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Give'em Some Lip: Labia That Clearly Ain't Minor

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If we had to make a list of the top five questions we've gotten at the site over the last few years, "What's wrong with my labia?" would come right on the heels of "Am I pregnant?" "What's sex like?" and "Is it okay for me to have sex/masturbate?" and sit just in front of "Is my penis too small?" Whether more people are just asking about it than before, or concerns are growing, we've been seeing more and more -- often unfounded -- worries about labia as the years have gone by.

Here are some recent questions and comments we've had from people concerned about their labia:

I think my vagina lips are not normal. My inner lips are way way bigger then my outer ones! It wasn't like that when I was little! It really bugs me. I won't even let my boyfriend touch me there, cause I'm afraid he will think I'm not normal or something. My boyfriend has asked me if I wanted to have sex but I turned him down because of this. Is my vagina normal?

My inner vaginal "lips" stick out, is this normal? I'm insecure about it, and embarrassed to let my boyfriend see.

I've read a lot of your articles on labia but I still can't seem to get the thought of my own out of my head. Mine are big and noticeable which I know are normal but still bother me. I think it looks gross in certain underwear and I am very insecure about it. At times I even try to tuck them in so you can see them. I am 16 and started noticing this about a year or so ago. I am not sure if I was always like this or not. I've been with this guy for about 8 months and hes been down there with his hands and what not but I am a virgin and I was very skeptical about even letting him preform oral sex on me because of the reaction that he might have thinking it's disgusting. About a week ago at his house things started to get serious but kept my hands covering my vagina because I was nervous. He was confused at why I would do that and told me he really want to give me oral sex and I really wanted to. I eventually let him and he did not say one thing bout my larger labia. I was very surprised and pleased but couldn't shake the idea of what he really thought. I still consider surgery when I turn 18 for myself. I just cannot get the thought that I look gross out of my mind. I really need help on what I should do.

Being sexually active, I have become more conscious about my vagina. I am very concerned about the physical appearance of my vagina. It's really embarrassing. There's extra skin on the left side of my vagina that hangs down, it's kind of wrinkly, and it's stretchy. It did not appear out of nowhere, I've had it for a long time. Is it normal? or is something bad that I should have removed? Please help me. I'm very confused and embarrassed.

Is it normal to have long inner vagina lips? Do guys like longer inner lips? Mine are about half an inch longer than the outer ones. All the vaginas I've seen, the inner lips are hidden by the outer ones, and mine aren't..I'm really embarrassed..PLEASE HELP!!!!

I am not really sure if my personal area is right. Is your inner labia supposed to hang past your outer labia?

We've tried EVERYTHING.

We've done a couple blog-a-thons on it in years past. We've answered questions like this tirelessly for years. We've talked about it in other pieces, we've suggested visiting gynecologists to have an expert assure someone they're normal. We've directed people to some links or books with labial imagery. We've worn t-shirts which proclaim "I Love Labia!" while shaking peach, violet, brown and pink pom-poms on the White House lawn (okay, so we haven't but if someone sent me the supplies, I would in a heartbeat), but for the love of Pete, the labia-freakouts keep sticking around. Whatever it is that keeps churning labia worries out these days is doing it like bunnies.

Maybe we're just shouting into the void and some folks are just going to stay convinced their bodies are abnormal or unacceptable no matter what we say; no matter what logic and realistic information we put out there. I sure hope not: we all deserve to feel good about and accept our bodies, including our genitals. Buoyed by that optimism -- and figuring you can never have too much of a good thing -- and just that freaking devoted to you accepting yourselves, goshdarnit, I'm giving it all another go.

Hello, Labia!

