Up there with life’s great existential quandaries like ‘what came first, the chicken or the egg’ is the most pressing question a woman can ask herself: ‘is my vagina normal?’
The answer is a resounding yes.
But also no, because there’s no such thing as a ‘normal’ vagina, a term often and incorrectly used to refer to the vulva – the outer genitalia comprised of the mons pubis, labia majora, labia minora, the clitoris and the vaginal opening.
Much like leprechauns and skinny jeans that are both flattering and comfortable, the notion of there being one kind of normal vulva is a myth.
‘Women’s genitals come in all shapes, sizes, textures and colours,’ says Dr Karen Gurney, clinical psychologist, psychosexologist.
‘But unless you are a woman who looks at other women’s genitals for a living, or has female sexual partners, you might not have had a good look at anyone’s apart from your own.’
It’s a sad state of affairs when we have to be reassured about how normal our genitals are, but alas women have been socialised to feel self-conscious about their bodies to the point where we’ve grown up thinking even our fannies should look a certain way – hairless with short, symmetrical inner labia, a small clitoris in a perfect shade of Pantone pink.
But according to experts, unless you’ve got one of Snow White’s dwarfs down there, chances are you’re more ‘normal’ than you think.
Despite what you may have seen in porn, which hardly showcases the varied tapestry that is female genitalia, however long, flappy, hued, wrinkly or smooth your vulva is, it’s just a-okay.
Your outer (labia majora) and inner (labia minora) are the most visible parts of your vulva, and they’re the most common cause of concern or dissatisfaction in women.
Sexologist and author Shannon Boodram says size is often the biggest issue.
No two labias are alike, some are long, some are thick, some are mismatched.
‘Studies found that labia majora lengths varied from approximately six to 12 centimeters, and labia minora lengths varied from two to more than 10 centimeters,’ says Dr Pandelis Athanasias from the London Women’s Centre.
You shouldn’t rush to the operating table to get your labia shortened unless they cause you discomfort.
‘A significant number of women have labia minora that hang lower than the labia majora and this is not a problem of itself and is perfectly normal,’ says sex and relationship expert Dr Ali Mears.
‘However, if the inner lips are much, much bigger and rub on clothing or get irritated due to their size, go and see a doctor for an opinion.’
It’s also perfectly fine if your labia is wrinkly.
Many women think wrinkles within the skin of their vulva make it look ‘old’, but they’re just a sign of elasticity.
However, since some STIs such as genital warts can cause abnormal lumps and bumps to grow in and around the vaginal opening, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with your cooch so you can be aware if anything odd is going on.
Don’t be afraid to get up in there. Pop a mirror between your legs, put the kettle on and make a Saturday afternoon out of it.
Right at the top of where your labia minora meets is your clitoris, which you may have been told is a tiny pink nub that looks like a pencil eraser.
In fact, much like the labia, clitorises come in all different sizes.
For some women, they’re about as subtle as a giant flickering neon sign, while others have a hard time locating it during the no pants dance. Yet another reason to get accustomed to your foofa.
The clitoris is the only organ whose sole purpose is sexual pleasure, so really and truly it’s an amazing little thing – or better yet, not that little.
Clitorises are like icebergs, you only see the tip.
Three quarters of the clitoris is internal and the external part of the clitoris (often covered by a flap of skin known as the clitoral hood) is on average 1.5 to 2 centimetres long in adult women.
The size can increase in some women when the erectile tissue has been stimulated, not unlike a penis.
Repeat after me: sex doesn’t stretch it out.
Whoever started the rumour that too much sex loosens the vagina has probably never been in one and doesn’t deserve to ever be in one.
‘The vagina is a muscle that can stretch to accommodate an 8lb baby, I doubt a significant amount of people are being penetrated with large 8lb objects,’ says Boodram.
‘So no, sex should not cause significant stretching or tearing.’
No vagina has been stretched out by sex to the point of no return, it’s a tough muscle meant to endure childbirth, not a delicate cashmere sweater.
Next time you hear someone slut-shaming a woman for having a ‘loose’ vag, tell them to get in the sea.
‘Your downstairs is not odourless! This is definitely a myth,’ says Dr Jane Ashby, specialist in sexual health and sexual dysfunction.
‘It is normal to have an odour that may be stronger at certain times of the month or at the end of a day.’
Excessive odour in discharge can at times be a sign of bacterial infections, but even healthy vaginas aren’t meant to smell like Diptyque and Penhaligon’s love child.
And despite what you may have heard by sexually frustrated teenage boys, your Georgia O’Keeff doesn’t smell like a fish market. It’s fish and chips, not fish and clits.
‘Using feminine deodorants or hygiene products is not a good idea, as often times these can actually create more imbalance and increase odour,’ says Ashby, who recommends washing with warm water and avoid douching.
There’s a misconception that vaginal discharge is gross and something to be ashamed about, but it’s totally normal if after a long day your knickers look like they fell in a vat of cream cheese. Oh, pardon me, did that image forever ruin bagels for you? My bad.
As long as your lady parts are feeling good, there’s no reason for concern.
Contact your GP if you notice any discomfort like itching or burning, soreness, or change in appearance and smell, but if not, trust and love your vulva because it’s perfect as is.