Vagzilla! (Or, All Genitals Great and Small)

The other day, for no apparent reason, I got the idea that it'd actually be kind of fun and empowering to think of my average vulva as my super, big, GIANT vulva.

I suddenly found myself wanting to say, and quite loudly, to no one in particular, "Yeah, well check out my BIG VULVA!"

Thinking about it some more, I came to the conclusion that "big vagina" somehow has a better ring to it, though, likely because however incorrectly it's often used, it is a more commonly used term, and it's that part of the vulva which women are so often told or think must never, never -- oh, the horror! -- be anything but as tiny, as small, as diminutive as possible. It's still overall seen as much more okay to have a big labia than a big vagina, and big clits often seem to be seen as fine and dandy, mostly because they're perceived as being like big penises.

You might wonder what on earth would compel someone to somehow get fixated -- and in a way that makes her feel giddy and silly and very excited and more than a little powerful -- on BIG VAGINA.

Often, activists who do serious and emotionally challenging work can, when pushed to the work-limit, become slap-happy at times. Plus, I work in sex, which while it is certainly important, and absolutely very serious in some ways, is in just as many ways, something ungodly silly which people do. My partner is used to these occasional bouts of sex-geek-goofy by now, so, while it certainly created a moments pause -- and also a question as to if I had been drinking -- my greeting him when he arrived home by jumping into the room and bellowing "BIG VAGINA!" was not the surprise it might be for someone else's partner.

This does NOT mean, by any means, you should discount what I am about to say, or dismiss that ultimately, I'm quite serious about all of this. But you are allowed to laugh, and in fact, I strongly encourage you to do so, because way too many people take the size and appearance of their genitals way, way too seriously, and it is really messing y'all up for no good reason.

So, let's break down genital size, have a look at what might really be going on with all this too-big, too-small stuff, and see if -- even if it's only for a few minutes -- we can't entertain the idea of thinking about it all differently than we might have before, okay?

Lately, women (though it's important to put out that we're usually talking about heterosexual, cisgender women when it comes to this) have started to obsess on their vaginas or vulvas or labia just being way too big to a similar degree that many men have long fixated on their penises being way too small. People are tossing away ungodly piles of money daily to attempt to change the shape or size of their genitals, and some -- a lot, really, vaginal "rejuvenation" surgeries rose a whopping 30% from 2005 to 2006 -- even risk going under the knife for cosmetic procedures which not only pose serious risks to their overall health and empty their wallets, but which also put their sexual function at risk, all for the sake of appearance or sexual performance concerns which are almost always completely unfounded and unrealistic, and which most often do NOT impair sexual function.

Genitals are small. ALL genitals really are small on this big planet we live on, in the far bigger context of the whole cosmos. People -- our whole body, our whole self -- are amazingly small by comparison, let alone a handful of inches of genital tissue. Even when we're looking only at people, we've got parts of our bodies that make our genitals look miniscule: our small intestines go for 20 feet and our blood vessels quite literally are 100,000 miles long. My dog, a pug, is a small breed -- so small as to be considered a "toy" breed -- and she's far bigger than anyone's genitals could ever aspire to be. But my dog, even though she thinks quite otherwise, is but a very small dog. If I had a dresser drawer the size of any genitalia, that drawer would be totally useless. Sure, compared to say, one of my freckles, my vagina or clitoris is big, and it's all relative. But let's face it: no one's genitals are big, even though they can sure feel big, and can even make us feel bigger or emotionally amplified sometimes.

Before I tell you more about my VERY big vagina, it's a good idea to do some basic deconstruction of genital size. We'll get to penises in a little bit: for a change, let's first start by talking about the genitals usually classified as female. We're going to focus on average size ranges here, so do understand that average means just that -- the middle point of a group of values (in this case, sizes), obtained by taking the sum of a group of values and dividing by the number of values -- not "normal." The sizes of normal, functional genitalia are generally well beyond the averages in either direction, and genital size, even sizes pretty far from the averages, very rarely impacts sexual enjoyment or function unless the person with them gets so hung up on normalcy that their hangup becomes a buzzkill, or unless that person's sexual partners aren't making any adaptations that might be needed in some cases.