  • Those with vulvas typically have two sets of labia (lay-bee-ah): the outer labia (or labia majora), which form the bottom of the vulva's "triangle" when standing or sitting, and the inner labia (or labia minora), inside the outer labia, which begin at the clitoral hood, are tethered from there and at the base of the outer labia and which extend downwards to below the vaginal opening.
  • The purposes of the inner labia -- the labia people seem to be most concerned with in queries like these -- are to keep bacteria outside of the vestibule for vaginal health, and in terms of sex, to provide additional genital sensation and lubrication during sexual activities, and additionally an extra "grip" on anything inserted in the vagina. In some ways, they're backup singers to the outer labia when it comes to both keeping out the yuckies and providing extra sexual sensation.
  • On average, inner labia are around 3/4s of an inch long to over two inches long at the longest point. Inner labia also vary wildly when it comes to color and texture: sexual health and OB/GYN references make clear that just as many labia are visible outside the labia majora as those which are not.
  • The inner labia will change in appearance or predominance during the course of puberty and then may also change less noticeably during the rest of life, primarily due to age and hormonal changes.

To be sure we're all on the same page before we get started, have a look at the diagram from Pink Parts:

Those flippety-floppety sea anemone-lookin' bits surrounding the vaginal opening, urethra and clitoris, and inside the furry outer labia are the inner labia. And for plenty of people, that's exactly what they look like (save that they don't tend to be in grayscale).

Neither set of labia are unimportant or irrelevant. Both sets help to keep the vagina clear of bacteria and other yuckies, which helps us stay healthy. Inside our outer labia are the vestibular bulbs and crura, or legs, of one of the parts of our clitoris which is internal. The outer labia and inner labia also both swell and become more sensitive when we're sexually excited, and which provide a source of sexual sensation for us and our partners. The inner labia also have sebaceous glands which play a part in lubrication with sex.

It's normal for inner labia to extend past the outer labia and be visible in some or all postures (sitting, standing, lying down, what have you). It's also normal for them not to. Like every other body part, vulvas vary.

But since everyone always seems to be very attached to the idea of having "normal" labia and curious about what's most common in terms of size, on average, inner labia are around 3/4s of an inch long to over two inches long at the longest point. Even finding those averages is tough, since nearly any medical gynecological reference book you pick up -- whether for healthcare providers or patients -- tends to mention little about labial size or appearance, other than how diverse that is or when discussing earnest problems, such as injuries, adhesions, sores, cysts or other aspects of possible illness or disease. That's mostly because from a sexual health and a sexuality standpoint, what healthy inner labia look like or what size they are makes no difference whatsoever.


Auntie Heather on Cosmetic Surgery Our policy at Scarleteen is to do our best to be supportive of whatever elective choices people make about their bodies so long as they do not interfere with health and well-being. But just know that genital cosmetic surgery like labiaplasty, which is not recommended by most gynecologists, does pose real risks, including the same risks of other surgeries as well as risks of reduced or changed sexual sensation or comfort. As well, it costs big money, and studies have shown that when self-esteem is the underlying problem, surgery rarely fixes that problem. While some people have labial surgery due to real pain and discomfort from labia substantially longer than average, most labial surgeries are done for 100% cosmetic reasons. So, my personal advice to you is to work on your esteem first, and use big money you can save up for something that is more likely to support your esteem and the quality of your life, be it education, travel, publishing your own work, a big charity give, a place of your own or realizing some other dream that's about who you are and what you can do rather than about what you look like.

Too, not unlike the penis, that size or appearance isn't completely static: often, big-time sexual arousal will cause the whole of our vulva, including both sets of labia, to swell and increase slightly in size. Even figuring out how a person could measure inner labia is tricky, since the shape of a lot of labia is irregular, shorter in one place, longer in another, which is also normal. It's not unusual for labia to come in different shapes: some labia are very frilly-looking, while others are smoother around the edges. Some labia will seem about the same size from top to bottom, while others will be shorter in some portions and longer in others.

Variances happen because we don't all have the exact same genetics, nor the same hormonal levels or pacing as we develop before and after we're born. In terms of what color, texture or size they will ultimately be, that has to do with those unique genetics and hormones. Our labia are not fully developed when we're born, just like we're not born with a set of fully developed breasts. They change during our lives. It should also be noted that with inner labia that extend past the outer labia, it is more common to have labia be darker around the edges or more textured.

