Vulvas come in a large variety of different shapes and sizes. This sketch of labia variations illustrates some of the diversity out there…
Dr Gemma Sharp, a clinical psychologist, is one of my favorite proponents of labia pride. Some time ago, I featured a video by Dr Gemma Sharp dealing with labiaplasty surgery. She has recently been featured in a TEDTalks session which covers a variety of issues including stigmas around vaginas, what is normal when it comes to labia size, and some basics on womens’ genital physiology. Watch the informative TEDTalks session by Dr Gemma Sharp on vulvas here:
I am 16 and I have been self conscious about my large vulva for a while now; the part of my vagina in front of my clitoris is abnormally large and hangs down like a sac, and when I wear even normal underwear my vagina looks extremely bulgy and more like a mans genitalia than a womans. I don’t know what to do I am so self conscious and am afraid of what others and especially guys will think when being intimate or even going to the beach as my vulva is so large.
You are at an age where you are learning about your body, and it is normal to have insecurities like the ones you describe in your submission. If it makes you feel any better, many of girls have similar insecurities.
You have used terms such as “large” and “abnormal” in describing your vulva. I’m not sure what your reference point is, and what you would consider a “normal” vulva to look like (as compared to yours).
What I do know is that no two vulvas are exactly alike, and vulvas come in a range of different sizes which are considered normal. This includes vulvas with labia minora (the inner lips) which protrude outside of the outer lips to differing extents. This may be what you are referring to when you say that the part in front of your clitoris hands down.
With regard to your concern about what a guy will think when being intimate with you, the size of your labia will probably be the furthest thought from his mind. Most guys are so thrilled to be getting intimate that they are not focused on issues like this.
There are some useful techniques that you can use to reduce the appearance of a bulge when wearing swimsuits. Try wearing black or patterned colors, as this makes the contours less visible. If you are still self conscious, you could wear swimming shorts over your bikini bottoms.
I recently got to know about Dr Susie Gronski, a physiotherapist who specializes in pelvic health issues. As a pelvic pain specialist, she trains men and women on how to be their own expert in treating things when there’s trouble brewing in the nether regions. She is also very down-to-earth and knowledgeable – both essential traits in someone in her line of work.
Dr Susie G also hosts a podcast – take a listen to this episode which features an interview with Dr Danielle Jones (affectionately known as MamaDrJones), an obstetrician and gynecologist. It’s about all things va-jay-jay (including contraception and female health issues), and the Labia Project even got a shout-out during the interview!
First off I’d like to say that I absolutely love this website and the fact that so many women have been able to overcome their insecurities about their labia. The majority of women and girls who are insecure and want labiaplasty are normal and there is nothing wrong with their labia, therefore shouldn’t have it done. On the subject of labiaplasty, I’d just like to say that the procedure itself, when stripped to the core, carries very low risk (asides from the risk that comes with any surgery). The labia majora is a very vascular area and, in women with labial hypertrophy (long labia) have little nerves in the ends of the labia. The risk lies in women who choose under-qualified surgeons or worse get low budget labiaplasties. These surgeons remove the labia clumsily for purely aesthetic results which can leave the vulva botched. There are some women with no diagnosable medical issues with their vulvas who’s lives are vastly improved by the surgery. I was well aware that what I had was natural and beautiful yet it just got in the way too much. Bear in mind mine were very much longer than average, in the top percentile in fact. Labia that poke out and are visible and long are fine. My point is that simply telling girls to NOT do this procedure won’t solve the problem. When young girls are told to not do something they’re desperate to do it only makes them worse. We have to educate about labia self love but we can’t censor labiaplasty. It wasn’t invented because of porn. I didn’t do it to look like a pornstar. Instead of being told that I was obviously doing it for men and porn, I had a supportive mother who listened and understood why I was considering this. I was able to have my procedure done with a brilliant surgeon who specialises in vulval, vaginal and cervical cancer. He did not operate on the sensitive tissue around my clitoris and I still have labia minora. Also, there is no stigma around men having surgery to correct excessively long foreskin. It gets in the way and causes insecurity too, yet somehow when a man gets an operation to help his sex life and comfort it’s totally fine. And yes I understand the vulva is more complex than the foreskin, but labiaplasty shouldn’t involve the complex nerves around the clitoris and should only be performed on women with excessive labia. Just because we want to change an intimate area DOES NOT mean it’s to look like pornstars, we have our reasons. It’s not a shame that I had this procedure, my labia are still valid and I’m not a pushover. Also LARGE LABIA ARE BEAUTIFUL!!! I have no problem with them!! I just think it’s inadvertently sexist to not allow women to make a choice about their bodies.