It's not easy to discuss size with the vulva or vagina (and just a reminder: not all women have the kind of genitals I'm about to talk about, either, just most), for a few reasons: a) this kind of sexual anatomy is seriously nonlinear, both internal and external, and thus very tough to measure or quantify, b) so few people have given a hoot about our genitals that they still haven't been studied very much, and c) the parts of our genitals which have been studied have more often been the parts that men deem important to them than the parts we deem most important to us. Plus, the size of the vagina and vulva varies a lot based on age, sexual arousal, whether or not we've had children, the works. Penises are given measurements for erect and flaccid, which is only so apt for men, but it's even less so for in this case as we have more degrees in between in terms of changes with sexual arousal, and parts of us that change with arousal we can't really measure (since they're internal), as well as those additional factors.

old clit illus

To get an idea of how biased the study of women's genitals has been, take a look at this illustration of the internal clitoris and the vaginal opening from the 40's, from one of the only studies done on the internal clitoris. Things have gotten a little better since then in terms of more scientists attempting to study our bodies and our sexuality outside the context of how we're relevant to men, but not much.

That said, the things we can look at when it comes to this kind of genitalia and size, which we have some numbers for, are the size of the clitoris, the inner labia, the length of the vaginal canal, and the width of the back of the vagina. We can't really talk about differences in size when it comes to the vaginal opening once the hymen has worn away -- and boy howdy, do you bet your rump I get tired of explaining this every day -- because as we all know (and if we don't we seriously should by now), the vaginal opening is closed unless we insert something it it, or something (read: baby) is coming out of it. It'd be sensible to talk about measurement of vaginal muscular strength, but since scientists don't seem to find that worthy of study, we can't speak to it just yet very quantifiably. And the size or measurement of all of these things is often relatively useless and very arbitrary, but for our purposes today, that's okay.

The vaginal canal: Let's start by talking about the length of the vaginal canal. To most folks concerned about penis sizes, that's about the only thing they might consider relevant (even though it isn't all that relevant, given that when we're talking about people who like vaginal intercourse, length usually is a non-issue, save when someone is trying to insert something too deeply which is just too long: it's width that's an issue, as well as how the penis is stimulating the g-spot and internal clitoris). We already know we can't talk about the width of most of the vaginal canal, since that depends on what is inside of it, and when nothing is inside of it, its walls are collapsed save at the very back, but I will talk about width in one respect in which we can in a minute. The vagina is often referred to as a "potential" space -- a term I can never figure out whether I like or not: on the one hand, very literally, the world of potential really is all about vaginas, but on the other hand, I think that term is often used to suggest that the vagina isn't "actual" in any way unless something is inside of it, which is absolute crap.

From the vaginal opening to the cervix, the average vaginal canal length is 3 to 7 inches, unaroused to aroused, with an average capacity to stretch -- when something is inside of it -- to around 8 or 9 inches deep (it can also stretch from side to side). It might be helpful when we're trying to illustrate this range to consider the range of adult speculum sizes: they range from around 3 inches to long and one inch wide to just four and a half inches long and one and a half inch wide.

Vaginal anterior width: If you really want to talk about vaginal width we have a practical reason -- that being to fit a diaphragm to use for birth control -- to measure, then we're talking about the back end of the vagina. In case it's not clear, the vagina is smallest at the opening and widest at the back, whether we're aroused or not. Diaphragms are held in place by the vaginal muscles in the back of the vagina -- a place we don't even have the sensory nerve endings to really feel, mind -- and sits over the cervix. Diaphragm sizes range from 50 to 95 mm in diameter, with fit determined by the distance between the posterior fornix and the pubic bone. A 70 mm diaphragm size is generally considered average. If it helps to understand how minor a difference this all can be, and how adaptable the vaginal muscles are, most menstrual cups only come in two sizes, with only around an eighth of an inch between sizes, to fit all, and these two sizes sure fit us all a lot better than the ten sizes of pants we're all supposed to fit our behinds and thighs into.

Labia minora: Since so many women, especially younger women, have become so worried about it, the range of average sizes for the labia minora (bearing in mind that no one ever seems to account for the fact that the size of our labia changes a bit during sexual arousal) is apparently between just less than an inch to just over two inches in length to the longest point. Average inner labia are everything from barely visible to easily seen outside the labia majora.

But obviously, given how incredibly organic and nonlinear the shapes of the labia are -- and how vastly they vary amoung people, to a degree that there's no way you could try and make the kind of easy comparisons men make between penises -- it's not exactly easy to measure, or even to determine what the longest point of some labium is. It's often said -- and anyone who had had their face or hands around even a small sampling of vulvas knows this -- that the largest range in size, shape, color and texture that we see from vulva to vulva is with the labia minora.

