The external genital organs of the female, or external opening of the vagina is known as the vulva (also sometimes called the pudendum).

In human beings it consists of the labia majora and labia minora (whilst these names translate as "large" and "small" lips, often the "minora" can be larger, and protrude outside the "majora"), clitoris, opening of the urethra (meatus), and the opening of the vagina.

The main functions involving the vulva are urination, sexual behavior, menstruation, and childbirth.

The soft mound at the front of the vulva is the mons pubis. Or specifically for humans, the mons veneris or "mount of Venus". After puberty it is normally covered with pubic hair to a greater or lesser extent. The labia majora or large lips extend on either side of the vulva, and may also be covered with pubic hair. The labia majora entirely or partially hide the other parts of the vulva. The colour of the skin of the labia majora is usually related to the general skin colour of the individual, although there is considerable variation.

The labia minora are two soft pink folds within the labia majora and to either side of the opening of the vagina. The clitoris is at the front of the vulva where the labia minora meet. The opening of the urethra is between the clitoris and vagina. The skin colour of these internal parts of the vulva is generally pink, regardless of the general skin colour of the individual.

The appearance of the vulva and the size of the various parts varies a great deal from one woman to another, and it is common for the left and right sides to not "match" exactly in an individual woman. In many cultures, including modern Western culture, some women have shaved or depilated part or all of the vulva.

Western cultures have commonly viewed the vulva as something shameful to be hidden; the term pudendum literally means "shameful thing." However, in some other cultures it has been celebrated and even worshipped. In some Hindu sects the vulva is revered under the name yoni, and texts seem to indicate a similar attitude in some ancient Middle Eastern religions. As an aspect of Goddess worship such reverence may be part of modern Neopagan or Wiccan beliefs, and may be indicated in paleolithic artworks.

Heterosexual couples wishing to avoid pregnancy should note that pregnancy is possible if semen comes in contact with the vulva (even through underwear) and the sperm swim into the vagina on their own. It is not necessary for ejaculation to occur inside the vagina.

In common speech, the term "vagina" is often used improperly to refer to the vulva or female genitals generally, even though strictly speaking the vagina is a specific internal structure and the vulva is the exterior genitalia only. Calling the vulva the vagina is akin to calling the mouth the throat.

See also: Orgasm, Vulvovaginal health, Vulvovaginal disorders, Pussy, Female genital mutilation, Clitoridectomy.