My labia minora are very large and protrude about half a centimeter past my out labia, some websites I have looked at have said this is abnormal and ugly. I am almost sexually active having done everything but oral sex to me and full sex, I am very worried about this! Please help!

That's not "very large." That's totally average.

But even if it were NOT within average, if you are reading websites which say your genitals are ugly and abnormal, you have not been looking at websites which are about accurate, unbiased reproductive health or sexuality. Rather, you've probably been looking at sites with a bunch of insecure folks who know very little about genitals or bodies dissing this way a person's vulva looks or that in order to puff themselves up and feel self-important by putting others down.

Here's the thing to know: many of the people on those sites have not seen a lot of labia in their lives, and some have likely never seen any, ever. They likely know far less about labia than you will by the time you're done reading this page. Folks posting that sort of thing are also not looking to be helpful or accurate: they're entertaining themselves by dissing other people and posturing amongst each other.

Labia aren't gross, but that kind of behavior sure is. Personally, I'd say it isn't reasonable to put much stock in a class of people who spend their time and energy that way, and I'd also hope that anyone who is going to see or be intimate with our labia is a better class of person. People talking that way just aren't people who love women. That's just not how we talk about any individual or group of people we love. One hopes the only kind of person you're going to choose to have see your labia is a person who loves people, as they are, and who loves or is capable of loving you.

In the posts I've included here, you'll notice a lot of concern about sexual partners seeing genitals. It's not having perfect (whatever that would mean) genitals that fixes that insecurity, but rather, two things: acceptance of and confidence in your body as-is, and being with partners only when you're ready, and who you trust and know will treat you and your body with respect, maturity and care. And neither of those things has much to do with even knowing the facts and realities about female genital appearance.

Your True Colors

Ever since me and my boyfriend have started to be sexually active my labia has turned a darker color, not the whole thing just a little part or two, and I don't think it's normal for that to happen. I don't know what's going on or if that's normal, please help.

The lining of my inner labia is black and the rest is pink even though I'm white, is this normal? Could it just be friction? What can I do about it?

I am mexican-american 18 years old(not the problem) and my vagina and everything down there is dark. like really really dark. I already talked to the family doctor and she said not to worry. The problem is that I get really embarrassed when me and my boyfriend have sex because I feel that he might get freaked out. Whenever we have sex I am always very careful that he does not see that part of me. Any ways what my question is is that I was wondering if there is a procedure or something that will discolor the dark pigment of the area. U want to be able to enjoy sex and not worry about what my boyfriend might think.

Inner labia vary in color a lot. They can be peachy, pinkish, reddish, brown, purply, black or even blueish, and they probably are not just one color throughout: it's common, for instance, for the edges of the labia to be darker than they are where they meet the clitoral hood or connect to the sides of your labia majora.

It's normal for the color of the labia to deepen or change with and through puberty. Just like there are changes to the penis and testicles during all of puberty, the vulva changes too, and it's more than the growth of pubic hair. The mons, for instance, usually loses some of its fat and pulls up slightly, meaning that labia minora you couldn't see before may wind up being labia minora you now can see, even when you're just standing around. As well, both the labia majora and the labia minora will usually get larger over the course of puberty. Let's not forget that a lot of folks think all of puberty is a shorter process than it usually is: most folks aren't completely done until their twenties, and some finish a few years later than that.

While we're at it, it's normal for the inner labia (as well as the inside of the outer labia) not to be perfectly smooth. Some lumpy-bumpy texture is normal and common. Sometimes parts of the vulva tend to resemble chicken skin, just like often parts of the penis or scrotum do.

