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Labia, Singular: Is This Normal?

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jwondering asks:

I only have one labia minora. One is not smaller than the other, I only have ONE. It doesn't hurt, but I'm scared guys will be turned off by it. Is it normal?

Heather Corinna replies:

Before I say anything else, I know the answer to every question related to sex with an "Is it normal?" in it is something you're supposed to answer yes to, and if you don't, it can be perceived as not being nice or trying to hurt someone's feelings. But please understand that "normal" isn't a word I personally like to use in the first place, especially with things as diverse as bodies and sexuality. I also, myself, think normal is profoundly overrated (and if I'm being really frank, boring), and have grown up and lived my life not normal, or considered not normal by others, in so many ways that, for me, abnormal is my normal. So, with any question like this, when I'm the person answering it, answering that something may not be normal, or isn't, probably feels less loaded to me than it does to others.

The word normal always makes me kind of twitchy, too, so I apologize for any unintended twitchiness around it in advance.

I also know that many people who are not, or don't consider themselves, "normal," in any given way around sexuality -- be that about how they look, or about what they do or don't like or want sexually, their sexual history, what have you, do just fine when it comes to sexual partnership and their sexual lives: they have a great time, they find partners who think they're awesome, all around, and everyone is happy. I know the same is true of many people who are, or consider themselves, normal by the same or different standards. In other words, this business of normal-or-not? This isn't the make-it-or-break-it of most people's sexual lives unless they get so hung up on it that, ultimately, they're limiting themselves with their own negative thoughts, feelings, and freakouts about normality, not someone else.

Now that we've got that out of the way...

Vulvas are really, really different. If anything is a special snowflake, it's a vulva. They're just so incredibly diverse. What's most typical about vulvas is that once you see a lot of them -- and sometimes even just a few -- the one thing you can't miss is that they're all really different (alternately, to some people that might manifest itself in all of them looking the same, because people and our different ways of looking at things can be wacky like that).

They're different when it comes to the color and texture of all the tissue of and around them, different per how big or small the inner and outer labia and, different in terms of the shape and symmetry of the inner labia, different with how the vaginal opening, clitoral glans and hood look and more. Vulvas also can look radically different when someone is or isn't turned on, like penises can look really different that way. One person's vulva will also tend to look different just throughout their lifetime in some ways. As different as people's faces can be? Vulvas vary at least that much.

As well, the range when it comes to the size of inner labia can be everything from what you're likely talking about with the one side, just a raised line, sometimes so little raised, it may be hard for you to see anything at all (especially given the way the tissue of the vulva tends to be kind of blendy anyhow), to tissue that's several inches long.

Would I say that what you've got going on is a highly common variation? Maybe not. Without knowing the size of the one labia that's prominent, or there, it's tough to say.

This isn't the first time someone has asked us about exactly this variation, though. At least a handful users have asked us about in direct service and advice over the years. Looking at the history of this on our site even briefly, and knowing our numbers, I feel comfortable saying we're talking about something we can safely say is probably as or more common than one in every several hundred thousand people, which is quite a lot of people. If we're talking about people where one or both labia are less than a half-inch in size, based on broad data we have about labial appearance and size, there are at least as many of those people as those with labia greater than that size.

Twenty bucks says if you go take some time with Google and just enter something like "Only one labia?" you'll find a whole bunch of people reporting the same thing about their bodies.

So, is this typical, as in, something we'll for sure see every day looking at many vulvas? Probably not. But if pressed on the normal/abnormal question, would I say it's abnormal? No. Because again, what's normal, what's typical, with vulvas is a wide range of shapes, sizes and appearances.

But you know, even if this wasn't normal, or isn't what you or someone else would consider normal, that doesn't mean it's not or wouldn't be okay. That certainly doesn't mean it's just you. That absolutely doesn't mean guys, be they sexual partners or not are going to be turned off by it, or that any of them will even notice this or think of it as anything else other than a variation. Especially guys who have seen plenty of vulvas, and know full well how different they can be.

What is also very typical (or "normal," if you want to stick with that) are people having at least some way that they look, or some part of their bodies that are atypical, that are different, sometimes considerably different, than that body part on other people. So, while a given variation of one specific part often won't be common, I'd say having an ayptical variation of at least SOME part is.

People, like plants or movements in art, tend to grow and develop pretty organically. We're not made in a factory, and the variables in what our bodies wind up looking like are so myriad that, as it turns out, people and their body parts tend to look a whole much of different ways. More, I'd say, than the average person can even imagine, especially the average person who doesn't travel all over the world all the time, among a vast array of different environments, where they see thousands upon thousands of people naked every year.

