From healthy births to sustainable management, 5 essential readings on the fascinating and complex vagina

As the most common way to get into the world, the human vagina has, of course, been around since there are people. Despite its name, however, it’s not so much a “sheath” – the Latin meaning of “vagina” – as it is a muscular tube of varying shapes and lengths, contained unseen within the pelvis. The vagina is actually a working organ in its own right, with its own ecosystem.

Thus, The Conversation presents a selection of stories from the archives that offer insight into the once mysterious, often maligned and still misunderstood vagina.

1. Passing through the vagina can improve your health

If you are a baby, of course. Newborns who travel through the birth canal to their parents’ homes instead of the hospital are exposed to more bacteria in the vagina, which could benefit them, suggested Joan Combellick, assistant clinical professor of midwife.

Hospital sterility measures eliminate much of the potentially helpful bacteria, Combellick suggested in her research, which showed that babies born at home are more likely to be exposed to their mother’s vaginal microbiomes.

Read more: Home birth can start babies with health-promoting microbes

2. Vaginas of other species can be just as beneficial

Researchers have observed that the offspring of mice and other animals derive other health benefits from passing through the vagina. Helen Vuong, postdoctoral researcher in integrative biology and physiology, shared her research on maternal microbiology.

“Specifically, my study identified how a mother mouse’s microbiome influences the formation of axons – long nerve fibers that project from a neuron – in her offspring, affecting their ability to sense their surroundings,” Vuong wrote. Axons are important for relaying sensory information, such as sounds and smells, allowing mice to hear a potential predator approaching or to smell when food is nearby. The study does not indicate whether humans benefit in the same way.

Read more: How microbes in a pregnant mouse influence offspring’s brain development – new study offers clues

This MRI of the vagina shows it connected to the uterus via the cervix. The vagina helps the uterus during menstruation and is probably helped to provide sexual pleasure because of the nerves in the cervix.
Paul Biris/Moment via Getty Images

3. Vaginal role in menstruation can be sustainably managed

When the body sees that there is no baby on board this month, this accumulation of blood and other matter in the uterus in the event of pregnancy is ultimately unnecessary. At this point, the uterus literally throws everything down the chute. Helping with menstruation is one of the dirtiest jobs in the vagina. Containing the clutter, however, doesn’t have to harm the environment, wrote Susan Powers, professor of sustainable environmental systems at Clarkson University.

Using figures from a media survey, Powers determined that the average woman responding to the survey uses 240 tampons or maxi pads in a year, which is only 10% of a woman’s 10-year lifespan. menstrual cup. In addition to being reusable, however, the cup also has one-tenth the overall impact of making and disposing of tampons or pads.

Read more: Menstrual cups are a cheaper and more durable way for women to cope with periods than tampons or sanitary napkins

4. Vaginas don’t work on their own

At the inner end of the vagina is the cervix, which could be a major source of vaginal sexual pleasure, wrote Barry Komisaruk, a psychologist at Rutgers University in Newark. He and psychobiology professor María Cruz Rodríguez del Cerro highlighted the 1953 book “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female” by Alfred Kinsey.

Komisaruk and del Cerro pointed to one of the Kinsey researchers’ lesser-known findings: when investigators stimulated the women’s cervix with “distinct pressure” using “an object larger than a probe.” , 84% of these women said they could smell it. Researchers have suggested that nerve connections in the cervix and vagina may be why women whose cervix has been altered or surgically removed have reported losing erotic sensation in their vagina.

Read more: The cervix is ​​sensitive and surgeons need to recognize the role it plays in some women’s pleasure

5. ‘Vagina’ isn’t the final word on gender identity.

Lots of people have vaginas. But not all vagina owners see themselves as girls, women, or even women, according to professor of medicine Carl Streed and assistant professor of gynecology Frances Grimstad.

They wrote that some people born with a vagina also had testicles, or they “produced significant amounts of testosterone,” the hormone associated with male sexual development. Such cases, the professors wrote, suggest that sex designation exists on a spectrum and that the binary categories of male and female are “incomplete and inaccurate” in determining sex. So a vagina alone cannot determine who a woman is. Some women don’t have vaginas, and some people who do aren’t women.

Read more: Not everyone is male or female – the growing controversy over gender designation

Editor’s note: This story is a summary of articles from The Conversation archives.

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