Just like a lot of people have the false idea that the advent of sex or sexual activity will cause a woman's hips to widen or breasts to grow because it's common for that activity to start during puberty -- in other words, those things happening at the same time is coincidental -- it's also not likely sexual activity alone will cause radical color changes in the labia. You probably weren't examining your genitals quite as often or as much before you were sexually active: it's pretty normal when people become sexually active to do a lot more looking down there. While sexual activity is one thing of many that, over a substantial period of time (read: your life), can cause some changes in genital appearance or texture, it's just one thing of many, including puberty, age, hormonal changes, pregnancy and childbirth, and general health.

Looking to change the color -- or texture, or size, or shape -- of your labia to avoid embarrassment just doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Since it's normal for your labia to be the color they are, and sex with a partner is supposed to be about sharing exactly who we are together, trying to alter our appearance for a partner seems pretty counter to that aim. If we don't want to have to worry about what partners might think of our bodies, then we need to choose not to share them until we're comfortable with that vulnerability that they and we both will always have. Plus, there's nothing that can be done to change the color or texture of the labia.


Do you want to see some images of vulvas here to have an idea about how varied they are? Betty Dodson, artist, author and PhD Sexologist (who feels exactly as I do about all of this labia-loathing) gave us permission to share some of her illustrations with you. Just know that by clicking to see them, if there's someone near or next to you who might not appreciate a surprise coochie-attack, you might want to save this page for a later time when you're alone. That said, have a look for yourself.

Betty, by the way, told me this to pass on to all of you, "After 30 some years of viewing women's sex organs in my workshops and private practice as a sex coach, I've shown thousands of women the beauty of their divine vulvas. MORE women have extended labia than those with small hidden ones. I love my dangles and would never part with them."


Chances are that you already have been or might be surprised about some things when seeing your partner's penis for the first time if you haven't seen one, or aren't very familiar with penises. A partner might have that same response to your vulva or the vulva of anyone else. If someone seems like they might freak out -- including ourselves -- when it comes to seeing genitals, then we probably don't want to be having partnered sex with that person, as a certain level of emotional maturity and acceptance for genitals as they are is essential when it comes to healthy sex where everyone is really ready. And don't forget that all these worries you're having about your partner seeing your genitals may well be just like worries they have about you seeing theirs, too. After all, we get nearly as many questions from guys worried about what their partners will think of their penises.

Where is all this labia-hating coming from?

I gotta say, I think more of it comes from people WITH vulvas than it does from anywhere else. In other words, it seems to be largely self-perpetuating. The good news is, that means those same people can then be the ones to knock it off and call a whole lot of this to a screeching halt.

Some of this probably has to do with the fact that a lot of people just don't even see other's labia, and if and when they do, it's the same kind of passing, locker room comparison that doesn't provide a real look. When we're just walking around, even naked in a locker room, we're not likely to see more than the mons or outer labia, even on people whose inner labia peek out when sitting or standing.

You may never be able to see enough in-person, for-real female genitals to see a vulva that looks exactly like your own and thus "prove" that you're normal, or enough to make you aware of how incredibly varied bodies are.

Unless you have had or do have diverse sex partners with vulvas, work in direct reproductive health, or have friends who are very open to letting you look up-close-and-personal at their vulvas, you're not going to be able to see many labia, and you're going to have to take those of us who have at our word. What those who don't have those opportunities usually have as a basis of comparison is what male partners report (which isn't very reliable), or what we can see in pornography or art, which provide some representation, but are both limited in really showing what's real for real people in real life. (As a photographer myself I can tell you that I'd be unlikely to shoot a vulva in harsh lighting not because there's something inherently ugly about all our ingrown hairs, bumps and other texture, but simply because harsh lighting on people and bodies often just isn't particularly artistic to me or doesn't suit my own aesthetics.) But because there are more places where genitals are being seen more publicly than ever, it also makes sense that can result in worrying more -- rather than less -- about what your own look like.

For the most part, the notion that there are "normal" and "abnormal" labia based on appearance is a totally manufactured idea when it comes to the fever-pitch worry we've been seeing of late.

