The vulva is the external female sex organs plus the urethral opening and anus.
The vagina is the internal passage which runs from the cervix (neck of the womb) at its top end and opens out at its bottom end into the vulva. The vagina is used for having a menstrual period, vaginal sex or giving birth.
Many people informally use the word ‘vagina’ for the vulva as well as the vagina. Medical professionals use different words for these two body parts because they are physically different, have different kinds of skin and function and are prone to different kinds of disease. Treatments prescribed for use on the vulva may be harmful if used inside the vagina, and vice versa.
On the VPS website, therefore, unless otherwise stated, we use the word ‘vulva’ to refer to the external organ and ‘vagina’ just for the internal passage.
Follow the blue link at the bottom of the page for a full description and labelled colour photo of the vulva.