There Is No Such Thing As A "Normal" Or "Perfect" Vagina—An OB/GYN Explains Why
You know the saying no two snowflakes are exactly alike? Well, the expression could just as easily refer to vaginas. There is no one right way for a vagina to look, meaning that there's no such thing as a perfect one. If anyone should know that, it's an OB-GYN who's been seeing patients, and their vaginas, for nearly three decades.
The only qualities that make a vagina "perfect" are good health and confidence.
Here is an overview of what anatomy looks like for the female external genitalia.
What a vagina looks like
What we think of as the vagina actually includes the outer labia majora (lips), inner labia minora (lips), clitoris (clit), clitoral hood, opening to the urethra, and opening to the vagina. You need to get to know and love all parts of this fascinating area of your body.
Know what your "normal" is so you will know when something is not normal or when a potential problem arises.
The labia, or lips—where most issues are for the majority of female patients—vary from person to person. In fact, even the separate parts of the same vagina are not exactly the same. Just as our two eyes are not identical, nor our ears or breasts, our two lips are not identical, nor are they symmetrical to each other. This is considered to be completely normal. Different is normal.
How porn and social media have affected our idea of the perfect vagina
These days, social media allows all of us to compare ourselves to others in every way possible, including our vaginas. So I wasn't all that surprised when one of my young patients asked if I thought her lips were "abnormally large."
She went on to say her boyfriend told her that her lips were "too big" compared to others he'd seen. When I asked her who the others were, it turned out, they were the women on the porn sites he visited. Sadly, I wasn't at all shocked to hear this because, unfortunately, he's the norm, not the exception.
Gail Dines, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology, modern-day hero, and a leading anti-porn feminist who wants to tie the "porn monster down that has taught our girls to hypersexualize and pornify themselves."
Dines is on a mission of education, within which she and her group Culture Reframed, plan to use a public health approach similar to how my generation was educated about drinking alcohol and driving. She won't be the only one wanting to reclaim our young girls and boys.
There's no denying it. In the age of the internet, porn is everywhere. Dines puts a perspective on this issue of accessibility of porn when she tells us, "Porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined."
One study found that 42% of internet users1 between the ages of 10 and 17 have been exposed to online pornography. Of that group, 66% reported that the exposure was unwanted.
The average age for a child to be exposed to pornography now is 11 years old.
This means that our children are often learning about "normal" sexual behavior and physical appearance from the likes of Jenna Jameson and John Holmes. Many women (and men) now expect—even want—all vaginas to look like Jenna's does.
Girls and guys alike visit porn and other sexually graphic websites, and not just to get off, but also to see what the perfect vagina and the ideal penis look like.
Healing our vaginal insecurities
As a result of social media, some women have been made to feel vaginal insecurity. And I'm not just seeing this in patients, either, although it's definitely something that comes up regularly in my examining room. It's everywhere.
An internet search of the word "vagina" brings up a variety of links, many leading to everyday women showing off their vaginas: YouTube videos of women talking about vaginal rejuvenation, websites devoted to discussing and examining anything vagina-related, and, of course, porn sites.
These are the reference points that young women—women of all ages, really—now use when seeking the ideal of the perfect vagina. Adolescent boys are having the same issues regarding the size and length of their penises, even though, like vaginas, no two penises or scrotums are the same.
This is where I come in with my agenda of vagina empowerment. I want to reduce your anxiety and help you have more realistic expectations about what's normal by giving you an accurate view of the vagina in general. Believe me, the perfect vagina is actually a medical norm and not an aesthetic ideal.
What you should know about cosmetic genital procedures
Much as women have always compared their bodies and breasts to models and movie stars, now the vagina is up for inspection. I hear comments like my lips are too big, too bumpy, too dark, too uneven, too in the way, or my boyfriend/girlfriend tells me my labia are not pretty or not sexy.
More and more, my patients are asking me what the perfect vagina looks like and how they can get one.
Women of all ages, including adolescents, are now aware of cosmetic genital procedures that vow to make the vagina beautiful, even perfect. I get a lot of inquiries about these alterations and what they can and can't do.
While my goal is to care for my patients and make their lives better, from their health and well-being to their level of self-esteem and sexual pleasure, I sometimes have to dole out some tough love when it comes to their quest for the perfect vagina.
If having surgery will make a patient feel happier and more confident, I can absolutely see the benefit. Yet, I always caution her to really think her decision through before she does anything drastic. I ask my patients to honestly consider the following:
- Is this absolutely necessary?
- What does the perfect vagina really look like anyhow?
- Does Jenna Jameson have the perfect vagina? Really?
- How will my life (and sex life) be improved by having a different vagina?
Even minor labial surgery can lead to complications, including scarring and less elasticity during intercourse, which can result in painful sexual experiences. If this quest is undertaken for the wrong reasons, or with unrealistic expectations, even a positive outcome can be disappointing.
Be compassionate toward your vagina
It's important to remember that the media's perception of genital anatomy is often not representative of the general population. Real indications that something is actually wrong with your vagina include discomfort, pain, itching, odor, or discharge. Short of that, the issue you are obsessing about might just be in your mind.
So, before you do anything cosmetic and permanent, think about it, talk to your doctor, talk to your friends—have a long, hard, compassionate look at your vagina. Know what you're really dealing with before you embark on a drastic plan. In other words, educate yourself.
Sheryl Ross, M.D., OB-GYN, has been in private practice in Santa Monica, California for the past 20 years. She received her OB-GYN training at the University of Southern California School of Medicine and was honored with two teaching awards as a senior medical resident. She received her doctorate in medicine from New York Medical College before completing her residency at the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine. Recently, she was honored with a Patients’ Choice Award for Compassionate Doctor Recognition and a Top 10 Obstetricians & Gynecologists Award. She is the author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health. Period. and the follow up She-ology: The She-quel. In addition to her medical practice, Sheryl was the President of the Upper and Middle Division of Brentwood School and has been on the board of Planned Parenthood, Los Angeles for four years.