Promoting healthy sexual functioning is a big part of my practice, as the pelvic floor muscles play a key role in our sexual experience. There are so many changes that occur in your body as it prepares for sex – and not all of them are obvious! If you’re interested in a little adult sex ed, read on.
Before we go further, let’s clarify something. Colloquially, we say vagina – but we’re actually referring to the vulva. The vulva is the external sex organ, and that includes the labia minora and majora, the clitoris, and the vaginal opening. The vagina is the muscular canal leading from the vulva to the cervix (the “neck” at the base of the uterus). Side note: it’s interesting to consider the implications of the language we use to describe female anatomy in America– we fail to name the part that typically provides the most pleasure to women!
So what happens to the vagina and vulva when the female body becomes aroused? Blood-flow to the genital area increases, warming the skin and leading to swelling of the clitoris, labia minora, and vagina. What many don’t realize is that the clitoris’ full structure is much more expansive than what you see externally. Just like a penis, the full structure of the clitoris gets erect when a woman is aroused. And the coolest part? This little organ’s only function is pleasure.
Here’s another thing you might not know about your body: as you become aroused, your uterus elevates and grows in size. As this happens, the top of the vaginal canal actually expands, creating room for a full-sized penis. Wow! Breast size also increases slightly, and the muscle that surrounds the vaginal opening becomes tighter. Bodies are pretty amazing, right?
Female lubrication also prepares us for penetrative sex with a partner, but that lubrication builds over time as we become more aroused. It isn’t instantaneous. Life changes that affect our hormone levels (such as breastfeeding and menopause) also have an impact on the natural lubrication process. With all my female clients, I emphasize the importance of using lubrication to protect the delicate skin of the vulva. Topical discomfort or pain during sex naturally provokes a tensing of the muscles, which can cause deeper pain for those who have overactive pelvic floor muscles – that is, many of us!
There are a few different theories about the process of the female sexual response. Some say it’s linear, some say it’s circular, and some say it’s neither. See for yourself what the various response models are and which best describes your own body. And whatever it may be, take a moment to appreciate all the nuances of the female body!
So, what's the take away from this fascinating female anatomy lesson?
- Breastfeeding mom, not getting much sleep? Take it slow and use healthy lube to provide the moisture your body isn't producing much of these days.
- Explore non-penetrative sex to increase arousal and allow the uterus to elevate to make room for your partner.
- Take advantage of the morning hours when you may be more well-rested.
- Good communication with your partner (sharing this article, anyone!) to help them better understand the physiological changes that impact arousal.
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