I remember the first time I read that labiaplasty was a thing. I was in college, sexually active, and totally unaware that women were going under the knife for a prettier vagina. I started to wonder if vulvus could be ugly — worse, was my vulva ugly? Were men sitting around the locker room making jabs about a woman’s labia? Suddenly I was faced with the age-old question: Is my vagina normal?
Well rest assured, ye curious women. I’ve done the hard research for you and as it turns out, your lady parts are normal. And you don’t even need to Snapchat your snatch for me to tell. Sure our vaginas are strange and mysterious — they sweat, they smell, they even send us covert messages. (And if you’ve ever used your vagina to push out a 7-pound baby, you know that they’re pretty damn miraculous, too.) But all in all, there’s not one standard of “normal” down there — no matter what our Tumblr accounts would have us believe.
That being said, here’s a basic guide to tell whether your lady parts are A-OK.
As if worrying about the health of your vagina isn’t enough, most women find themselves, at some point in their lives, straddled over a mirror, wondering, “Does everyone’s look like that?”
Yes and no. Here’s the truth — no two vaginas are exactly the same. That’s right, you and your vulva are unique snowflakes, so call off the competition. When it comes to size, all varieties are possible. You might have a barely-there outer labia or it might be two inches long; your inner labia might be totally hidden, or stick out past your outer lips. And because few things in nature are perfectly symmetrical, don’t expect your vulva flaps to be, either.
“This is a huge secret fear, and I point to porn for fueling it,” Lissa Rankin, an OB-GYN and author of What’s Up Down There? told Glamour. “Women see airbrushed, makeup-ed, even surgically altered lady parts on porn stars and wonder why theirs don’t look like that.” Rankin cited a study on inner-labia length that found most women measured three-quarters of an inch or shorter, but some were up to 2-⅓ inches long. The spectrum of “normal” is wide, my friends.
Basically if you have a labia, in any form, at any length, you are normal. If you have a vagina, you are normal. If you have a clitoris, you are normal. Here’s what’s not normal: If any of these parts itch or burn. If they do, call up your doc.
While on the topic of vaginal size, let’s be clear about one more thing: Having a ton of sex does not stretch out your vagina. Even childbirth doesn’t permanently change the size of your vagina. It typically returns to it pre-childbirth size in about six months. That being said, vaginas come in all different shapes and sizes (as do arms and butts and noses; welcome to humanity). If you’re really concerned about the “size” of your vagina, remember that it’s just a muscle, which can easily be toned. Squeeze those kegels, baby.
Here’s what’s normal: Musky, metallic, and even a faint post-sex bleach smell. No, really. Research actually shows your vagina has many different smells. As many as 2,100 different odors, in fact, and they can mix and match and change throughout the month, after sex, while exercising, and after having a baby. According to Rankin, our vagina’s special scent (a combination of “normal bacteria... what you eat, how you dress, your level of hygiene, your bowel habits, how much you sweat, and what your glands secrete”) has a primal function: attracting our mates. Glands near the vagina also secrete pheromones — those “come to mama” chemicals we don’t see, but feel. So don’t deodorize it away.
As Rankin says, “Own your odor, girlfriends...your coochie smells exactly how it’s supposed to smell.”
Here’s what’s not normal: Fishy, yeasty, rotten wet garbage smells. Super foul vaginal smells can be an indication of STDs, bacterial infections, or even cancer, so check that out ASAP. And a quick side note to the lucky postpartum ladies. You might have a particularly unique odor issue that, while normal, is still slightly horrifying. It’s called post-baby vaginal gas, and it’s as lovely as it sounds.
“Somehow, with all the changes, gas can escape the rectum and slides into the vagina, then sneaks out,” Shieva Ghofrany, an OBGYN with Stamford Hospital in Connecticut said to The Huffington Post. Good news: Your postpartum body should settle down in, at most, 8 to 10 months. Until then, get comfy in your new (slightly smelly) normal.
Odds are your vaginal hue is perfectly normal, even if it doesn’t match the rest of your skin tone. According to Cosmo, plenty of light-skinned women have brown or purplish labias, and dark-toned women can have lighter vulvas. It can also be dark in certain parts and lighter in others. The only thing you don’t want to see are white patches on the labia, which could be lichen sclerosus — a genital skin disease more common around menopause.
And as with all fun post-baby body changes, your vagina might turn a darker color, too. Thank your pregnancy hormones for that. Your original color might eventually come back, or the change could be permanent. Either way, it’s normal.