Some folks have had concerns from the get-go, but then taken a few steps further by seeing some labia in porn or overhearing or reading people discussing labia who often are totally uninformed (gee: thanks, Internet!), then a whole bunch of steps further by cosmetic surgeons who found ways to make seriously large cash off of this.

Think about it this way: we can see how short or tall someone is pretty easily, and many people still wish they were taller or shorter, but most of us accept the height we are knowing there's not jack we can do about it. If someone started saying we really COULD be too tall or too short, gave a lot of lip service to how much better we'd feel if we were only the "right" height, and advertised surgeries we could have (and or creams or pills), to change our height, can you see how easily we might move from a grass-is-always-greener mentality to a holy-crap-I-gotta-get-this-awful-height-fixed-NOW mentality? Since gender and sexual identity is all tied up in ideas about genitals in ways they're not so linked with ideas about height, the issue is even more loaded.

And just like any other kind of panic, once people start to freak out, more people tend to freak in turn. Panic and anxiety tends to be horrendously contagious.


If you want to see some more images of vulvas to get a better idea, there are some good places to look. The books Femalia by Joani Blank or the Cunt Coloring Book, by Tee Corinne (who also did some amazing photographic work with vulvas) are good resources and the vulva illustrations included in Betty Dodson's Sex for One which we have permission to show here are really marvelous. Sarah at myvag.net also has an excellent page of links to vulva images including these artistic photos or these from artist Christina Camphausen, and this series of animations from teenwire.com. Some of the links and references provided are explicit, though they are intended to be artistic or educational (rather than intended to be sexual entertainment) and I feel are perfectly appropriate for our readers. Just be aware that some of those links are explicit and may be something you will likely want to view privately, and not at school or work.

We've seen this before in history with, especially, women's bodies, too. For instance, commercial (rather than medically prescribed) douching came about thanks to a whole bunch of folks who gave people the idea that there was something wrong with the way our vulvas smelled on their own. They suggested the natural vulva and vagina wasn't clean, despite the fact that unlike almost anywhere else on our body, the vagina is a brilliantly self-cleaning organ which is healthiest when left to do the job without interference or help. Back when, people were even douching with Lysol -- a practice promoted by that company -- if you can believe it. Now we know (and some people knew then), that douching actually is more likely to create a bad scent over time than leaving the vagina alone is, and that those who douche get BV and pelvic inflammatory disease at higher rates than those who don't. Long story short: some folks found a way to capitalize on insecurities, people with them fell for it (some still do), and often wound up with the opposite result, less cash in their pockets, vulvas that still smelled like vulvas and poorer health, to boot.

We see it with men's bodies today, too, with invented panic about penis size that individuals who create bunk "penis enhancement" drugs or devices make millions on based on exploiting someone else's insecurity.

This really isn't stuff we -- if we are people invested in sound body image for everyone, an accurate idea of what's real for bodies and, I'd say, some modicum of self-respect -- want to go along with, because it is an exploitation and a manufactured panic enabled knowingly at our expense for someone else's gain. It's stuff we should, in my mind, be pretty pissed off about and want to protest and resist.

I'd also suggest thinking about some issues I brought up over here in Vagzilla: a lot of people are reared with the idea that it's male sexuality or genitals which are supposed to be flagrant, and that women's sexuality and our bodies  -- or the sexuality and bodies of people with vulvas -- should be hidden. I rarely hear from those worried about their labia being too small, so I can only presume this is part of the issue. By all means, we all have the right to be as modest (or not) as we feel comfortable with, but our noses and mouths stick out, and you don't hear anyone freaking out about that. In most settings, no one is seeing our labia (even when we think they can). The only setting they will usually be seen in is when we are choosing to be sexually intimate with someone. If we are choosing to be sexual, we are, effectively, choosing not to be shy and to open up our body to someone else. If we don't feel ready for that -- be it with that person, at that time, or at a given phase in our life -- we get to opt out until we do, and sometimes, just taking that time is all that's needed to feel more comfortable.

