Vulvas and vaginas are truly brilliant. But we rarely think of them that way. We ignore all the clever things they do for us and fixate on why they don’t look like they do in mainstream porn, why they don’t smell like flowers and grapefruit and why they dribble out discharge all the time.
Most of us weren’t taught about vulvas at school. I mean literally nothing. The word ‘vulva’ never came up. Vagina, sure. But not vulva. I never saw vulvas, I never heard about what all the bits were or what they do, I was never taught how to look after it and what the warning signs were for anything going wrong and I definitely never learnt how diverse they were. Where I DID learn about vulvas was through terrible mainstream porn and overhearing boys in the playground. Boys who had almost definitely not seen many, if any, vulvas in real life. But boy, did they have an opinion on them. I’m still not entirely sure where their opinions came from. Who keeps passing on the ‘fishy fanny’ trope year after year? Why do 14 year olds know the words ‘beef curtains’?
According to a study in May 2021, only 9% of participants, of both sexes, could correctly label all the parts of the vulva and only 46% of them knew that there are three holes in the vulva - the urethra, the vaginal opening and the anus, with many people believing that you pee from your vagina. This is a serious lapse in knowledge. And one that can’t be blamed on the individual. Our sex education sucks.
This is why This is a Vulva exists. To give you all the facts about vulvas with no shame, no nonsense and no ‘front bottoms’. But also to help everyone see that vulvas don’t need changing or altering or any bits snipped off. It also doesn’t need special soaps, masks and brushes (BRUSHES!). Take it from me, your vulva doesn’t need any special treatment, it just needs water, kindness and respect.
So here’s a little 101 on the vulva and how to look after it.
- The vulva is on the outside. It’s everything that touches your pants. The vagina is a muscular tube that sits inside and is where tampons, sex toys, fingers, penises etc go.
- The vulva only needs to be washed with warm water, not soap. I have lots more information about this on my blog but to give you the shortened rant, those soaps you see marketed at vulvas are simply shame in a bottle. They are selling you the idea that vulvas and vagina are dirty and smelly and need to be dealt with - something that is not being sold to people with penises. Have you ever seen penis soaps or testicle toners? Wash everything on the outside with warm water and leave your vagina alone because…
- Vaginas clean themselves. This is what discharge does. It gathers up any germs and washes them out. If your discharge is yellow, green or grey and smells very strong then this could be a sign of an infection. Otherwise white, creamy, red and pink is usually fine (but always see a doctor if you’re worried something is wrong). Never ever squirt water or soap into your vagina (douching) because it can upset the balance of your vagina and cause infections.
- Whilst we’re talking about discharge, it’s normal and it happens every day for most people with vulvas. It is slightly acidic which is why it can bleach your pants (don’t worry, it’s meant to be acidic, it’s not bad for you). If you’ve always been embarrassed by discharge, maybe having a little look at mine might make you feel better.
- The clitoris is not just a little button at the top. For starters, it’s actually a huge internal structure that is around 10cm long and sits underneath your vulva and wraps around your vagina. What you can see is just the tip of the iceberg. Secondly, the external bit of the clitoris is on average about ⅓ the length of the vulva. Some may be longer and some may be shorter but before you go drawing a little button, remember it’s often a much longer structure.
6. The clitoris gets erect when you’re turned on. Penises and vulvas are all made from the same parts and the clitoris has the same erectile tissue as the penis does.
7. Inner labia are much more likely to protrude from the outer labia than not. In fact, 73% of vulvas have inner labia that you can see coming out of the outer labia. This may not be what you’ve seen online but remember, what we see online is not always real or representative of real life.
8. Labia and pubic hair have a function. They both act as protective barriers for your vagina and stop germs reaching your vaginal opening too easily. They also act as a nice cushion too.
9. Inner labia are siblings, not twins. Both sides won’t look exactly alike and in fact they might look completely different to one another. Asymmetric labia is very, very common. They might be different sizes, different shapes, different textures or different colours. There’s nothing to be worried or embarrassed about for any of this.
10. Inner labia can commonly be anywhere between 0 and 10cm long. Longer than 10cm is rarer but by no means abnormal.
11. You should check your vulva once a month, just like you check your chest. Take 5 minutes to look in a mirror (ideally not when you’re on your period) and look for any changes - new moles, changed moles, itchy bits, colour changes, lumps, bumps, raised patches or tears. Learn what is normal for you and speak to a doctor if anything changes or concerns you. You can sign up to my free monthly email reminder to check (including how to check and what to look for) here.
If any of this surprised you or simply made you feel happy and powerful to have a vulva, then I recommend following me on Instagram @thisisavulva. And if you’re feeling a bit negative towards your vulva and need a dose of vulva celebration and labia love then definitely follow me. You’ll soon see that vulvas look all kinds of ways and whatever you’ve got in your pants is normal and wonderful and worthy of love (and lots and lots of orgasms).
See you on Instagram!
Love and pubes,