The vulva and the vagina secrete numerous fluids that are responsible for a number of functions.
Fluids from the vagina and vulva include:
- Urine - This is not technically a vulval or vagina secretion but is present in the fluids of the vulva
- Sweat - The labia are lined with skin containing sweat glands.
- Menses - This includes blood and tissues that are actually shed from the inner linings of the uterus that awaits fertilization of the eggs during the release of the ovum.
- Sebum or skin oils - These are secreted by the sebaceous glands that lie in the inner linings of the labia minora.
- Vartholin's and Skene's gland secretions
- Vaginal wall secretions
- Smegma - This is a whitish secretion. It contains dead cells, skin oils, moisture and naturally occurring bacteria. It is found both in males and females and in females it collects around the clitoris and labial folds.
- Cervical mucus - This is formed within the cervix that forms the opening of the uterus. The cervical mucus varies in appearance and properties during the menstrual cycle. During ovulation and the most fertile period of the cycle it is slippery, clear and stretchy. Just before menstruation it is sticky. Those on birth control pills will always have a sticky secretion. Mucus usually dries white or yellow on the underwear. Girls usually start to notice this during puberty. There will be less cervical mucus as a woman gets closer to menopause.
Content of vulvovaginal fluids
The vulvovaginal fluids are chemically made up of pyridine, squalene, urea, acetic acid, lactic acid, complex alcohols, glycols, ketones, and aldehydes.
Functions of the vulval and vaginal fluids
- Lubrication - During sexual arousal vaginal and vulval lubrication increases to allow for easier penetration by the penis
- Protection - The acidic components of the fluids help to protect the vulva and vagina from infections
Flushing out microbes
- Pheromones - Approximately one third of women produce aliphatic acids. These have a typical odor that in other primate species produce sexual-olfactory signals. These are called human pheromones. These acids are produced by natural bacteria resident on the skin. The content of the acids varies with the menstrual cycle, rising from one day after menstruation or periods, and peaking mid-cycle, just before ovulation or the release of the egg from the ovary into the fallopian tubes.
- Ejaculation - During a female orgasm, some women may release a clear vulvovaginal fluid. This fluid is not urine, has no smell and does not leave a stain.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)