What Is Your Introitus?
This article explains the anatomy of the introitus and the conditions that can affect it. It also provides hygiene tips for protecting the health of the introitus.
In anatomy, there are three levels of the vagina. Level one is the very top of the vagina. It is about 2.5 centimeters long and contains the cervix, which is the opening to the uterus. The name for this area is the vaginal vault.
Level two of the vagina runs from the vaginal vault to the hymen, the thin membrane at the opening. This is the vaginal canal, also known as the birth canal.
The introitus is level three of the vagina, which contains the tissues of the vaginal vestibules and the perineum. It includes the area between the labia minora and the following structures:
- Bartholin’s glands, which secrete lubricating fluids
- the opening of the urethra, which excretes urine
- the opening of the vagina, which is the birth canal
The vulva, or external genitalia, surround the introitus. The vulva consists of the labia majora and labia minora.
Conditions that affect the vagina and vulva can also affect the introitus.
The Bartholin’s glands sit at either side of the opening to the vaginal canal. They secrete fluid that lubricates the opening during sex. A clogged gland can lead to a cyst that you can feel. An infected cyst can be painful and develop into an abscess.
Painful cysts require treatment from a doctor. However, you can treat cysts that are not causing pain at home with warm compresses and sitz baths.
Contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction to something with which your skin comes into contact. It causes itching and irritation. The skin of the vagina and vulva can develop contact dermatitis from soaps, detergents, and other products. Certain fabrics can also cause it.
You can reduce the risk of contact dermatitis by avoiding using scented products. If the condition still occurs, you can try to identify the cause and stop using or wearing it. A doctor can offer advice about topical ointments and oral medications that may alleviate the symptoms. In the meantime, cold compresses can help soothe irritation.
Genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM)
GSM can develop during perimenopause and menopause when the levels of estrogen and other hormones decrease. It includes:
- vaginal dryness
- pain with sex
Bladder problems, including frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs), can also occur.
Over-the-counter vaginal moisturizers and lubricants can help. If the symptoms persist, you can talk with a doctor about prescription options.
The hymen is a thin membrane that separates the vaginal canal from the introitus. Usually, there is an opening in it to allow vaginal secretions and menstrual blood to exit the vagina. Various abnormalities can affect it, including imperforate hymen. This occurs when there is no opening, and the hymen completely blocks the vaginal canal.
An imperforate hymen prevents blood from emptying, leading to abdominal pain and pelvic masses. Surgery can correct the problem.
Lichen planus is an autoimmune disease that affects the mucous membranes. Most often, it occurs in the mouth, but it can also involve the genitals. The disorder causes irritation and inflammation. In the vagina, it can also cause an abnormal discharge, white streaks or patches, and dark pink bumps.
If you notice these symptoms, you should seek medical advice, as the treatment usually requires prescription medications.
Lichen sclerosus is a skin condition that usually affects the genitals. It can cause:
- painful sex
- skin tears
The skin in the area appears white and thinner than normal. There may also be white bumps or patches with purplish margins.
The treatment involves using a corticosteroid cream.
Lichen simplex chronicus
Lichen simplex chronicus can occur when certain skin conditions, such as contact dermatitis, become chronic. The skin develops plaques, or thickened, scaly patches that itch.
It is important to speak with a doctor about any genital skin condition that persists. Corticosteroid creams can reduce the symptoms of lichen simplex chronicus. However, it is also important to address the underlying problem.
Pelvic organ prolapse
Pelvic organ prolapse happens when there is no longer adequate support for one of the pelvic organs. The organ can slip out of place and protrude into the vagina. Sometimes, it can stick out through the introitus and be visible from the outside. Organs that can prolapse include the:
The vaginal vault can also prolapse.
The treatment approaches include both surgical and nonsurgical options.
Vaginal stenosis occurs when the vaginal canal — and, sometimes, the opening — becomes narrow. It is most often the result of scar tissue from radiation therapy or surgery.
Vaginitis is a general term for inflammation and irritation of the vagina. There are various potential causes of vaginitis, including:
- infections, including bacterial and yeast infections
- pregnancy and lactation
- sexual intercourse
- vaginal atrophy during perimenopause and menopause
The best treatment options for vaginitis will depend on the underlying cause.
Vulvodynia involves pain, soreness, aching, or throbbing in the vulva or vaginal vestibules. It may also cause burning, itching, or irritation. The discomfort can be constant or periodic. Sometimes, there are triggers, such as touching or inserting things into the vagina or even wearing underwear that is too tight.
You can use several self-care measures to protect the health of your vagina and introitus, including:
- avoiding scented pads, tampons, soaps, and toilet paper
- cleaning diaphragms, cervical caps, and spermicide applicators after each use
- keeping the external genitalia clean by washing with warm water and patting the area dry
- making sure that pantyhose have cotton crotches
- refraining from douching or using feminine sprays or talcum powder
- avoiding scratching when irritation occurs, as this starts a cycle that keeps the skin from healing
- wearing cotton underwear that is not too tight and avoiding pants that fit too snuggly
Anatomically, the vaginal introitus encompasses the opening of the vagina and the tissues around it. It marks the transition from external to internal genitalia.
The conditions that affect the vagina and vulva will also involve the introitus. If you notice any new or concerning symptoms affecting this area, you should consult a doctor for a diagnosis.
Practicing good vaginal hygiene will help keep both your vagina and vulva healthy.