Clitoral glans: When we're talking about the clitoris (which also changes in size with arousal: measurements done with averages have shown an average change of 1.5 cm with arousal in XX women: intersex women are sometimes a different story), the developed clitoral glans -- the part you can see outside, under the clitoral hood -- when "resting" is about an inch long on average, but it's not really something there has been a lot of focus on, probably because when it comes to clits (or ovaries, or vaginas, or...yeah, you get it), many researchers just aren't that interested and you also don't have to tell us that something does not have to be big to do Very Big Things, especially when you consider we've got more nerve endings in our clitorises than there are in any size of penis. Heck, if you want to pick something that includes everyone, let's not forget that sperm and eggs are microscopically small, but look what they can do! Too, the clitoris as a whole, when we include the internal clitoris, is basically the same size as most penises, but again, so spread out and organic in form, we can't really measure it well, and can't really measure it at all in live subjects at this point.

(You'll note, if you have to torture yourself by ever looking at FAQs for genital cosmetic surgeons that they are very reluctant to say or even ruminate what normal and average sizes are, and more often will say that "normal" is determined by if the owner of said labia likes them or not -- in other words, if a woman, for whatever reason, by whatever standard, doesn't like her genitals, then it's apparently sage for her to then consider them abnormal. Oy. It should also be noted that in double-checking the things that already live in my head on all of this, I kept falling upon studies showing that for most people looking to surgically "correct" their genitals, most of them have perfectly normal, functional and average genitalia.)

Before we move on to penises, take a break from the words for a minute and check out this handy visual reference I've made for you, especially since it was a total pain in the bottom to make and to get all the sizes right. The anterior width circles were the toughest, but I just happen to have a wide array of diaphragms sitting around here for a project. Just because I love you so much and want to be sure everything is on the up-and-up, I really did sit putting diaphragms against my computer screen to double-check the sizes. You'll note I went ahead and provided an extra, very practical item to give you an idea of scale. If you want to see that graph a bit closer to life-sized, click here.

The idea of "large" and "small" vulvas or vaginas really is silly, but it's not like ideas about large and small penises are any less silly.

Let's be frank: male worries and fixation on penis and genital size seems to be what created and in large part enables any sort of women's concern about genital size (especially since lesbians rarely give a hoot). This could possibly be of NO issue to women if a) guys didn't go on and on about genital size and put genitals under the perpetual microscope, then become fixated on ours, then bring women into the whole mess by making them think they've cause for concern, and b) if vaginal intercourse was not defined as THE sex -- even though for most receptive partners, it's not the most satisfying -- and if problems with intercourse weren't very foolishly all thought to be due to someone's genital size, rather than due to the fact that the activity defined as "the" sex was, overall, a poor contender for the title who only got it due to being an incredibly savvy politician.

Sensible or not, lots of guys care about penis size, and so do some people who aren't guys, which makes it important enough to talk about. If we're going to talk about one set of genitals being big or small, then it doesn't make much sense to leave out another.

The Penis: The average range with penis length is between 5 and 7 inches, and the average girth (the distance around) is around 4 and 5 inches. Studies often show that the deviation between sizes, on average, is just around one inch. We see far greater variation in the size of flaccid penises than we do in erect penises. Penis averages are always a bit suspect, mind, because the men who volunteer for them are usually aware of what the study is, so guys who feel like they don't have anything to brag about are less inclined to show up to be measured than those who do. In checking my homework here, I also found references stating that at around nine inches of length is the point at which, for those who engage in vaginal intercourse, most receptive partners will experience discomfort. So that person with the seven-inch penis saying it's nine with the idea it'll impress a woman may find that's not always an enticement.

But since we've got to hear again and again from men (and even their partners sometimes) overstating penis length, you'll note that in the graphical comparison above, I went ahead and even included a "larger" penis size that really isn't even remotely common.

(And just for the record, most of the studies on penis size done these days are being done by condom companies, so their work is actually meaningful and important. This is the lone practical need to know anyone's penis size. Of course, more study on women's bodies is also important for any number of reasons, but it's still mighty slow going.)

So, there you have it. Now look at that chart again. Seriously. And not just at the cute little dog.

Things that all vary only THAT little? Calling one SO large and the other SO small? C'mon people, you've got to be able to see that it's pretty loony to get hung up on size differentials when we're talking about such minor differences, and when those minor differences do not have anything to do with sexual satisfaction or reproductive function. Again, when folks get all hung up on the size of their genitals, the problem that becomes or creates is rarely a problem because of the size: it's usually a problem because of the hang-up. Lose the hang-up and fixation, lose the problem.