There's also this thing in the world where some people have the idea that having some ways of looking, or parts of the body, that are unusual or uncommon is okay, or even ideal, but other ways of looking, or other body parts, are allowed little to no room for variation. And of course, not everyone has the same opinions about these things.

For example, I've got freckles, and, before I started going gray, reddish hair. It's a pretty small percent of the world who has both of those things. To some people? That abnormal -- if by normal, we mean common or typical -- variation might be EEEEW! To others, it's this awesome, exotic thing. There are other people still, probably most people, who fall somewhere in the middle and just don't feel that strongly about red hair and freckles either way.

I've also got a mangled hand from an accident when I was a kid. Some people don't even notice, even though I'd say it's pretty tough to miss. Some people who notice might think, and have even said, "Yuck," or "Ummm, that's weird. Sorry, but I don't want to look at that." Others have checked out my hand and have said, "Whoa: COOOOOOOL." And more people than not have noticed, asked if something happened to my hand, and that was pretty much the end of that, save some asking if I needed help with some things some times that clearly are hard for me to do. Most of the people who have been my lovers have fallen into that last camp. one person's gross is another person's awesome, and one person's awesome is another's "Oh, whatever." With pretty much anything on our bodies.

People being people, and imperfect, sometimes they're going to talk about or think about our bodies or their parts in ways that hurt, sting, or bum us out. It happens, no matter how we look, and that happening sometimes just isn't usually avoidable. It's one of those things where we just learn how to take care of ourselves when it happens, brush off our knees, sigh and move on.

Think about this, too: things like very slim hips and a tiny waist paired with large, natural breasts is atypical when it comes to the whole of the population of the world. So are dudes with six-pack abs, green -- and more recently, even blue -- eyes, and naturally blonde hair. These are atypical variations in how people look, or their body parts, things that if, by normal, we mean common, we would say are abnormal, but many people are not just okay with them, and not turned off by them, but consider ideal. They're things some people, sometimes many people, aspire to, or even feel bad aren't ways they look.

On the other hand, we have not just things which truly are most common, like women with bigger thighs or body hair, men with bellies, people with darker skin, brown eyes, or kinky hair, but also things which aren't common that aren't broadly idealized right now or some people think are the sexier than all get-out. These are ways we can know that normal = turn-on isn't anything close to a given.

One area of the body where, lately, a lot of people have the idea that anything seemingly unusual or atypical is So Not Okay are genitals. I'd say that's pretty new, for the record, not something where it's always been like this. Why that may be is a big conversation, so I'm going to skip that for now. Let's just say that idea has a whole lot of problems with it, including the fact that someone with the idea an area of the body which varies more than most is one allowed the least diversity just doesn't make any kind of sense. It's like suggesting that every part of the world should somehow have the same weather. I'd say if you're feeling like that, the best thing you can do is to work hard to recognize the big flaws in that logic, accept that idea is ridiculous and work to let it go the way of the dodo.

I don't know who "guys" are. When I say that, I mean that "guys" is a group made of billions of people. Any group that big will always have a LOT of variation, and this group is no exception. There is absolutely, I guarantee you, not one given way "guys" will view your labia or feel about how your vulva looks. Heck, I think it's safe to say there are going to be an awful lot of guys who won't even know your vulva looks that different from someone's vulva who have two inner labia, especially given how wildly different all vulvas look. Especially given how many partners you may have who will never have seen another vulva besides yours up close and personal.

Here's what really matters: no matter what we or our parts look like, not every sexual partner we have or might have will really see us as we are or think every single part of us is gorgeous or sexy or amazing. Some of them will. Others will have the parts that are their favorites, or they're really into, and the parts that aren't their favorites. We can't control that: we all have our own aesthetics, and we all also have our own interests and perspectives, so something that's sexy or beautiful to one person might not be to us. Too, even when people are into us sexually, and vice-versa, not everything is always a turn-on or a turn-off. Lots of things will just be neutral.

That's going to happen no matter what we or any of our parts look like. Not only can we not control that, as it turns out, sometimes a lover's fave parts of our bodies are the parts we actually like the least or feel really self-conscious about. Go figure. But someone who is into you as a person, who is turned on by you as a person? They're going to be turned on by you when they're feeling turned on, and they're not likely to have that change because of the way one given body part looks, no matter how it looks.

