The vagina and the outer structures of the vulva naturally vary in shape, color, and size.
When it comes to something that has to do with the body and sexual and reproductive health, most people ask themselves, “Am I normal? “The answer about the vagina is that there are a variety of healthy shapes, sizes, and colors.
This article describes different types of vaginas, how they can vary and when you need to see a doctor.
Types of vagina
Overall, most people’s vaginas are similar in shape, but vaginas can also
vary greatly in terms of:
- Length and width
- shape of the labia or lips,
- Amount of pubic hair
- color effluent
- and smell
When people refer to the vagina, they usually mean the visible, outer part of the genitals. The anatomical term for this area is the vulva.
The vulva comprises many structures, such as the labia majora and labia minora or the inner and outer lips. These are skin folds that surround the vaginal and urethral openings.
Depending on the size and shape of the external structures, the appearance of the vulva can vary significantly.
It is rare that discrepancies in this shape or size are a cause for concern.
Taking into account this variety, some common features of the vulva are:
The outer lips of the vulva, or the labia majora, are longer in some people. The lips may hang low and the skin may appear thin, or they may be thick and swollen.
The outer lips are usually relatively smooth and do not wrinkle as much as the inner lips.
Some people have outer lips that almost completely cover the inner lips and clitoris. In other cases, the outer lips may curve and meet at the ends, exposing some of the inner lips above.
If the outer lips are short, they may not meet and may expose the inner lips more.
It is typical that the inner lips, or small labia, are visible. They may dangle under the outer lips or come out in other ways.
One inner lip may be longer than the other. Asymmetry in the labia is not necessarily a cause for concern.
Some people may have short inner lips that hide the outer lips. In other cases, the outer and inner lips are of similar length.
When the outer and inner lips are small and close to the inner thighs, the clitoral dome that conceals the clitoris may be visible.
These are a few possible shape variations, but healthy vulvas have many other shapes and sizes.
Within the vagina
The inside of the vagina is like a long tube with folded areas that can expand and contract. In some descriptions, this feature is compared with an accordion.
Imaging studies show that most vaginas are narrower toward the vaginal opening and wider toward the cervix. This usually forms a “V” shape, although the width may vary at the widest point.
Your vagina may appear wider or looser after giving birth. This is because vaginal tissue expands to make room for a baby down the birth canal. The vagina may regain its size before pregnancy or it may remain slightly widened.
The hymen is a thin membrane that partially covers the opening to the vagina in most women. The labia protects the hymen, which some people compare with a scrunchy, as it can expand and contract.
Hymen vary greatly in shape and elasticity and can also change with age or during pregnancy.
In some cases, the hymen may completely cover the vagina. This can cause complications as it can prevent menstrual blood from leaving the body.
Some people say a hymen can indicate whether a person is a virgin or not, but that is wrong. When a person has sex for the first time, they may bleed, but this does not apply to everyone. One reason for this could be tears in the hymen.
The vagina can change in size or length to accommodate, for example, a tampon, finger, or penis. This is done by stretching and stretching. As a result, the cervix and uterus are also moved upwards.
The length of the vagina varies, but the average length is just under 4 inches, according to a study from 2016. In this study, researchers sometimes used MRI scans to measure the length, width, and angle of the participants’ vaginas.
However, some people’s vaginas measure up to 7 inches.
To measure the length of a vagina, researchers take into account the average length of the anterior (near the bladder) and posterior (near the rectum) vaginal walls. However, the length can vary significantly.
Skin colors vary naturally, including the skin of the vulva.
The color of the vulva may be:
- red wine
The color may also vary depending on blood flow. During excitation, blood flow increases and the vulva may appear purple.
Some people notice color changes when they have certain medical conditions. A yeast infection, for example, can cause the vulva to appear purple or red.
Pubic hair can help protect the genitals from bacterial disease. It may also indicate sexual maturity, as it normally develops during puberty.
The amount, color and texture of pubic hair vary from person to person.
According to a study published in 2015, children’s development of pubic hair before the age of 8 and excessive amounts of pubic hair may indicate an increased risk of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Pubic hair tends to get thinner with age due to hormone-related changes.
Why do people have pubic hair?
Vaginal discharge and secretions help keep vaginal tissue healthy.
Some people use the color and consistency of their vaginal discharge to track their fertility. For example, an increase in discharge usually occurs a few days before ovulation.
Changes in vaginal discharge may indicate an infection that requires medical attention. A person should see a doctor if they have green, gray, or foul-smelling discharge.
Learn more about the different types of vaginal discharge here.
The vagina provides an outlet for menstrual blood. The amount of blood that a person loses may vary from period to period. Some people are only prone to mild spotting, while others have heavy bleeding.
Anyone whose menstrual flow routinely soaks pads or makes them feel dizzy or short of breath should see a doctor. Heavy menstrual flow can disrupt daily activities and lead to anemia. It can also be a sign of a health condition that may need treatment.
In some cases, a doctor may prescribe birth control pills to treat heavy menstrual bleeding.
The vagina naturally contains bacteria and yeasts that can cause odors. The smell can vary from sweet to metallic.
A person’s menstrual cycle, overall health, and the natural flora of the vagina can affect vaginal odor.
As a rule, fluctuations in vaginal odor are nothing to worry about. However, an unpleasant smell may indicate an infection such as bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis.
You can learn more about different types of vaginal odors here.
When should you see a doctor
? Anyone with concerns about their vagina or vulva should see a doctor.
Some common concerns include:
- unusual vaginal discharge
- unusual smell
- a change in the color of the lip tissue
- heavy bleeding
- Pain during sex
- pelvic pain
- Menstruation that does not start around the age of puberty
Some people have congenital abnormalities that may require surgical treatment.
For example, some people have a wall — a so-called vaginal septum — either above or along the vagina. The wall divides the vagina into two sections. It can affect menstruation and cause problems during sex. Surgery can solve this problem.
Other unusual traits that a person can be born with include:
- vaginal agenesis, when the vagina stops developing before birth, so the vagina is shorter than usual, or that there may not be a vagina
- An unfilled hymen when the hymen blocks the opening to the vagina and menstruation prevents blood from leaving the body
- A septic hymen, when a band of extra tissue in the hymen divides the vaginal opening into two parts, making it difficult to insert a tampon
- A microperforated hymen where the hymen almost covers the vagina, which can make it difficult to remove a tampon
A person may not notice this until they start menstruating or become sexually active.
From sexual pleasure to childbirth to menstrual flow, the vagina and vulva can play many roles.
Most variations in shape, size, and color are healthy. However, if a person has concerns about their vagina or vulva, they should see a doctor.
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