All of this size stuff is pretty deranged from the get-go, about anything when it comes to our bodies (and a lot of other things, for that matters). No matter what we're privleging based on size, our size -- whether we're talking about height, weight, breasts, genitals, noses, you name it -- is almost always mostly or entirely genetic. We've got what we've got, for the most part, and going nuts over largely unchangeable parts of ourselves, or anyone else, is a waste of otherwise good energy at best and bigotry at worst. And when it comes to genitals, no matter what we've got, the size of anything very rarely impairs its function. Differences in size simply -- if they even do that -- may create differences in the way we do certain things. Since sex is supposed to be individual, not one-size-fits-all, should we ever meet a sexual partner who isn't down with making sure the sex they're having is as unique and catered to they and us as possible, the problem is that partner, not our genitals.

Now, all things given, if we go ahead and make the determination that with a variation as minor as a handful of millimeters or a handful of inches, we can really still say big and small and all that jazz, when it comes to myself, I'm pretty darn average in all respects when it comes to genitals. In other words, most of my genitalia is not at either end of the poles of the averages. I wear a smaller-average diaphragm size (I'm a 65 if you're really dying to know), and given the clitorises I have seen up close and personal and via photos, I'd say my clit is right in the middle. One of my labia is smaller than the other, and the longer is on the longer side of the average. To look at my bits, I've got what Betty Dodson calls a Baroque vulva. As someone who is all about the spirit of decadence in sensory things, I think that's quite perfect for me, really.

But you know what? Being average has NEVER stopped an awful lot of guys from saying they have a big penis or thinking of their penises as big. And again, this whole big/small business with such a small range is just goofy. I often avidly protest all this size stuff, and even get ungodly irritated by it daily, especially given how often I have to comfort the "smaller" guys and the "larger" girls in my daily work, who really should not have to worry about any of this at all.

But I've been thinking that maybe it's time I tried rolling with it. So, if it's up to me if I'm big or I'm small, I think it seems a whole lot more fun to have a VERY BIG vagina than an average one or a small one.

Which allows me to finally get back to my monumental, super-duper vagina. If what men consider a monumentally big penis is still as long or just a little bit longer than most vaginas can stretch -- and vaginas can stretch a lot bigger than that during childbirth -- and the back end of some vaginas within average are still wider around than those penises, AND our clitorises, internal and external, are just as big as penises, then by gosh and by golly, we don't have diminutive genitals, girls! We've got BIG GIANT VULVAS.

I want to give it supervillain names: Vaginormia or Vulvumba or Vagigante! (That one totally needs an exclamation point, because it sounds like a Lucha Libra name.) The Pink Colossus. Vulvuminousa. Monsmonstro. Vagzilla. The Big Vagowski -- eh, that's not going to work. Now I've just got "Mike Wazowski" stuck in my head again (it's a bit of a constant problem), and weird as I am, mixing vaginas and Monsters, Inc. is even too weird for me.

I am wholeheartedly enjoying this image of Vagzilla, much like a very large sea creature of some kind, pulling its pink, fleshy feet (which totally make a noise, it's like "schlop, schlop") across the earth. It waves its VERY HUMONGOUS labia around like big, flappy, sea-anemone hands, and it makes a huge whooshing sound, like wind through trees in a storm, when it does. It's absolutely moist, and seriously squishy. (It also has a very, very large nose.) When it moves, it leaves a trail of shiny, clear ooze in its wake. It's whipping aside commercial menstrual product manufacturers with those big labia-tentacles, and it's yelling and blowing air from it's GAPING vaginal opening, causing douches and speculums and the torture devices of cosmetic surgeons to blow across streets like tumbleweeds. Godzilla totally knows better than to even think about messing with it.

(My partner also had to watch me try and illustrate this image last night through the wonder of interpretive dance. Welcome to life at our house.)

I want to pen a theme song for La Vagina Grandiosa, but until I do, we can certainly already hear her when we listen to Aretha Franklin, Odetta, The Gossip, Paula Cole, The Staple Singers, Hedningarna, Saffire: the Uppity Blues Women, Phoebe Snow, P!nk, Janis Joplin, Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles, Bonnie Tyler, Chaka Khan, Joan Jett, Diamanda Galas, Loretta Lynn, Bessie Smith, L7, Amy Winehouse, The Heartless Bastards, Hole, Patti Smith, Stevie Nicks (I know, I had a moment of pause, but then I really thought about it: Edge of Seventeen is totally big vagina music), Michelle Malone, Kathleen Hanna, Pat Benatar or Nina Simone. Big vagina isn't coy, subtle, delicate or soft-spoken: big vagina is raucous, gigantic, fleshy and eardrum-shattering loud.

