As women, I’m sure we have all asked, at one point or another, “Is my vagina normal? I’ve never seen a real vagina other than my own!”. It is a question that we are too scared to ask, and for some, it weighs heavy on our minds.
“But my genitals don’t look like those I’ve seen in movies or porn!”
Girl, nobody does!
Those images have been carefully curated to represent a certain “ideal” appearance thought up by men in a back room and now broadcasted to society as the only acceptable appearance. Just like we’re all expected to be submissive and skinny but have big breasts.
Can you believe that people are really telling us what our genitals should look like? I mean, have you ever seen a scrotum? Where are their beauty standards???
Before we go any further, we must first address an important point.
There is a BIG difference between a vagina and a vulva. In order to reclaim ownership over our own bodies, it’s important that we know the correct terminology for our genitals and each of the different parts. This becomes especially important when it comes to being able to explain any health concerns you may have to your doctor.
Vagina or vulva?
When we are talking about your vagina, we are talking about the internal muscular canal connecting the outside world to your cervix and uterus. This is where fingers, a penis or a sex toy go into during sexual activity (or not, depending what you’re into!).
Your vulva is the external part of your genitals which are visible on the outside. The vulva includes the inner and outer labia (which are the folds of skin, or “lips”), the clitoris, the pubic mound, and the urethra and vaginal openings.
Right now we are talking about your vulva, the external part that you are most likely concerned about. Most of us are not used to saying that word so I want you to say it out loud with me: Vulva. Vulva. Vulva.
It’s not a dirty word or a word only used by doctors. Get used to saying it and including it in your conversations. It is SO important that your genitals should never be reduced to being just a vagina. Most of our pleasure comes from our vulvas and clitorises and standing up for our pleasure begins by accurately talking about our bodies.
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So what is normal?
Our bodies are wonderful, unique pieces of art. And this doesn’t exclude our genitals!
Do you have a large clitoris or is it so tiny you’re not even sure it’s there? Normal. Do you have large asymmetrical inner labia which hang low or do you have almost no inner labia visible at all? Normal. Do you have a big soft pubic mound that fills up your underwear and makes a big bump when you where pants? You guessed it, normal.
Unless your vulva is painful, changing in appearance or actively disrupting you living your life – your vulva is most likely perfectly normal just the way it is.
The first steps to overcoming the shame and embarrassment you have about your vulva is to 1. be able to name each different part and 2. recognise and accept that your vulva is perfectly normal and there is nothing wrong with it. Do not let anyone else tell you otherwise – especially not a man!
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Do you need surgery?
Sometimes we can get so concerned about the way our vulvas look that we actually consider going for surgery. This is a massive decision! As we know, all surgery comes with serious risks and complications.
The most common reason for surgery is for a reduction in the size of the inner labia. This type of surgical procedure is known as a Labiaplasty.
While this procedure is done mostly for cosmetic reasons, it is also done for medical reasons to provide relief for those whose inner labia are so large that it interferes with their daily living. Sometimes the inner labia can get caught between their legs and make it difficult to play sport or even get tucked into the vagina during sex and cause pain.
Either way, having this procedure done is a very personal decision and you should never let anyone, not even your doctor, pressure you into it.
And while I believe that the huge variation in the appearance of vulvas should be recognised and appreciated, I’m all about feeling comfortable in your own skin. So if you feel that this is what you need in order to have more self-confidence, speak to your doctor about it.
But do it for you, not for anyone else, not because you’re not “normal”.
Just do it with the knowledge that you are perfectly normal, perfectly beautiful, just the way you are.
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Where can I find out what other vulvas look like?
Real vulvas come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colours. The Vulva Gallery is a fantastic resource for women curious about their anatomy and wondering what other normal people with normal vulvas look like “down there” without having to resort to the awkward change room glance. It is a place of radical self-acceptance where real vulvas are painted and celebrated for their similarities as well as their differences.
I was actually consulted as a medical expert for their new book “A Celebration of Vulva Diversity” which is an illustrated book about vulvas with vulva portraits, personal stories, cool vulva facts and a positive and inclusive approach to sexual health education. I definitely recommend you checking it out!
You can also head to their Instagram and see if you can find a vulva painting that matches your own!
At the end of the day there is no such thing as “normal”.
Your vulva is unique, just like every other part of you – and that’s a good thing! As long as your vulva isn’t causing you physical discomfort, it is most likely perfectly normal just the way it is.
I know that it may be difficult to internalise this message of self-acceptance when it feels like society is giving you a completely different message every single day. But that is why I want you to see it for yourself!
Go check out The Vulva Gallery, have a look at all their beautiful artwork based on real women’s vulvas. Read the touching personal stories and find a few that look similar to your own and admire the diversity.
I have some homework for you.
Go to your bedroom or bathroom, or wherever you can get some privacy. Take a handheld mirror with you, get some good lighting and start exploring your vulva. What does it look like? What colour is it? How do the lips curve? Can you find your clitoris? Some of you may have never done this before. Take it slow, try to name the different parts and empower yourself.
How do you feel?
Send me a DM on Instagram or let me know in the comments below!
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Disclaimer: This blog contains my opinions and doesn’t reflect the opinions of the Department of Health of South Africa or The Southern African Sexual Health Association. All information is accurate and true to the best of my knowledge, but it’s possible that there may be omissions, errors or mistakes. While I am a qualified medical doctor, I am not your doctor. The information presented on this blog is for entertainment and/or informational purposes only and shouldn’t be seen as professional medical advice. If you rely on any information presented, it’s at your own risk. Please consult a professional before taking any sort of action. I reserve the right to manage this blog as I see fit, including the right to remove harmful or unhelpful comments.