Laurie Toby Edison

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Variety Is the Spice of Labia

Debbie says:

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in to Scarleteen, the fabulous “sex education for the real world” website, so it’s no surprise that the first article on their front page today is (as Laurie would say) inutterably fabulous. (The article is unsigned, so may or may not be written by Heather Corinna, the owner and operator of the site.)

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 women 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.

As the folks at Scarleteen well know, these worries are clearly fueled by the plastic surgery industry, making as much money as it can by defining one coochie look that trumps all others.

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 women they’re normal. We’ve directed women to some links or book 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: women 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.

The article is full of excellent facts for any female-type person in your life who might have these concerns. It also contains a link to Betty Dodson’s vulva illustrations on the Scarleteen site. Just to give you a little sense of variety, here’s one of the several sets at the link (not safe for work if your work is opposed to human anatomy on principle:

four Betty Dodson line drawings of vulvas

Of course, another excellent source of pictures is Tee Corinne‘s classic Cunt Coloring Book.

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 we all 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.

As always, Body Impolitic stands for maintaining and appreciating human variety. I don’t have anything to add; I just loved this article, and thought you might as well.

17 Responses to “Variety Is the Spice of Labia”

  1. sannanina Says:

    we’ve suggested visiting gynecologists to have an expert assure women they’re normal

    I just wanted to say that this might not always be good advice. One of my inner labia happens to be a lot bigger than the other – something that I obviously have known for a long time but that I have never worried about much. However, during my first pervic exam a couple years back (something that I had put off forever – I was 26 or 27 at the time, though not sexually active) the gynecologist commented on how my labia were really different in size and that while a small size difference was normal this surely was not.

    I have a very negative body image in general, there are days when I can literally not stand looking into the mirror without feeling completely disgusted and wanting to burst out in tears. However, I decided that I would not care about what my gynecologist said, and so far it worked relatively well. Still, I have become even more reluctant to have a pelvic exam.

  2. betsyl Says:

    hey! there’s mine! hurray!

  3. Debbie Says:

    Sannanina, excellent (if inexcusable) point! I’m so sorry that other things are hard for you, and glad you made a good decision in this case.

    Betsy, hee hee!

  4. Sal Says:

    On the issue of labia, I always stress that labia are estrogen dependent. I am post-menopausal, and my labia have shrunk to almost nothing.

    I can’t imagine having surgery for something that time will cure!

  5. Piffle Says:

    Um, actually people do give short kids growth hormone to make them taller, so unfortunately even the height metaphor isn’t safe to use. It’s no longer restricted to kids who have hormone deficiencies, but any kid who is very short. Sad.

    I think some of the labia worries are because there’s a standard in porn; and more people are seeing porn more easily than ever. Kind of like models in fashion mags make people think they should be that thin.

    It was fascinating to see how different labia can be; as a hetero woman I haven’t seen any in person other than my own and babies when I’ve changed diapers.

  6. Lynne Murray Says:

    Just a quick note on some gynecologists’ view of ageing genitalia. Some gyn docs are now using the term “vaginal atrophy” to describe the normal ageing effects on the labia of less estrogen that Sal describes. (In other words your ageing labia is “wrong” let’s fix it. The cure for this “disease” is hormone replacement to maintain a normal (i.e. younger) labia. Some gynecologists advise hormone treatment essentially from menopause for rest of a woman’s life in order to maintain an acceptably youthful, functional vagina. Others seem to feel that when a male partner is on drugs for erectile dysfunction, the female partner should be on hormones for vaginal atrophy essentially in self defense (“when lube alone is not enough). I may be totally off topic here. If a woman has pain with intercourse because of thinning vaginal tissue, that’s one thing. But vaginal atrophy, like morbid obesity, seems more like a marketing term than a scientific term and I hate seeing doctors make people feel bad about themselves.

    I don’t want to get into the politics of hormone replacement, that’s a matter of personal choice, and it be very helpful to many, but is it supposed to be forever? My red flags go up when I hear of physicians labeling our bodies in a negative way (as in Sannanina’s doc’s case). And I’m particularly upset when gynecologists seem to be drumming up business by suggesting that a woman whose labia shows signs of ageing is diseased.

  7. SJ Says:

    MY GOD the title of this post alone made me choke on my apple here. Well-played, I wish I would have thought of it.

    I had never seen those drawings. Thank you for sharing. It makes me think of all the drawings in about every anatomy/human development/sexuality book I have ever seen. It seems like all vulvas look basically the same in those. Is there a standard vulva somewhere? Are we supposed to think there is an ideal? I feel like all those illustrated vulvas in the books are the “least fancy/interesting” ones (pardon me if anyone falls into the category of having one themselves). Did the government make a Vulva Decree and we all missed it?