I mean, there's something awesome about it, isn't there?

Not with me just yet? That's okay, I'll hang on while you get into it. I found it helped to yell one or two of those super-villain names very loudly in the living room (though in retrospect, it might be more fun to do in the bathtub, which I may just have to try later) while waving my arms around, punctuating it all by shaking my head back and forth with my mouth a little open so it made a very vaginal sort of "blubbalubbablubba" noise. The dog was certainly intimidated, I'll tell you that much, and the pug ain't intimidated by much. If that isn't helping, revisit the imagery. If THAT isn't helping, do remember that when we're talking about vaginas, in particular, we're talking about the place that quite literally has given birth to the world and everything in it. If even that isn't helping...well, I tried.

For those of us who are with me on this, I really love the idea of even voicing this sort of sentiment or battle cry from time to time, just because, given that the very LAST thing any woman is apparently supposed to have, and certainly should be very, very ashamed of is a GIANT VAGINA. If women can succeed at, or even just try, to reclaim words like bitch, the very least women should be able to do, especially given the fact that if men have big penises, then we DO have big vaginas, is kick all this teeny-weeny-darling-cutiepie-vagina stuff to the curb and groove on feeling like our genitals are the stuff of epic proportions. I'm grooving on the Utopian idea that I'll overhear some guy say to another in a bar, in all seriousness, when describing a woman he's awed by, who did something beyond daring he can't imagine doing, "Man, it took some BIG-ass vagina to do that!"

In being completely obsessed with this idea over the last day or so, I'm also finding that I can kind of understand the dudes that go overboard with the "my big penis," stuff to everyone within earshot. I so know that I'm really torturing some people listening to me talk about the vagina as giant in some way right now (but hey: I'm a sex educator, I gross people out all the time for my living), but I kind of dig it, because it's making ME feel so big by extension that I just don't care very much if y'all are all "YUCK!" especially since I very seriously feel we should should be awed and impressed with our bigness, that they should covet my bigness and wish it were theirs, rather than grossed out in any way.

It also seems like the more I go on about MY HUGE VAGINA, the bigger it feels. I know full well that everything genital is small in this great big world we live in, I know that the range with genitals when it comes to size is not at all vast, and I'm aware that personally, for the most part, even within that small range, I'm pretty darn average. But when I bellow BIG VAGINA, have images of Vagigante! in my head, and crank up the Joan Jett while giant, labial sugarplums dance in my head; when I envision my vulva and vagina not as small, but as vast and colossal, they really do start to feel that way, and it really makes me feel a bit bigger on the whole.

That feeling makes me a lot more sympathetic for the guys who are so intense about size, and who want their penises to feel big, and are bummed out when they don't, or when someone else doesn't see them that way. It also doubly illustrates part of why some women who are so fixated on their vaginas being so small often feel small themselves. While by no means do the size of your genitals -- or the size you think they are -- influence your size and scope as a whole person, if thinking of them as big makes you feel bigger, and makes them feel more special, I have to say that I think I'm all for it. And I've got to say, I really can't help but wonder if women as a whole couldn't really benefit from catching the size train in this regard: seems like it's at least worth a try.

The only caveat though -- and the heart of my babblefest here -- is that if we're going to think of our genitals as big, any one of us, given the small range between them, we should think everyone's genitals are big. We also need to accept that it's ignorant or misinformed (and/or that we've clearly got some kind of agenda through which we benefit from our ignorance or misinformation) to think, presume or suggest that penises are big but vaginas are small, because we really are all about the same size. If thinking big is better for one sex, it's also got to be better for the other. So, if you're going to go on about your big penis, buddy, you'd best get just as excited about the idea of a big vagina, and make having a big ol' vagowski just as cool. And if you're a gal all hung up on the idea that your vagina must, must be as small as it can possibly be, or is such a small thing, then you've got to accept that penises are small, too.

But I suggest that you at least try on the "everybody is big" idea for a little while, and embrace the idea that a big vagina is at least as cool as a big penis is supposed to be. Next time you hear someone saying someone had a big vagina, and is meaning it to be an insult, try grinning and saying, with glee, "She sure did! Yeeha!" You certainly don't have to make up super-villain names or do interpretive dances like me (though while according to some people, it'd probably be better if you didn't, I personally feel that we just don't see enough vaginal interpretive dance these days), but if you go through life without yelling "BIG VAGINA!"with great fervor at least once, I can confidently say you always feel at least a little bit smaller than you, and your vagina or vulva, actually are.

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