You might be clued up on various aspects of your health, from how best to support your gut microbiome to the signs of ovulation. When it comes to intricate knowledge of your genitals, however, you might be less knowledgeable. Straight up, learning more about this area is key, when it comes to a thorough understanding of your overall health. Below, check out some common myths about your labia – and the truth to know, instead.
Myth 1: The labia are part of the vagina
'Some women use the term "vagina" to represent all of the female genitalia, but anatomically, the labia are part of the vulva,' a.k.a. the external genitalia, says Sara Twogood, M.D., assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at USC Keck School of Medicine. There are two parts to the labia, the labia majora and labia minora.
Myth 2: Every woman has the same size labia
In reality, they vary in size depending on the woman. 'The labia majora is the outermost lips, and their size is related to fat content; the more fat they contain, the larger they are,' says Twogood, who notes that they tend to get smaller after menopause. 'The labia minora are the inner lips, and there's also a lot of variation from woman to woman. When women complain about their labia being too big or want labiaplasty to correct the size or shape of their labia, they're usually referring to their labia minora.'
Myth 3: Yeast infections get started here
Yeast infections may cause irritation and itching of both the labia majora and minora, but these organs aren't usually where the problem originates, explains Twogood. 'Yeast infections are usually caused by an imbalance of normal bacterial flora [inside] the vagina.'
Myth 4: The labia and clitoris are the same thing
'The labia are often confused with the clitoris, but they're different structures. They are essentially contiguous neighbors,' says Antonio Pizarro, M.D., a gynaecologist and urogynecologist in private practice. The clitoral hood, which connects to the tip of the clitoris, is the small fold of skin at the top of the labia minora. The labia and the clitoris all play a role in sexual arousal, but the labia also have a protective function since they help keep bacteria out of the vaginal opening. "They serve as an anatomic barrier to microbes," says Pizarro.
Myth 5: You need to pay extra attention to keeping the labia (and the rest of your genitals) clean and fresh
Forget the special soaps or perfumed sprays, says Pizarro. 'Cleaning daily with plain water and/or a mild soap is sufficient,' he says. The skin of the vulva—especially the labia and the adjacent tissues—is very delicate, and using scented products or anything strong can cause irritation.
Myth 6: Your labia should be hairless
Stop waxing and plucking. The hair that's down there is supposed to be there and helps keep out unwanted microbes, says Kameelah Phillips, M.D., an ob-gyn in New York City. Another problem: 'Hair removal can cause bumps, or make the labia red, itchy, or otherwise angry,' says Phillips. 'I really try and encourage women to avoid using pornography as the standard of what their body should look like,' she says. 'Most women do not look like porn stars.'
Myth #7: Visible veins down there are weird
They're actually really common, especially during pregnancy. 'Around one in 10 pregnant women experience vulvar varicosities, which are varicose veins found in the labia majora and minora,' says midwife Tracy Donegan. Caused by an increase in blood flow to the pelvic organs and pregnancy hormones, they're most common during the third trimester.
'Many moms experience feelings of pressure or fullness in that area before they realise they have [a varicose vein],' says Donegan, but most of the time they don't cause any problems and usually go away shortly after you give birth. 'My advice is to invest in a good compression garment and avoid standing for long periods,' she says.
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