bleeding, or simply want a check up, see your local doctor, Family Planning clinic or sexual health clinic. Find a local clinic now.

READ MORE about looking after your vagina

Your vagina

The vagina is the opening that leads from your external genitals (between your legs) to the uterus (womb) and your other internal reproductive organs.

The skin you can see between your legs on the outside of your genitals is called the vulva. The opening of the uterus inside the vagina is called the cervix.

It’s good to be familiar with your body, and the names for each part. Click here to open a diagram of the female genitals. [diagram]

The hymen

Many people think the hymen is like a piece of plastic that seals the end of the vagina and that the first time you have sex it is broken.

The hymen is actually a collar of tissue attached to the vaginal wall just inside the vaginal opening, with an opening in the centre. All women are born with a hymen.

The thickness and elasticity of the hymen varies from woman to woman, according to the level of oestrogen (female hormones) in their body. Before puberty, the hymen does not have much stretch, so would usually be damaged if a large enough object passed through it.

Once you go through puberty and start to develop oestrogen, the hymen becomes thickened and more elastic. At this point, it looks like a scrunchy hair tie. It will easily accommodate an object such as a tampon or penis and simply stretches out and back.

Some women may bleed the first time they have sex, because some hymens are more elastic than others, but this is not the case for all women. Some women develop a small tear in the hymen edge when it stretches and this may bleed. Usually this is not serious and heals quickly. Others may feel some pain or discomfort. There is no way of predicting who has a stretchier hymen, and who will bleed and who won't. No one can tell by looking at someone's hymen whether they’re still a virgin or not.

Find out more about Virginity and the Hymen Myth.

Vaginal discharge

What’s normal?

Following puberty, it is normal to have a milky white discharge without any smell from the vagina. A healthy vagina usually feels wet, from the discharge that keeps the vagina clean. The healthy discharge is clear or whitish and dries yellow on your underwear. There should be no noticeable smell if you wash every day.

This discharge is due to the female hormone oestrogen and bacteria that are normally present in the vagina. The amount of discharge varies from woman to woman, and can change according to different stages of the menstrual cycle (your periods).

What is not normal?

If there is any change to the colour, smell, amount or texture of this discharge, this could mean something is going on inside your vagina and could be an infection, especially if you have had unprotected sex. However, you don’t need to have had sex to experience an abnormal discharge.

Abnormal vaginal discharge may

  • be an increased amount of discharge;
  • have an unpleasant smell;
  • be a yellow or green colour;
  • be accompanied by itching, irritation or swelling and pain (in the vulva or vagina).

Abnormal vaginal discharge can be caused by

  • a sexually transmitted infection;
  • a tampon that has been left in too long;
  • something put into the vagina and left there;
  • an allergy to latex (condoms) or medicated vaginal creams;
  • other irritation (for example wearing tight clothing).

Vaginal bleeding

What’s normal?

Normal bleeding (the menstrual period) varies a lot from woman to woman and usually lasts for three to seven days every month. Some women have light bleeding while others experience heavy bleeding for a day or two, which then becomes lighter. A normal menstrual cycle occurs every 22 to 35 days.

During adolescence, as girls grow older, the interval between periods can be quite irregular with each woman eventually developing her own pattern.

What is not normal?

Unusual vaginal bleeding, such as between periods or after sex, may be a sign of an infection or another problem. Some of these can be serious. Abnormal bleeding may also cause problems later in life if left untreated.

If you are experiencing abnormal bleeding, you may have the following symptoms:

  • excessively heavy periods (with a lot of blood and over more than just a couple of days) needing double pads or a pad and a tampon;
  • clotted blood (blood in thick clumps);
  • irregular and unpredictable bleeding (happens all of a sudden and not at the expected time of the next period);
  • bleeding between periods (including spotting of small amounts of blood);
  • bleeding after sex.

Common causes of abnormal bleeding include

  • a sexually transmitted infection, such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea;
  • a uterine fibroid (a muscular growth in the wall of the uterus);
  • a hormonal disturbance.

When to seek help

If you experience an unhealthy vaginal discharge, unusual vaginal bleeding, or simply want a check up, see your local doctor, Family Planning clinic or sexual health clinic. Find a local clinic now.

 

It’s good to be familiar with your body, and the names for each part. Click the illustration to open a diagram of the female genitals.

Just the Facts – Medical/Māori Female Sexual Anatomy

Just the Facts – Medical/Māori Female Sexual Anatomy

Just the Facts – familiar terms for Female Sexual Anatomy

Just the Facts – familiar terms for Female Sexual Anatomy

Just the Facts – Female Sexual Anatomy Side view

Just the Facts – Female Sexual Anatomy Side view