Sophie Cullinane | Features Editor | Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Is My Vagina Weird?

Is My Vagina Weird?

The Debrief: All of us worry a bit that our vagina might be a bit weird at some point in our lives, so we spoke to some doctors to figure out what’s ‘normal’ really looks like. Spoiler: there is no normal

The first time I ever even considered that my vagina might be weird was, humiliatingly, in an STI clinic in Brighton. I’d gone to get my contraceptive implant replaced and get a routine STI checkup - no big deal - but I was still a bit nervous, a feeling that wasn’t much helped by the ‘kooky’ nurse who loudly told me about how shitfaced she’d got on the weekend. She then told me to undress and put my legs in stirrups whilst she washed her hands, put on some gloves and prepared to take a sample from my cervix. I was trying to pretend it wasn't happening until the nurse took one look under my gown and squealed ‘Oh my fucking god!’. I went hot with panic before I noticed the nurse was laughing. ‘I was joking you silly mare!’ she said. ‘You should have seen the look on your face!’ If there is a more inappropriate joke to play on a person in the universe, I am yet to hear it.

But self-esteem obliterating ‘jokes’ aside,  I’m not alone in wondering if my vagina is normal or not. In a recent study published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, it was revealed a huge number of us are confused about what constitutes as ‘normal’ or ‘ideal’ for our own vaginas. For the study, a group of 97 women aged 18-30 were randomly put into three groups: a group that were shown pictures of surgically modified vaginas, a group that were shown pictures of vaginas which hadn’t undergone surgery and one group who looked at no pictures at all. Afterwards, they were all shown pictures of vaginas (half being surgically modified) and asked to choose which fell into the ‘normal’ category and which fell into society's ideal. Depressingly, all three groups said the vaginas which had undergone surgery were closest to ‘society’s ideal’ and the group which had previously seen pictures of surgically modified vaginas typically rated them as ‘normal’. Basically, the more unrealistic depictions of vaginas we see, the more likely we are to consider our own aux-natural lady gardens as outside the norm. Thanks again, porn.

We've decided to speak to some actual medical professionals to get to the bottom of what constitutes a completely normal and healthy vagina and what might be a cause for concern. Here’s a definitive guide to your pum.

‘Is my vagina is too big?’

Let’s get this one out of the way first. 

'Sadly, more and more women are coming to see their gynaecologists and GPs complaining that their labia are too big,’ Dr Venessa Mackay, a spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists explains to The Debrief. ‘I’ve yet to see an “abnormal set” and there is a huge range of what constitutes a “normal labia length”, from barely noticeable at all to up to around 10cm (although, admittedly I have never seen a set that size) and they are very very rarely the same size. Thankfully, doctors are now much less willing to operate unless your labia are causing you significant discomfort which is helpful because it most an unhelpful aesthetic issue that’s likely been brought about by porn. 

‘And there is no way anyone can tell how many people you’ve had sex with by the size of your vagina. The idea that you will be extremely tight when you haven’t had sex is an urban legend these days given that young women use tampons for long periods before they become sexually active. Similarly, having a lax vagina does not mean you’ve been heavily sexually active and there are several reasons you might feel this way, for example if you’re heavier in weight you can put pressure on your pelvic floor and they can get more relaxed, but this can be reversed with pelvic floor exercises. Sexual activity will never change the size or shape of your vagina.’

 

‘Why am I so ITCHY?’

‘Persistent itching could be a sign of thrush, especially if it’s accompanied by a milky discharge,’ explains GP Dr Grace Lonsdale. ‘This can be treated over the counter but it might be worth a visit to your doctor if symptoms persist. But, if you’re discharge is unchanged and you’re still itching, it might be as simple as a skin irritation brought about by synthetic underwear, detergent or heavily scented body washes - I tend to get an influx of patients just after Christmas as people are trying our new bath treatments. Try switching up your products before panicking - itching will usually clear up in a couple of days.’

‘Is my discharge weird?’

‘There’s a real range in vaginal discharge within the “normal” spectrum and everyone is different,’ explains Dr Venessa Mackay. ‘Everyone has vaginal discharge and it changes throughout our life cycle - pre-pubertal, post-pubertal and later in our life when we become post-menopausal. A normal physiological discharge can be clear or white and, whilst it does have a smell, but it isn’t an offensive. The things you need to look out for are a sudden change in your vaginal discharge rather than its presence per say. If your discharge suddenly changes consistency or becomes smelly, it might be an indication of thrust or a sexually transmitted infection and it might be worth paying a visit to your GP.’

‘Why am I bleeding when I’m not on my period?’

‘If you’re randomly spotting, it might well be a hormonal imbalance brought about from your birth control,’ explains Dr Grace Lonsdale. ‘You might want to consider changing your birth control method if you’re finding the spotting a persistent. However if the problem persists, it could be a sign that you have an STD - especially if the bleeding comes after sex and is accompanied by a discharge - although if it occurs once after some particularly rough sex it’s probably nothing to worry about. Other causes might be an infection or pregnancy so, if problems persist, it might be worth checking out.’ 

‘There are weird bumps on my vagina’

‘When bumps or abscesses crop up on your vagina we often fear the worst, but they’re not necessarily a sign of an STI and are actually very common. ‘Bartholin’s cysts and abscesses are something we see often in in gynaecology and GPs surgeries. We have Bartholin glands at the posterior entrance of our vaginas and they can basically get blocked and a cyst can form and that cyst can because an abyss, which can grow to a quite significant size. These can be quite painful and distressing, but are very easy to treat so don’t be afraid to get the problem sorted.’

‘It’s not a pretty pink colour’

‘Vaginas come in a huge range of colours - from pale pink, to purple, to brown - and there’s no “normal” colour your vagina should be,’ explains Dr Grace Lonsdale. ‘Our vaginas also darken as we age as our hormones shift and they can significantly change with pregnancy, so even if you’re vagina is darker than it used to be it probably isn’t a cause for concern.’

 

‘Why does my vagina smell?’

‘Vaginas all have a natural smell, but it shouldn’t be a strong, offensive odour as this might be a cause for concern’ explains Dr Grace Lonsdale. ‘There is a large number of possible causes for a sudden change in the way your vagina smells, but you’ll want to see a doctor regardless because it could be a sign of a bacterial infection like trichomoniasis or vaginosis or an STI, which may need antibiotics to treat. Another common problem we see a lot is women complaining of a smell when a condom or tampon in their vaginas without realising, which obviously needs to be addressed. Yes it’s embarrassing but your doctor or gynaecologist would have seen it many times before and you can cause serious health problems by ignoring the issue.’

Liked this? You might also be interested in: 

An Ode To Veeting Your Vagina - By A Bald Convert 

Here's What Happeend When We Got A Bunch Of Straight Guys To Draw Vaginas 

How To Go From A Big Dick To A Small Dick 

What It's Really Like To Have Genital Warts 

Follow Sophie on Twitter @Sophiecullinane 

 

Picture: Francesca Jane Allen

Tags: Sex, Sex O\'Clock, Sex Ed