No part of a woman is exempt from unrealistically high body image standards – and that includes labia size. Thanks to many porn films featuring hairless women with 'perfect' tucked away labia, both men and women alike have adopted an expectation that this is what every vagina should look like, with bigger labia seen as 'abnormal'. But in the same way our faces look different, so do our genitals, and it's completely natural to do so.
The rise in labiaplasty surgery - an operation to reshape or shorten the lips of the vulva - is worrying confirmation that, for young people especially, the aesthetic of their vagina and labia is a source of low self-esteem. More recent statistics are worryingly scarce, but the Victoria Derbyshire Show in 2017 reported that more than 200 girls under the age of 18 had the procedure on the NHS between 2015 and 2016. It's said that 150 of them were under 15 years old.
In order to tackle this concerning issue, it's vital that we understand exactly what is and isn't normal when it comes to the vagina and labia. As Dr. Hana Abu-Hassan from the Chelsea Pharmacy Medical Clinic explains, "There are no exact measurements for the 'ideal' labia. It's important not to assess and compare your body parts to online images, or see surgery as the solution for image satisfaction.
"There's no guarantee that changes in size will boost your self-esteem, so whenever you're considering these procedures, counselling could be a good first call."
She adds that unless your vagina is causing you physical discomfort, then there's absolutely nothing to worry about, "If the labia start hurting from friction or rubbing on your clothes, then you could consider getting them assessed."
It's a topic dominating a thread on Reddit too, in which people who would describe themselves as having large labia were asked how they feel about them, and whether they're self conscious about how they look.
Here's what they had to say...
1. "I had no idea that large labia were totally normal and common"
"I read that apparently 50% of women have visible/larger labia which made me feel a lot better. I had no idea that it was totally normal and common and I just thought I was an abnormal disgusting freak after I saw jokes about it online and stuff. I'm trying to learn to love and be more kind to my body more now as I'm very insecure in general and have very low self confidence."
2. "I'd never seen large labia like mine"
"I used to be [self conscious], when I was young and first becoming sexually active. I'd never seen long labia like mine and thought they were freakish and deformed. I was terrified of letting anyone see them.
"Then I learned that my labia are in fact totally normal, that vulvas come in an incredible array of shapes and sizes and all of it is just fine. I also learned that every sexual partner I had enjoyed my labia quite a lot. From there, I found my self-consciousness totally disappeared.
3. "No-one has ever commented or complained"
"I don't really care. I'm not self-conscious because no-one has ever commented or complained and if they had then there wouldn't be any more sex for them."
4. "Watch enough female friendly porn and you'll see labia of all shapes and sizes"
"I used to be, but then I realised mine aren't as large as I thought. When you watch enough female friendly porn you see lots of different women's bodies and labia of all shapes and sizes."
5. "I never heard labia shaming until I was past an impressionable age"
"Neutral. I'm not self-conscious about them because that's what a normal vulva looks like. I think it's fortunate for me that I never started hearing about all this labia shaming nonsense until I was already an adult and past the impressionable age where I would have worried about it."
6. "I thought everyone else was porn star smooth"
"I have large labia and I'll put it this way. There was a guy I was sexting with a while back, who asked me for photos of my vagina, after he'd sent me photos of him. I said no initially, but then I did actually go and take a bunch of photos and videos for him, because I thought it would be fun and sexy, and I liked him. I took one look at them, and just sat there crying because of how disgusting I thought it looked and ended up deleting everything. I'm really self-conscious about it.
"I didn't even know other women had vaginas like mine for the longest time. I thought they all were porn star smooth/perfect curvature etc. Because that's what you're exposed to as a teen. No sex ed class or book tells you there's a wide range of vaginas, or shows you pictures of them. Or they didn't when I was growing up. Everyone called them 'beef flaps' or made jokes about how nasty it is. That's what I grew up with."
7. "People don't care when you're about to have sex"
"It's awful to have to read so many rude comments about them. Add that onto the fact that almost no porn shows them, and you feel kinda like a freak. Luckily most people don't care when you're about to have sex."
8. "I've had guys compliment my large labia before"
"What exactly constitutes having 'large labia'? My inner labia are quite visible but I personally think it looks nice? I've also had guys compliment it before (not that it matters but hopefully this will make some women realise that there are partners out there that will love your vagina)."
9. "I used to be so insecure, but men don't really care"
"Mine peek outside of my vagina, not sure if that's huge or normal. I used to be so insecure because I thought they were huge, but now that I think about it, men don't really care."
10. "I feel for younger women today"
"I never really thought about my large labia until I saw a plastic surgery show. I thought, 'wow, my labia are ugly and I need to have corrective surgery'. Really, I don't, but after seeing porn stars' vaginas which are perfect and beautiful, I felt that way.
"That's the problem these days, people expect every woman's labia to look like that but it's impossible. Like 95% of those porn stars have probably had surgery. I've never had any complaints about mine, but I feel for younger women. It's no wonder they have such low self esteem. Tell your partners how beautiful they are and compliment their body parts! It will go far."
Some comments have been edited for length and clarity.
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