Being sexual with other people is certainly place where we're very vulnerable. We're not going to feel up to that vulnerability at every point in your lives, for any number of reasons, and we're not going to feel up to, or safe in, that vulnerability with just anyone, or with everyone. That's a good thing, because it's not safe, emotionally or otherwise, for us to be that vulnerable with everyone, or just anyone.

So, we start by checking in with ourselves, to see if we generally feel resilient enough, safe enough just in ourselves, to be that vulnerable, and expose parts of ourselves, physical and otherwise, to someone else that intimately. Maybe for you, this isn't a place you're at right now when it comes to your genital self-image: you might need to spend some more time first getting comfier with your body, by yourself, for yourself. Or, maybe you do generally feel resilient here, and so you go to the next step, where you are going to consider a given potential sexual partner, and figure out how you feel about being vulnerable with them.

That's something we're going to do every time, about a whole world of things, not just one thing we may feel more vulnerable or self-conscious about. I'd say part of screening someone as a sexual partner involves figuring out if they're the kind of person we feel comfortable being sexual with, who seems like they'd be a good partner for us, and who seems like they can handle being sexual with someone else. That's a big question, and it involves a lot of things, but one of them certainly can be, and often is, if they seem like they'd be cool with our bodies as they are, and if we feel confident in them to treat our bodies with respect and care, which includes accepting parts of them that may be different than they're used to, or which we feel particularly sensitive about.

You have the option of approaching this with a partner in different ways per your comfort, by the way. You could, for instance, say nothing in advance about your labia at all if you prefer. It's not like you have to warn anyone or anything: again, vulvas are diverse, and it's not like your variation poses any extra harms to anyone or anything.

You also have the option, if this feels better, of telling a sexual partner in advance, and letting them know you feel self-conscious about it. Sometimes we do that with potential or current partners when we feel self-conscious about something. In the event someone does have a bad reaction, let's be real: it's usually easier to take that sitting dressed, over coffee, than it is when we're vulnerable and naked and sweaty together in a private place. And if someone reacted poorly to a conversation and issue like that before getting sexual with them, I'd say you probably dodged a much bigger bullet, because they'd likely have been a lousy sexual partner in more than that one way.

But I'd say that unless you're picking sexual partners with the maturity of a gnat, or who, in general don't seem to grok that human bodies are just that, human, and people's bodies tend to have all kinds of wacky stuff going on, you're not likely to have someone who has any issue with this, or who treats or views your vulva any differently than they would someone's vulva with two prominent or clear labia.

Lastly, there's something I've noticed through my life and work about things like this.

When we think something about us is hideous or awful or weird or yucky, and treat it that way, other people tend to get inclined to get on board with how we're thinking and feeling. Like when someone smells something and says "Blech! That smells terrible!" then holds it out for us to smell: we're expecting that thing to smell bad, and because we are, it's more likely to smell bad to us, even if it actually doesn't smell bad at all. Presenting and approaching your vulva as having, for instance, super-amazing Sololabia with all the wow of a one-man -- or one woman, if you prefer -- band (just tossing one idea out there: another is to call this part of your body your labium, which is the proper singular word for this part) to others is more likely to have them thinking the same way than if you tel them you think they'll think it's unacceptable or substandard.

People will also tend to prepare themselves for rejection, dismay or bad reactions with something like this, to the exclusion of all else, and then find that if and when they do experience those kinds of reactions? It totally takes them by surprise because it's about something else entirely, sometimes a part of themselves or their bodies they didn't feel bad or weird about at all, or thought was awesome was the most awesome part or thing about themselves there was, and had no idea someone else wouldn't think was, too. It's a weird thing when it happens, sometimes a really uncomfortable thing, but it can actually be a great wake-up call that teaches us how different all of us are, including in the way we see things, and how much our ideas and worries about what other people will think about us are usually based most in what we think about ourselves.

On the whole, I'd say that if you can make peace with your body in this respect, accept that your vulva is just one way vulvas look of many, and figure that in your life, there are going to be a bunch of things guys you encounter are turned on with when it comes to you, turned off by, or totally neutral -- and probably also often totally unpredictable and arbitrary -- it's all going to be good. How you feel and think about you and your body is something you can actually control to a great degree, and it's really your own feelings and acceptance -- or lack thereof -- of your body that'll play a bigger part in your sexual life than what anyone else thinks.

Here are some links to round this out, give you more information, and=, hopefully, a little inspiration to let go of your big worries about this:

written 20 Jun 2013 . updated 21 Jun 2013

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