Sex Ed: Let's Talk About Anatomy, Baby
This article discusses a mature topic. Our 17-year old and younger readers are encouraged to read this with an adult.
I love Buzzfeed, and my love grew exponentially when I saw their hilarious post asking adults to label reproductive organs. Most people struggled to correctly label the anatomy, or they made a joke out of it, turning the penis into a nose or calling the vagina…let’s just say a number of inappropriate names.
Though it’s definitely funny, this video begs the question: Why is naming anatomy so difficult? We’re taught from a young age not to talk about these body parts, or if we do talk about them, we’re supposed to call them childish names like “weiner” or “wee wee.” Men and women get different messages about their bodies as well, with women learning that they should be ashamed of their “delicate” vaginas and men should be proud of their “powerful” penises. Though knowing the technical terms may not seem to matter, it’s important for everyone to know how their bodies work and what’s normal for them. With that in mind, this month’s Ask Elizabeth column is dedicated to some common questions we get about anatomy.
Do you have a question that you’d like to see answered in this column? Send them to me at AskElizabeth@pp-la.org.
Q: What actually happens when the hymen breaks?
The hymen is the subject of a lot of myths and misunderstandings. We often hear terms like “pop the cherry” in reference to a female losing her virginity and “breaking” her hymen. In fact, we know that the hymen isn’t something that needs to be “popped” or broken, and having a hymen and being a virgin are not the same thing.
The hymen—also called the vaginal corona—consists of thin folds of mucous tissue that are just inside the vaginal opening. The hymen can take a lot of different shapes, and it’s usually elastic or stretchy. During vaginal sex or other activities like masturbating or inserting a tampon, the hymen may be stretched, and this could cause some discomfort, but it isn’t broken. The hymen stays a part of the body throughout a female’s life. Though it can be normal to experience pain or bleeding the first time a female has vaginal sex, it’s just as normal not to. Like we always say, everyone is different, and that includes the hymen. And the way someone’s hymen looks or is shaped doesn’t say anything about their sexual activity or what vaginal sex will be like for them. For a great explanation about the hymen and the myths around female virginity, check out Laci Green’s video.
Q: Will an erection go away if you don’t ejaculate?
An erection is when the penis fills with blood and gets hard. If someone has an erection, it can go away over time even if they don’t ejaculate. This may sometimes feel uncomfortable or achy, often referred to as “blue balls.” But the discomfort does go away and it won’t cause any harm to the body. If someone doesn’t want to wait it out, they could choose to masturbate and ejaculate. While we often hear about “blue balls,” it’s important to note that a person with a vulva may experience something similar when they are aroused and do not climax. Just like with an erection, there’s no harm if they don’t climax, and the feeling will go away over time. Or, they can choose to masturbate to relieve the pressure.
Q: Is the clitoris real, and what is it?
Yes, the clitoris is a real part of the female anatomy. The sole function of the clitoris is to provide pleasure—it has 8,000 nerve endings, double the number found in the penis. In drawings we usually see in books or class, we only see the head of the clitoris. But there’s actually a lot more of it inside the body—like the proverbial “tip of the iceberg.” The head of the clitoris can vary in size, and inside the body, the clitoris extends out in the shape of wishbone up to over 5 inches. Just like the penis, the clitoris can become swollen and stiff during arousal. Everyone is different, not only in terms of size, but also in what feels good to them. Communicating openly and honestly with a partner can help someone have a more pleasurable experience.