That is not to dismiss that some people -- though it's rare -- will have a labial variance where labia ARE too long for comfort, to the point that wearing pants, sitting down, riding a bike or sex is problematic or outright painful. I'm not talking about folks like those who will need to gently move labia out of the way sometimes, or tuck a corner inside sometimes (which is not atypical): I'm talking about those who can easily get labia caught in zippers or pinched all the time when sitting. Let's also not forget that just like those folks, for some, labia which are too short can cause some problems too -- like persistent infections or pain -- including those who have chosen to or been forced into labial and other vulval excision or mutilation.

So, by all means, if you feel you may fall into one of those categories, or you just aren't sure everything is right, visit your gynecologist. It might even be a good idea to see more than one to get a couple opinions. If you're already feeling self-conscious, it's understandable if that seems doubly mortifying, but I assure you that most OB/GYNs see SO many vulvas that your would likely have to have green stripes, blue polka dots and the ability to whistle Dixie to turn a gynecologists head. And that's a great person to ask about what kind of variance there really is because they know better than anyone. In the case you do have a bonafide issue with your labia, that's also a good person to find sound counsel from. (In the case that you do NOT get supportive feedback from an OB/GYN, this is another reason to seek out a second opinion. Do bear in mind that just like anyone else, not all doctors are good doctors, sound doctors, doctors without a personal agenda or people whose own body image is good enough to keep them from projecting their insecurities unto you.)

But for the most part, for nearly all people, your labia ARE normal, however much they vary. Beauty -- as ever -- remains in the eye of the beholder. When it all comes down to it, it's up to you (or anyone else you know getting up in arms about their labia) to put or dismiss value in the reality of what our bodies look like and how much they vary. It's up to you to take a look at a piece like this and accept the information or not, and then to decide how much energy you're really willing to waste -- and it is a waste -- in worrying about something you just don't have to be worried about, and where your stress and anxiety is what the real problem is, rather than our body.

Fear, anxiety or hatin' about your labia is much more likely to be a deterrent to a pleasurable and satisfying sex life and sexuality, and to a healthy body image and your whole life, than your labia themselves.

To leave you on a light note, a handful of years ago, when we did one of our labia blog-a-thons, I felt a musical interlude was needed. So, in parting, I give you some labia-loving filk from me (and can only hope Eric Clapton appreciates it and that enough of you even know the original so you can sing along!).


If you appreciate and value what we do here at Scarleteen, we'd love your help in continuing to thrive. Because we are an entirely independent organization, working in an incredibly controversial arena (and all the more so because we're inclusive and progressive), staying afloat is often a real challenge for us. You can help keep Scarleteen going by making a personal donation, buying copies of our book for yourself or to donate to public/school libraries, health centers or other venues, purchasing books and products from Amazon through links here, buying advertising at Scarleteen, volunteering some of your time and just getting the word out to others about what we do here and how valuable it is.

Labia

(sung to the tune of Layla, by Eric Clapton)

What'll you do when everybody
Is telling you you need a tuck or snip?
You've been listening to all the wrong advice
It's time you learned to love your lips.

Labia, they're awfully fun to tease,
Labia, orchid or fleur de lis,
Labia, a neverending feast of womankind.

We've tried to give you information,
But you've felt your twat has let you down.
Like a fool, you think your frillies are uncool
Let's turn this vulva-hate around.

Labia, from umber to deep rose,
Labia, they feel nice on the nose,
Labia, in every shape and size they're so divine.

Let's pull this train out of the station
Before I finally go insane.
So today, give your velvet curtains sway
And sing their praises! Don't complain.

Labia, a tasty, fleshy treat,
Labia, don't want to be discreet,
Labia, kneel down and pray before your petaled shrine.

Labia, (can't play this on guitar, but)
Labia, just perfect as they are
Labia, darlings won't you learn to treat them kind?

written 01 Sep 2008 . updated 24 Sep 2013

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