What Is the Vagina?

The vagina is an elastic, yet muscular canal that is approximately nine to 10 centimeters in length. The upper part of the vagina connects to the cervix, which opens into the uterus, and the lower part opens to the outside of the body. It lies between the urethra (which connects to the bladder) and the rectum.

Female Reproductive System
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During sexual intercourse, the vagina lengthens, widens and engorges with blood as it prepares to accept the penis. Additionally, the vagina serves as a passageway for cervical mucus, menstrual fluid and other secretions out of the body. During childbirth, the baby is pushed from the uterus out of the body, also through the vaginal canal.

Self-Cleaning Mechanism

It is important to know that the vagina is self-cleaning. Some women feel the need to douche or clean the vagina using sprays or deodorants. Not only is that unnecessary, but it can actually harm your vaginal health.

The vagina maintains its self-cleaning property in a few ways.

Its slightly acidic environment prevents most bacteria from living in it. Douching or cleaning the vagina can alter the pH, making it more susceptible to bacterial or fungal infections.

In addition, the tissue lining in the vagina is thickened after puberty and until menopause, which also helps prevent bacterial colonization.


The bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus is normally found in the vaginal tissue, and it helps to stabilize the pH at its natural acidic level. Anything that disturbs these bacteria (like antibiotics or high blood sugar) can also increase your risk for vaginal yeast infection.

Eating yogurt with natural cultures or taking an L. acidophilus probiotic supplement during antibiotic usage may be helpful in preventing an infection. Of course, talk to your healthcare provider to make sure that this is appropriate for you.

Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are prone to insulin resistance, which leads to high blood sugar and can set the stage for a vaginal yeast infection. Excess sugar in the body is excreted through urination, which can quickly feed small yeast colonies, turning them into uncomfortable infections.

Symptoms of a yeast infection include itching, pain and an odorless discharge that is either clear and watery or thick, white and clumpy like cottage cheese.

Keeping your blood sugar at healthy levels and wearing underwear made from a natural fiber, like cotton, in addition to taking probiotics, can help keep yeast infections at bay.

If you find yourself having recurring yeast infections, talk to your healthcare provider to rule out other conditions, like a bacterial infection.


At some point in every woman's life, she will experience vaginal dryness, which can make intercourse uncomfortable. While vaginal dryness is most common in menopausal women, certain medications—including some fertility drugs and antihistamines—can interfere with vaginal moisture.

There are numerous treatments for vaginal dryness, including hormone treatments, vaginal laser treatments, local radiofrequency treatments, and moisturizing suppositories. Many women find simply using a lubricant such as KY Jelly during sex can ease the pain of vaginal dryness.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Office on Women's Health. Douching.

  2. Bertuccini L, Russo R, Iosi F, Superti F. Effects of Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus acidophilus on bacterial vaginal pathogensInt J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2017;30(2):163–167. doi:10.1177/0394632017697987

  3. Moghetti P. Insulin resistance and polycystic ovary syndromeCurr Pharm Des. 2016;22(36):5526-5534. doi:10.2174/1381612822666160720155855

  4. Office on Women's Health. Vaginal yeast infections.

  5. Edwards D, Panay N. Treating vulvovaginal atrophy/genitourinary syndrome of menopause: how important is vaginal lubricant and moisturizer composition? Climacteric. 2016;19(2):151–161. doi:10.3109/13697137.2015.1124259

By Nicole Galan, RN
Nicole Galan, RN, is a registered nurse and the author of "The Everything Fertility Book."