"Is This What My Vagina Is Supposed To Look Like?": The Diversity of Vulvas and Why We Are All Totally Normal

A waxed pink “innie” with symmetrical lips.

Is this what you imagine when you think of a vagina? It’s not what the majority of women have down there.

In fact, vulva come in different sizes, shapes and colours. Variation is a natural phenomenon that informs the great diversity of human bodies. Vulvas are all unique.

Yet, the image of the ideal vulva continues to haunt us. The vulva ideal constructed by men and circulated in media and cultural imagination serves to make us feel insecure, inadequate, and shameful about parts of our bodies that are in fact totally normal and beautiful.

First of all, I want to assure you that you are totally normal. If you haven’t already done so, grab a mirror and get to know your vulva. No matter what you look like, just know that you are beautiful. Your body keeps you alive everyday and can also bring you intense pleasure. There’s nothing to hate about that.

Secondly, let’s clear up some terms. Vagina, though technically refers to the elastic muscular part that extends from the vulva to the cervix and can allow for intercourse and childbirth, is used to refer to the entire genital area in everyday speech. Whereas vulva specifically signifies the external organs, including the labia majora and minora, clitoris, mons pubis, the external part of the urethra and the vagina. So, when we say vagina in everyday speech, what we really mean is the vulva.

Why is the choice of language significant?

There has been feminist critiques, including those of Laurie Mintz, the author of Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters--And How to Get It, who says that “every time we use the word 'vagina' when we really mean 'vulva,' we're erasing the part that gives us the most pleasure”. Defining our genital organs with the part that gets the most attention during heterosexual sex is a patriarchal definition of our bodies. When we say vagina, we are erasing the part that often bring women the most pleasure, the clitoris, that also typically gets ignored during heterosexual sex.

And honestly, there’s already so much misinformation and mystification surrounding the female genital organs that it does us no service to embrace the wrong terminology.

A word on the word "beautiful" here: everybody wants to be beautiful, yet, thinking that we need to be beautiful to be valued is still working within patriarchy's terms. I truly believe that every vulva is beautiful but why should we have to be beautiful at all? Thinking that your vulva is just a part of your body, like your arm or leg, and it doesn't have to be beautiful can also be liberating for some.

Now that we know the difference between the terms, and why how we use them can be significant, and hopefully by now you’ve taken a good look at your vulva, we can talk about some of the most common variations. This list is not complete as all vulva are unique.

Variations in labia size:

Labia minora (inner lips) can be longer than labia majora (outer lips) and stick out.

Labia majora are the outer lips and the labia minora are the inner lips. About half of all women have inner lips that are longer than the outer lips. The inner lips may be more prominent, stick out, dangle up to an inch or more past your outer lips or be tucked inside them. No matter what, it is all normal and healthy.

Labia majora (outer lips) can also be prominent.

Alternatively, outer lips can also be prominent, long or dangling. This is also totally normal and healthy.

Labia asymmetry:

One lip can be larger, thicker, longer than the other.

Exact symmetry is actually very rare on human bodies and it’s actually the exception, not the rule. You might have one lip that is larger, thicker, longer than the other. It is totally normal and you are beautiful.

Variations in colour:

Vulvas come in all colours.

Sometimes labia is the same colour as one’s skin, but often they are darker or lighter. Pink, brown, reddish, purplish etc labia are all normal. When inner labia are longer than outer labia and stick out they often tend to have a darker colour.

Open or closed lips:

Inner lips can be visible.

The outer lips containing the inner lips completely, the vulva that we usually see in porn, is actually the least common of them all. What’s more common is instead inner lips that are visible because of outer lips being separated slightly or naturally pulling towards the sides.

The vagina that we usually see with closed lips containing the inner lips is actually the least common one of them all.

Variations in hair growth:

You might have a lot of pubic hair or none at all. It is all normal, and you don’t need to remove it, though you can if you choose to do so. That decision is up to you and you only. Pubic hair actually helps reduce friction, irritation and regulates temperature. But if you do wish to remove it, make sure to do it in a way that causes the least amount of irritation to you.

Variations in smell:

Contrary to what some people believe, the vulva is not a flower.

Everybody has a smell that is unique to their body. Unless you’re experiencing itching, burning or other symptoms, therefore might have an infection, you can rest assured that you smell just fine. Please refrain from using scented products that might irritate your vulva. Cleaning with water should be enough. And please, for the love of god, don’t use douches. Ever! 

Vulvas are beautiful in their great diversity.

It is not possible to cover the wonderful diversity of human bodies in an article. However, I hope this has assured you that you are totally normal, healthy and beautiful even though you might feel insecure at times. Unless these variations are causing you any discomfort or pain, they are just a natural part of your body that should not pose a problem. If you are experiencing discomfort due to labia size, one tip is to position your labia where it will be comfortable before exercising for example. You can also try avoiding tight clothing and underwear.

If you are interested in exploring the large diversity of vulvas, you can check out the Labia Library, that contains photos of vulva showing different variations, and The Vulva Gallery, a gallery of drawings that celebrates the diversity of the vulva.

 

Information obtained from:

https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/lets-clear-up-the-vagina-vs-vulva-debate-once-and-for-all_us_562f99dfe4b06317990f73c8

http://www.labialibrary.org.au/your-labia/are-my-labia-normal/

https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/lopsided-vagina

 

Images obtained from: 

https://www.neohealth.com.hk/blog/item/814-10-weird-facts-about-the-vagi...

https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/lopsided-vagina

https://www.etsy.com/ca/listing/268071796/print-uterus-poster-ovaries-va...

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/0c/30/77/0c3077b92b2a75d42c22fa59adc79a26...

https://www.instagram.com/frances_cannon/

https://www.thevulvagallery.com/gallery/