    I feel like this petite and dainty ideal has been around for longer than there has been designer vulvas by plastic surgeons. Did timid illustrators of yore give surgeons and patients the clue of what “perfect” is? Because seriously, you see more variety in old porn than you do in these textbooks.

    I have lots of questions now. Thanks for the post.

  8. Faith Says:

    Although I agree with the article above and love the fact that everyone is so different, I have always struggled with body image issues. Particularly with my vulva. My labia are quite uneven in size and it has always bothered me. So much so that I often find myself obsessing about it. I feel embarrassed about anyone seeing it, which makes being sexually inmate with others difficult.
    I find myself with conflicting feelings. On one hand I truly believe that everyone on this earth is beautiful and should celebrate their differences and love their body’s. But on the other hand, when it comes to me, all those wonderful ideas of acceptance and love fly out the window. I know that until I accept myself for the way I am, I will always be unhappy, no matter what else changes. I realize that I am still quite young (I am 18) and that I have a lot to yet learn. I only hope that with experience I will learn to love myself and more importantly, let myself be loved.

  9. Laurie Says:

    Faith,

    Sorry about taking so long to reply, I missed your comment originally.

    Usually the things we obsess about in our own bodies are either much less obvious or of little interest to others. Certainly that’s my personal experience. I think if you have someone who cares about you, that you are intimate with, the symmetry of your labia will not matter at all.

    I think you will get your hope about loving yourself and being loved, because you’re starting from a clear place. Knowing you’re ok, even if there are difficulties in *feeling* ok, is an excellent beginning.

  10. deedee Says:

    I remember when i first noticed that something was ‘wrong with my labia’ and i totally freaked out. I started to think i was abnormal and that something was wrong with me down there . . then i did a little research and found out that having larger labia is totally normal. Even though im aware of this, i still cant help but worry and obsess about it . im worried if guys will like it or if it will turn them off . Im only 17 and im still a virgin..but im constantly worried. Like Faith said , i am embarassed to let anybody see it , and thats why it scares me to be intimate with anybody aswell . I just wish there was something i coul do to make me feel better about it all !!!

  11. Debbie Says:

    Deedee, keep looking at the pictures in this post and many more. You’ll start to see how beautiful they are, which is about how beautiful you are. I hope you find a partner or partners who help you feel good exactly the way you are.

  12. Faith Says:

    I agree with you Debbie about looking at pictures of vulvas. As they say, the more the merrier! A few sources that I have found (and personally love) are actually from Etsy.com which is an online venue for people to sell their handmade crafts and arts. There are many beautiful cafts that are wholly vulvarific! They range from extremely realistic, to more artistic interpertations. These are a few of my favorite artists; http://www.etsy.com/shop/VulvaLoveLovely, http://www.etsy.com/shop/QuiteCntrary and ttp://www.etsy.com/shop/WomanInBloom

  13. Pam Says:

    I am an Operaing Room nurse and I see vulva/labia all day. No, these picks are not the norm…it’s a rarity. If you have anything but soft/supple skin in these areas, get it checked out. Otherwise, just know you are different and that’s ok. Geez, everyone has body issues….just be glad yours isn’t something big like cancer, etc.

  14. Trevor Says:

    If you will graciously permit a comment from a mature, married, male:
    Prior to marriage I had several girlfriends with whom I was intimate and all of them enjoyed oral sex.
    No two vulva’s were the same, yet I found each to be delightful.

    In other words, ladies, you will find that most (if not all) males just love the sight and texture no matter the appearance.
    Just as we have different sizes and angles, so do you and that is the wonderful thing about life: we are all individuals.

  15. Finny Says:

    Never bothered making a comment anywhere about anything online before……but I gotta jump in here on this one

    I am saddened to see labiaplastomy(sp) is actually a procedure thought of at all.

    I’m a 46 year old heterosexual woman and mother of two young men 21 and 17.

    Girls, young ladies, women, mothers…any one of us with girlie bits: As a human being I love your girlie bits just the way they are and I’ve raised my boys to love you too EXACTLY THE WAY YOU ARE. We have one of the greatest gifts there is to share andany man should be delirious and grateful for the opportunity. If I had been gifted with girl children I would have taught them to love and respect a male’s manly bits as well.

    Build each other up, never tear each other down.

  16. Laurie Says:

    Finny,

    You’re clearly doing a great job with your boys. We need more parents like you.

  17. Steve Says:

    I guess my parents must have brought me up properly too, although I don’t recall ever discussing labial variety. I am a middle aged bisexual male who has enjoyed a number of partners over the years. I don’t believe there is such thing as the “perfect” or “ideal” shaped or formed genitalia in women or men. Large, small, thick, thin, fleshy or almost non-existent – it is just another part of each of us that makes us unique. I love that no two vulvae are the same. Variety really is the spice. Vive la Spice!

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