Thank you for your insightful submission.
I need to be clear about my stance on labiaplasty surgery: I am not fundamentally opposed to it in all circumstances. It has its place. It’s place is not only limited to cases where it is medically necessary. Where the labia are causing discomfort during physical activities which can’t be managed, and are affecting quality of life, it may be appropriate. Where the labia are affecting self-esteem and this can’t be addressed through counseling or a change in mind-set, labiaplasty may be something to consider.
What I am opposed to is hasty decisions to undergo the procedure where physical discomfort CAN be managed, or where self-esteem issues CAN be overcome. In this sense, my stance on labiaplasty is that it should be done for the right reasons and should be done as a last resort.
Many women, like you, who undergo labiaplasty for the right reasons, can live happier lives after the surgery. On the other hand, when done for the wrong reasons and as a quick-fix, it can lead to further insecurities and create new self-esteem problems, instead of solving perceived problems.
Many of the submissions on this site are from women who say that they considered undergoing surgery because of perceptions that their labia were abnormal, and that after educating themselves about what is normal, have reached a point where they embrace and love their labia as they are. They are relieved that they did not hastily go through with the procedure, and that they took the time to learn that their perceived abnormalities were absolutely normal.
I’m glad that your labiaplasty surgery was a positive experience and that it has improved your life. The issue is not a one-size-fits-all situation, and a decision on surgery is a personal one which nobody should be shamed for going through with.
im 16 and have never done anything past making out with a guy. i think it’s because im really insecure about the way my vulva looks. my labia minora are longer and can be seen from the front and when i open my legs they are even more visible and i hate the way they look. i have been researching it loads and most guys say they prefer when its all neat and tucked away. from reading this blog i realise im not the only one that looks this way but im still scared as most boys my age have only seen the vulvas in porn and i feel like they wont think im normal or will be disgusted or freaked out. i wish that boys could be shown what most vulvas look like in sex education at school or that big labia were shown in porn. i have even considered a labiaplasty because i really hate how insecure it makes me. i am really confident about my appearance apart from this and i really need help in how to not be so insecure and how embarrassed it makes me.
I’m so happy that the Labia Project has helped you to realize that you are not alone in experiencing these insecurities.
You are still at an age where you are learning about your own body and your sexuality, and you should not be in a hurry to get intimate with a guy. It is a big step, and you should take it when you meet the right guy, and more importantly, when you have reached a point where you are comfortable with your own body. Opening up about your insecurities through your submission was the first big step in your journey towards reaching that point, and I am so proud of you for taking that step.
Many women with similar insecurities to yours, find it helpful to spend time self-exploring with a mirror – the vulva is an amazing organ and no two are alike. When you have some privacy and are not under time-pressures, take a mirror and take a good look at your vulva. Do this daily. Tell yourself that you are beautiful and unique (because you are).
Also, be careful of believing everything that you read on the internet about what guys’ preferences are when it comes to vulvas. There is a lot of misinformation on the internet, and what you read will often not represent the views and preferences of the average guy.
You correctly mention that sex-ed does not do enough to educate guys and girls about what is normal. Sex-ed is a golden opportunity to shape young peoples’ perceptions of what is normal, and sadly, that opportunity is usually not put to good use. That’s one of the major reasons the Labia Project exists – to spread education about what is normal, to break down stereotypes, and to celebrate the beauty of variety in womens’ labia.
I’m 30 years old and just now paying attention to the way I look down there. These entries have really helped me understand the vast differences and beauty of the human body. I think women are way harder on themselves then men are when they look at us. I have never even thought about my labia being different until recently. I realized it’s not easy to get “inside” without spreading them apart. Which had me looking at why, and then realizing it’s not very pretty down there. I got really self-conscious about my labia discoloration and then I found this site. Thank you! I think confidence goes so much farther than we realize. If you own it, and are confident in who you are, no man or woman is going to worry about how it may look. Be proud! I don’t love my discoloration or length of labia, and I am not a fan of my pregnancy hemorrhoids leaving there mark…. but overall I don’t think anyone who has seen them cares, and anyone that cares… well they shouldn’t see them.
Thank you for sharing your picture and story – it’s great that you have managed to reach a point where you have such a positive attitude!
