There are so many things we're never told about our vaginas (like that most of the things on this list are actually about vulvas instead of vaginas, and no, the two are not the same). Here are 15 things I wish we'd had cleared up sooner.
1. What the hell that white stuff in your underwear is. So many women spend years staring at their underwear and being horrified by that weird white discharge because they think it means they're dying or disgusting, and neither are true. According to Carol Livoti, MD, ob-gyn at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and author of Vaginas: An Owner's Manual, "clear, elastic mucous resembling raw egg whites" and milky white discharge is totally normal. If it's cottage cheese-y, yellow, grayish-green, watery, or more than you usually produce, then yes, see a doctor. But if it's just that clear-ish white stuff you've been seeing in your underwear every day since you can remember, stop stressing.
2. You do not need to clean it with nine cleansers. I spent years not knowing why cleaning my vag with weird scented mall soaps did not feel awesome to me. It would've been cool to know that the vagina basically cleans itself, and according to Karen Elizabeth Boyle, MD, FACS, using anything more than a mild soap to clean the vulva can cause irritation and disrupt the normal "flora" or pH of the vagina. Also, for the love of god, no, you don't need to douche.
3. How to actually give yourself an orgasm that doesn't involve pretending your finger is a penis. When you grow up, if you see any depictions of sex in movies, they're likely to be images of heteronormative penetrative sex where the guy puts his penis into a vagina and and the woman comes wildly. So yeah, it's unlikely that you'd be able to figure out that your clitoris is definitely a thing and most women need it stimulated in order to produce that over-the-top porn screaming.
4. That you can't accidentally lose a tampon inside your vagina. Checking to see if my tampon had disappeared into my seemingly endless vagina was a regular activity for me as a teen and that's just wasted time I'll never get back. Dr. Boyle confirmed that even if your tampon seems to have migrated somewhere farther up, it can't go any deeper than the vagina. Now you know.
5. Just because you need lube doesn't mean something is wrong with you. When I was a teenager, I remember thinking that the only women who "needed" lube were women over 60 and women who wanted to buy scented lube as a gag gift. It would've been nice to know that even porn stars recommend that everyone use lube, no matter what age, because it just helps. Plus, Dr. Boyle says a woman's vaginal secretions change at different points during her menstrual cycle and things like being on the pill can also affect how much natural lubrication a woman makes, so there's no shame in helping your body out.
6. Literally anything about the parts of the vagina at all. I distinctly remembering going to school and being taught all the parts of the penis, but at no point do I remember someone telling me what a vulva is (or if they did, they did it so fast it barely registered). Sadly, if you told most 16-year-old girls to point out where their clitoral hood, vagina, urethra, and inner and outer labia are, they'd get most of them wrong. That's insane! I know there's not much you can do with that info, but it's your body and you should know this.
7. That it's not a monster under their beds who will kill them if they ever look at it up close. While some young girls will grab a hand mirror and see what's actually happening down there, so many others will hide from their vaginas like they're going to find a pile of stolen goods in there. I really wish more of us were encouraged to take the time to not only explore our vaginas, but embrace whatever we see while we're doing so.
8. Even if you don't have penetrative sex, you can still get STDs. Dr. Boyle says that even if you don't have a penis-in-vagina situation, the labia, vulva, and perineum can still catch infections from skin to skin contact with a partner's genitals. Things like HPV and herpes can both be transmitted just from skin-to-skin contact. So no, naked grinding is not actually "safer" than penetrative sex when it comes to STDs.
9. You can get pregnant at any time of your menstrual cycle. According to Dr. Boyle, sperm can survive for multiple days in the female reproductive tract, so thinking you're safe because you're on your period is definitely not an effective form of contraception.
10. That it doesn't need to smell like a field of lavender flowers to smell good. Douching companies have spent so much money convincing us that unless our vaginas smell like freshly cut daisies, guys are going to be repulsed. So then women spend years feeling weird about the way they smell, while guys never worry about their dirty ball stench (though, god, I wish they would). Life would've been 90000x better if we'd all known that our vaginas smell like us, and any guy who is into us and not totally insane is really, really into that smell.
11. No, your labia isn't too long. The vaginas we see in movies usually look one specific way and that is usually hairless with short labia. Vaginas come in all different shapes and sizes, so the idea that yours looks "wrong" is impossible because there's no way it could look "right." If you need further confirmation of this, here's a whole wall of vaginas you can look at.
12. That penetration alone doesn't always feel that good. This goes for masturbation yes, but it's just as true when there's a penis involved. Just because he's jackhammering away and seemingly having the best day of his whole life doesn't mean that's doing anything for your body. So many of us think that because penetration alone doesn't send us into ecstatic bliss, we must be broken. Ideally, guys would know that's not all it takes and that we need clitoral stimulation, but if they don't know, it's up to us to take control of the situation and tell them. Sitting there bored as hell is helping no one.
13. That virginity isn't real. To hear most people tell it, losing your virginity happens when your hymen is broken. OK. Well, Dr. Boyle says you can break your hymen just by riding a bike or doing gymnastics, ballet, yoga, and many other activities. So if all it takes to lose your virginity is to have your hymen broken, it's totally possible to lose it to a bike. "Virginity" is dumb.
14. That when you have penetrative sex for the first time, it doesn't have to hurt or feel bad or bleed. While it's possible for all of those things to happen, just because you didn't leave a small pool of blood on the bed or cringe in pain doesn't mean you or he did anything wrong. If anything, you just got really lucky, and good for you.
15. That it's more powerful and magical than any penis ever. Apart from being able to lift weights and have multiple orgasms, your vagina can bring a freaking child into the world. Calling someone a "pussy" should be a compliment, thanks, bye.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.