A lesser-known part of the female genitalia, the Skene's glands, are a pair of small, pea-sized glands found on the front wall of the vagina near the end of the urethra.
The Skene's glands help lubricate the urethra and play important roles in both urinary and sexual health.
The glands are sometimes also called:
Some people prefer the name "the female prostate" because the Skene's glands develop from the same cells that become the prostate gland in males.
The Skene's glands can occasionally cause health problems, usually by becoming infected. Cancers of the Skene's glands are extremely rare.
This article reviews the location and anatomy of the Skene's glands, their functions in urinary and sexual health, and health problems associated with these glands.
The Skene's glands are located on the front wall of the vagina, on either side of the lower end of the urethra—the tube through which urine exits the body.
The Skene's glands are ducts that have small, pinprick size external openings through which they release secretions. Their ducts open on either side of the urethra in the vestibule—the area of the external female genitalia bordered by the labia minora.
Like the male prostate, the internal portion of the Skene's glands hug the lower end of the urethra. The size of the glands varies from woman to woman.
Some researchers believe the area behind the Skene's glands constitutes the female "G-spot," or Gräfenberg spot, an area of heightened sensitivity inside the vagina that can produce an orgasm when stimulated. The existence of a female G-spot is controversial, and the size of the alleged area of sensitivity appears to vary considerably from person to person.
The Skene's glands are important for both urinary and sexual health.
The Skene's glands release secretions that drain into the urethra and help keep the urethra lubricated. These secretions are thought to be antimicrobial and may help prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs).
The Skene's glands help lubricate the vagina during sexual arousal. The glands are surrounded with clitoral tissue, which swells during sexual arousal. This swelling stimulates the Skene's glands to release a mucus-rich fluid.
More controversially, the Skene's glands are also thought to be the source of female ejaculation—the release of a thick milky-white fluid during orgasm.
In support of this theory, studies find that this milky fluid contains some of the same proteins, such as prostate-specific antigen (a protein produced by both cancerous and noncancerous prostrate tissue), as fluid released by the prostate during male ejaculation.
Although some people use the terms squirting and female ejaculation interchangeably, these are different phenomena. They involve chemically distinct secretions emitted by different organs. Female ejaculation involves the release of fluid from the Skene's glands during orgasm. Coital incontinence, or squirting, involves the release of fluid from the bladder during orgasm.
Not all women experience female ejaculation. The reasons for such variation are poorly understood, but probably reflect underlying anatomical differences. The amount of clitoral tissue surrounding the Skene's glands, and the size of the Skene's glands themselves varies considerably from woman to woman.
Health problems related to the Skene's glands are uncommon, but the glands do occasionally become infected or, very rarely, develop cancers.
The Skene's glands can become infected and inflamed—a condition known as skenitis. Gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted bacterial infection, is the most common cause of skenitis. Skenitis can also be caused by a UTI. Conversely, skenitis can sometimes cause recurrent UTIs.
If you have skenitis, your Skene's glands will enlarge and become tender to the touch. You may also experience these symptoms, which resemble the symptoms of a UTI:
Rarely, skenitis leads to the formation of cysts (fluid-filled sacs) or abscesses (pus-filled sacs). These cysts and abscesses are most common in a person's 30s and 40s. Large cysts can block the flow of urine through the urethra, preventing you from passing urine.
Skenitis is typically treated with antibiotics. If antibiotics fail to clear a cyst or abscess, you may need surgery to remove it.
The Skene's glands derive from the same tissue as the prostate gland. But although prostate cancer is a common cancer affecting 1 in 8 men in the United States, cancers of the Skene's glands are extremely rare. Fewer than 20 cases of cancers originating in the Skene's glands have been documented.
Most abnormal growths that do occur are adenomas, which are benign (noncancerous), and glandular adenocarcinomas, which are malignant (cancerous). Adenocarcinomas are thought to arise from untreated or delayed treatment of infections.
Like prostate cancer, cancers of the Skene's glands sometimes secrete prostate-specific antigen.
If your healthcare provider suspects you have a UTI or skenitis, you will be asked to report your symptoms and will receive a physical exam. Your healthcare provider should perform a urine test (urinalysis) to confirm a UTI.
Skenitis can often be detected by a physical exam alone, but sometimes imaging is required.
Both UTIs and skenitis should be treated promptly with antibiotics. If you continue to have symptoms after finishing your course of antibiotics, seek medical attention. Your lingering symptoms could indicate an underlying medical issue that requires treatment.
Cancers of the Skene's glands are usually diagnosed with imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRIs). These cancers are typically treated with surgery. Additional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation depend on how advanced the cancer is.
The Skene's glands, or the female prostate, are an important part of both urinary and sexual health. The Skene's glands are located in the vaginal wall and help lubricate the vagina during sex. These glands can occasionally cause issues if they become infected, which is referred to as skenitis.
The Skene's glands are a lesser-known part of female genitalia, and their functions are still being studied.
So far, it is known that these glands help lubricate the urethra and provide vaginal lubrication during sexual arousal.
The glands' other functions, as part of female ejaculation process or in causing G-spot orgasms, are still controversial. Although studies find these phenomena can and do occur, your experience may vary. Some people report having intense G-spot orgasms; others never do. Some people experience female ejaculation; others never do. All of these experiences are normal, nothing to be ashamed of, and are most likely driven by underlying anatomical differences.