Great blog Clare, thank you. I didn’t have the bravery to post my photo, and I am filled with the utmost respect and gratitude for the women that did. I am late 30’s now and have, finally, learned to love myself, including my long inner labia that are frilly and tinged with dark coloration. I was aware growing up that I looked different from my sister, but didn’t really think about it a great deal. Then, at 19, a frank conversation with my first long-term boyfriend and sexual partner in which he described my vagina as “huge” started me on the road to insecurity, to thinking I was so abnormal and different to other girls. He didn’t mean it hurtfully, we were just being honest and open, but it left its mark! I felt self-conscious about it for years and years and always came around to asking subsequent partners whether I had a weird-looking one. I think my favourite answer was something like: ‘well, they’re all different, all great’. My husband, goes one step further and actively prefers this type. Yes, there are plenty of us out there 😊
I am not sure if it will help anyone else, but it helped me to hold onto the thought that we are all completely unique: there is no-one else in the world who is the same as you, with your own particular brand of personality and beauty. First, strive to understand its depths, then embrace it, enjoy it, and surround yourself with people who recognise it in you. This latter bit may take some time (it has for me), but life is long, and you’ll cross many paths, gradually building up a loyal entourage along the way. And… please don’t have surgery solely because you think you’re ‘abnormal’. I am so glad I didn’t in my 20’s (which was, I fear, mainly a result of never having heard of labiaplasty in those days). On this point, I think ‘The Perfect Vagina‘ documentary (linked in a previous posting) is definitely worth a watch.
Thank you for sharing your story and wonderful insights 🙂
“Knowing how your sexuality works is important; welcoming your sexuality as it is, without judgment or shame, is more important….[t]he hard part is liking your sexuality as it is, when for multiple decades the world has been trying to convince you that you’re broken.” “Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life,” Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.
Can you guess what the most important element is in determining a woman’s sexual wellbeing?
Is it having a beautiful body? Experiencing orgasm easily? Liking certain sexual activities? Having a porn-perfect vulva and labia? Certainly, if you believe pop culture, you might think any of these is true, and you’d be wrong.
The most important element in determining a woman’s sexual wellbeing is how she feels about her sexuality or any aspect of it—her body, the time it takes to orgasm, or what she likes or dislikes. How she feels is more important than her sexuality itself. “Meta-emotions are how you feel about how you feel…It’s how you feel about what you’re experiencing,” according to Emily Nagoski in “Come as You Are.”
How we feel about our sexuality is complex in our sex negative culture, where few of us receive positive input about any aspect of our sexuality. A woman who enjoys kink may feel shame because of family or cultural messages that label kink as “warped”; another woman may feel shame because she is slow to orgasm and feels like she can’t ask her partner to take the time she needs to climax; yet another may like sex, but feels inhibited because media images have taught her to loathe the looks, color and shape of her labia and vulva. In each of these situations, the woman’s issue isn’t her sexuality. Rather, how she feels about her sexual expression, her sexual functioning or her body is what affects her wellbeing. The same is true for men.
In working with clients over the last three years I’ve learned that it is important to recognize meta-emotions because negative meta-emotions are the only thing we ever need to change. We really are fine just as we are, in our unique sexual expressions, what turns us on, the size, shape, and look of our labia, our functioning.
Here’s the nugget: when it comes to our sexuality, our own internal experience is the best source of knowledge about how ok we really are. Nothing else and nobody else gets to weigh in: not culture, not religion, not a sexual partner, not the porn industry or Cosmopolitan Magazine—only you.
As my own body changes, I’m noticing my meta-emotions and working at letting them go. Sometimes, I’m fine in this changing body, other times, I feel irritated about it all. On the days I feel the best, I’m in a place of acceptance rather than criticism. Join me this week—commit to noticing your meta-emotions about any aspect of your sexuality—but especially how your vulva and labia appear. Simply noticing is the gentle path to awareness, release and self-acceptance.
Jane Steckbeck, Clinical Sexologist and Certified Sex Coach
One of the major insecurities experienced by women relates to their vaginal odor. This causes many women to refrain from allowing their partners to go down on them. Most vaginas have a musky odor, and this is nothing to worry about, but some women report having a fishy smell or a rotten smell down there.
If there is a noticeable foul odor coming from that area, this may be a sign of an infection such as bacterial vaginosis (an overgrowth of the bacteria normally present in the vagina) or a yeast infection. If this is the case, it would be a good idea to speak to your gynecologist about it.
You might also like to check out this video featuring two women talking about vaginal odors…