Updated: JANUARY 27, 2022

The vulva is the collective name for a range of parts including the labia majora, labia minora, mons pubis, the external part of the clitoris, the opening of the vagina, and the urethra.

The vulva develops primarily while a fetus is still growing in the womb. Further development occurs during puberty, under the influence of estrogen.

The vulva is rich in nerve endings, which is why people experience sexual pleasure when parts of their vulva are stimulated during intercourse and manual stimulation. The vulva also serves as a protective gateway, minimizing the risk of infection to the uterus and reproductive tract.

The word vulva comes from the Latin word volvere, meaning "to roll" or "wrapper." The vulva is also known as the pudendum.

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A variety of fluids are passed through the vulva, including urine, menstrual fluids, sebum, sweat, and vaginal wall secretions. During sexual arousal, parts of the vulva become more lubricated. Despite all of these secretions, vulvas only need to be washed with warm water and dried thoroughly with a clean towel to ensure good vulvovaginal health.

The vulva can become irritated or swollen if it comes into contact with irritants. For this reason, people should wash their undergarments with a mild soap, then rinse them thoroughly after purchase and use. Some dyes and chemicals can also irritate the vulva, so people with sensitivities may find they benefit from wearing only cotton undergarments and using undyed and unbleached, unscented toilet paper.

During sexual arousal, a number of changes can be observed in the vulva. When aroused, vaginal secretions cause the vulva to become moist. The labia majora flattens, and the clitoris and labia minora grow larger as they fill with blood. These parts continue to swell until orgasm is reached, or sexual arousal ceases. During arousal, if an orgasm does not occur, it takes much longer for the vulva to return to its normal state.

Colloquially, some people use the term vagina to refer to the vulva. This is incorrect, however, as the vagina is an internal part of a person's anatomy, whereas the vulva is the term for the exterior genitalia.


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