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People often use the word vagina when actually they mean the vulva. The vagina is the muscular tube inside the body whereas the vulva is the visible bit of the genitals – outside the body. The vulva is made up of inner and outer labia (also known as the lips), the clitoris, the opening to the vagina and the opening to your urethra (where you wee out of). Our page on vaginas and vulvas goes into this in more detail.
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There really is no such thing as a ‘normal’ vulva.
Like so many areas of our body, vulvas come in lots of different shapes, sizes and colours. The labia can hang down or be barely visible. Some people can have a large clitoris that sticks out, for others it can be tucked away and tiny. Even the vaginal opening can vary in size and shape and the vulva overall may or may not be symmetrical.
Because we rarely see other
people’s vulvas, it can be easy to worry about whether yours is normal or not.
Vulvas and porn
One place where you might have seen vulvas is in porn. However, like lots of aspects of porn, what you see is unlikely to be a realistic view. Porn is often edited or ‘PhotoShopped’ and features actors who have had surgery, so it is an unrealistic place to start if you’re wondering what is normal.
The great wall of vagina is an art project that shows lots of examples of what a vulva can look like (although they are made of plaster so they don’t have any colour or any hair). This celebrates the diversity of vulvas and the many forms they can take.
Photographer Laura Dodsworth also did a project called 100 Vaginas, which you can read about on the BBC website.
In order to judge this, it’s really important to get to know your vulva and what is ‘normal’ for you so that you can identify when there are any changes.
There are lots of healthy, normal ways that vulvas can change and these changes can be associated with puberty or even hormone changes over the course of your menstrual cycle.
The general rule is that if you notice a change that involves discomfort, pain, discharge or smell that is not normal for you, then speak to your GP, school nurse or visit a sexual health clinic. Healthcare professionals are used to answering all kinds of questions about vulvas and vaginas. You can talk everything through and it’s confidential.
Read our Should I go and see a doctor? page for more information.
Pubic hair grows around your vulva and can sometimes grow around your stomach of the top of your thighs. It can be coarse or fine, straight or curly, dark or light – it’s all completely normal.
Lots of people choose to leave their pubic hair exactly the way it is. Some people like to trim or remove some or all of their pubic hair. Everyone is different and the way you choose to keep your pubic hair is entirely up to you.
Pubic hair is there for a reason and as well as providing protection from bacteria, it also reduces friction during sex. If you choose to remove some of your hair, it is common to experience itching and or spots or ingrowing hairs as the hair grows back.
Try to remember that there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ vulva. We don’t get to see other people’s vulvas very often and when we do, it may be in porn which doesn’t give a realistic impression.
It is possible to have surgery to shorten and/or reshape the labia. This surgery is known as labiaplasty. An increasing number of young girls are seeking out this surgery but experts say these operations do not have a medical justification and are considered to be cosmetic surgery. It is usually only done if there is associated pain.
For this reason, Brook thinks it is important that we educate young people about how our bodies can vary, celebrate diversity, and learn to love our vulvas. After all, the vagina and vulva are amazing parts of our bodies, especially when it comes to feeling pleasure and giving birth.
FGM (also known as female genital cutting) is when female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed for religious, cultural or social reasons and without any medical reason. It is illegal in the UK and is child abuse.
FGM is normally carried out before puberty. It is very painful and can cause serious long-term damage to girls and women. Labiaplasty is not considered to be FGM but is included in the 2003 FGM act.
You can read more about this on our FGM page.
Help for FGM
If you have experienced FGM, or if you think you or someone you know might be at risk you, can call the NSPCC’s FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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