16 Terms to Help You Better Understand Sexual Health

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When it comes to health issues below the belt, there can be confusion and shame. Sex education is limited in many schools and communities, meaning there’s even more obscurity about what is “normal.”

Pussypedia, an upcoming bilingual database of sexual health, is here to answer every question about your vagina you’ve ever had.

Zoe Mendelson, Maria Conejo and Jackie Jahn were frustrated by the void of accessible, valid information available on the Internet, so they decided to create their own encyclopedia.

The three women have already raised roughly $22,000 ($423,354 MXN) with a Kickstarter campaign. Moving forward, the Pussypedia team plans to build out the structure of their site, which the women hope to fully launch in 2019.

“We are in a society inundated information, but we don’t always know about its validity, how its vetted, the accuracy or the agenda or bias that comes with it. It’s often a loaded and charged area to navigate,” says Jessica Atrio, an obstetrician-gynecologist at New York’s Montefiore Health System and assistant professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “People shouldn’t feel afraid, people should feel empowered to seek out information, support and help.”

The founders have rigorously vetted sources and articles to create Pussypedia. While no source provides the individual specificity and attention that you get from seeing your doctor, Pussypedia aims to empower people to explore their sexuality and the unknowns about their own bodies.

Here are 16 terms — in English and Spanish — from Pussypedia that serve that exact purpose.

1. Vagina
The Latin root of the word comes from the term “sheath,” as in a carrying case for a sword.

2. Uterine Prolapse
You’ve likely heard of your pelvic floor muscles and the exercises called Kegels, that help you strengthen them. The consequences of a weak pelvic floor are lesser known. Beyond incontinence (or urine leakage), weak muscles can cause nonsupport of the uterus, causing it to slip from its proper position into the birth canal, and in serious cases, protrude from the vagina.

3. Rugae
These are the bumpy ridges that line the inside of the vagina, similar to the tissue that lines the stomach. They expand when necessary (i.e. during intercourse and childbirth) and collapse when not used. In the ’60s, researchers William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson looked at the vaginal sizes of 100 women and found that vaginas stretch in length to about 1.5 times their size during arousal.

4. Corpus Cavernosa
These areas of spongy, erectile tissue are located inside the clitoris and fill with blood during arousal. The penis also has a pair of tubes made from the same tissue, which cause an erection with blood flow. “Women kind of get boners, too,” says Mendelson, one of Pussypedia’s founders.

5. Bartholin’s Glands
These two pea-sized glands are located on opposite sides of the vaginal opening, which release extra moisture during sexual arousal. On occasion, bacteria can block fluid from reaching the glands, causing cystic formations near the labia. Though these cysts are sometimes sensitive or painful, they are common and easily treatable. 

6. Hymen
This thin piece of skin covering the vaginal opening is usually shaped like a half-moon, but it isn’t part of every woman’s anatomy. It also changes throughout your life, with hormones, sex and physical activities (like riding a bike and playing sports).

7. Crura
Beyond the small, external “bean” located under the clitoral hood, the clitoris actually is shaped like a wishbone and extends up to 17 centimeters long. The two “wings” of the internal clitoris, called crura, run along the inside of the vagina toward the sit bones.

8. Clitourethrovaginal Complex
This complex is defined as the interactions between the clitoris, urethra and front side of the vaginal wall (where the G-spot allegedly resides). Research suggests a vaginal orgasm may be possible when these areas are properly and simultaneously stimulated.

9. Vulvodynia
Sex isn’t always fun for everyone. Vulvodynia, a condition in which women experience chronic pain in their pelvic and vulvar regions, affects an estimated 16 percent of women. The type of pain and area where it occurs varies from person-to-person, but pain is often heightened from increased pressure, whether that’s sitting for a long period of time, or from sexual penetration.

10. Bacterial Vaginosis
This is a bacterial imbalance in the vagina that can cause symptoms including excessive discharge and odor. Highly common and treatable by antibiotics and topical gels, the risk for developing bacterial vaginosis can increase with new or multiple sexual partners, douching and antibiotics.

11. Cervical Mucus
During your most fertile time (i.e. ovulation), your cervix may secrete more of this than usual, and can change in color and texture as well. Some women follow the cycles of their cervical mucus as a form of birth control. (It is not recommended as a reliable form of birth control.) Hormonal contraceptives, like the arm implant, work in part by releasing the hormone progestin, which thickens this mucus, making it less hospitable to sperm.

12. Pelvic, Hypogastric, Sensory Vagus and Pudendal Nevers
It’s all part of the system. These nerves correspond to different areas of stimulation, and work together and separately to play a part in sexual arousal and orgasms. From the first phase of excitement, all the way to climax, your nerves are firing like crazy. In an orgasm, the brain’s pleasure centers light up, too, so if you’re not mentally or emotionally there, it probably won’t happen.

13. Sensory Vagus Nerve
This is the longest cranial nerve and plays a huge part in your body’s most necessary functions — from breathing to managing digestion to lowering your heart rate. Research suggests that those suffering from spinal cord injury and paralysis may still be able to experience orgasms thanks to this nerve, which passes along the spine into the abdomen.

14. Gender Expression
The outward way in which a person displays their gender, whether through personal appearance, clothing or verbal and nonverbal expression.

15. Transgender
A person whose gender identity doesn’t align with the gender they were assigned at birth.

16. Gender Nonconforming/Genderqueer
When someone’s gender identity differs from what they were assigned at birth, but it is less easily defined or more fluid than that of a transgender person.

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