For those who weren’t taught the proper anatomical terms of female genitalia in sex ed (ahem – literally all of us), the inner and outer folds of your vulva are called the labia minora and labia major. Or casually, your inner lips and outer lips, or your inner labia and outer labia.
It seems that for a part of female genitalia shunned from the spotlight for so long, labia are actually pretty fascinating. So, let’s hit off your new relationship with female genitalia with 10 labia facts that every woman should know.
1. There are two sets of labia: labia minora and labia majora
You’ll find your sets of labia in the southern region of the female reproductive system. No, not your pelvic floor muscles – lower down toward the vagina and vulva, slightly below the clitoris. The labia minor are the inner lips that connect to the clitoral hood. Labia majora, on the other hand, are the outer lips that grow pubic hair and are more visible – they at least partially envelope the labia minora of most women.
However, it’s normal for labia minora and labia majora to be roughly the same length, which brings us to our next fact – no two sets of labia are the same (learn all the parts of female anatomy).
2. Labia come in all different shapes and sizes
As unique as a fingerprint, labia come in different shapes and sizes. Some women may have a neat package in which the labia majora envelope the labia minora. Other women may have a little extra padding in the outer labia. Some women have thin lips, and others have ‘not so minor’ labia minora (where the inner lips protrude the outer lips). Labia can be short, long, thin, or padded.
All versions of labia are equally beautiful. To confirm your one-of-a-kind labia and see how much ‘normal labia’ vary, visit the Labia Library.
3. Labia protect your vaginal opening and urethra
As beautiful as your labia are, they don’t exist purely as a garnish on your body. The inner labia are smaller and more delicate. The outer labia are larger and more fleshy. Together they protect the vaginal opening and urethra from bacteria, irritants, and other foreign objects that could cause vaginal infections. The labia also secrete fluid that helps keep the vaginal area clean and lubricated so that you can enjoy better sensations during vaginal penetration and other sexual activity.
4. Labia are not symmetrical
Guilty of living your life thinking labia are perfectly symmetrical on everyone but you? Better late than never, but consider this your reminder that not all women have perfectly aligned inner and outer lips.
Just like most people have one foot more prominent than the other, labia vary in size, too. It’s normal to have one side of the labia dangling lower than the other. And, again, it’s normal if your inner labia protrude your outer labia in a not-so-symmetrical fashion. So, you may as well embrace the beauty of your labia and enjoy the perks of a more confident sex life.
5. Labia change colour and size during sexual arousal
Labia vary in size and colour, and they can change when blood rushes to the vaginal area when you’re sexually aroused. The inner labia are usually smaller than the outer labia and are often a different colour. The outer labia usually become engorged with blood during sexual arousal, making them larger and darker in colour. The labia can also become more sensitive during sexual arousal and clitoral orgasm, making the area more sensitive to touch – there are 8,000 nerve endings in the clitoris, after all.
6. Labia may change with age
The female body is a marvel of biology; however, it’s bound to undergo many changes as it meets the demands of life over time. Along with wrinkles on the forehead and crow’s feet beside the eyes, labia will naturally become thinner, larger, or more wrinkled. Some women may even experience a loss of sensations in their labia as they age.
These changes occur due to various factors, including pregnancy, giving birth (e.g. during vaginal birth, the vagina elongates), menopause, genetics, and weight gain. However, it’s important to remember that not everyone is the same. All women are different, and there is no “normal” when it comes to the size or appearance of the labia. So whether your labia are large or small, wrinkled or smooth, they are still beautiful and perfect just the way they are.
7. Labia conditions are common
The labia are a very sensitive part of the body and can develop lumps, rashes, and cysts. As you know, where pubic hair grows, ingrown hairs are likely to follow. So, always take extra care when removing the hair down there to avoid further irritation (learn how to shave your pubic hair).
Some health conditions that affect the labia are:
Labial hypertrophy is a medical condition that causes enlargement or swelling of the lips. This can be due to several factors, including genetics, hormonal changes, and certain medications. Labial hypertrophy can also result from an underlying medical condition, such as Cushing’s syndrome or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
While labial hypertrophy is usually harmless, it can sometimes cause pain or difficulty urinating. In rare cases, it may also lead to problems with eating or speaking.
Fused labia is a condition where the labia minora are joined together. This can occur for various reasons, including congenital defects, trauma, or surgery. In some cases, the fusion is only partial, while the entire labia minora is joined in others.
Fused labia can cause pain and discomfort and make it difficult to urinate or have sexual intercourse. Treatment options include surgery to separate the fused tissue and creams to help relieve symptoms.
A Bartholin’s cyst is a small, fluid-filled sac that develops near the Bartholin’s glands – the glands located near the opening of the vagina responsible for producing a lubricating fluid during sexual intercourse. A Bartholin’s cyst can develop when the ducts that drain the Bartholin’s glands become blocked.
In some cases, a Bartholin’s cyst may become infected and cause pain, redness, and swelling. Treatment involves draining the fluid from the cyst. Antibiotics may also be prescribed to treat an infection.
Swelling of the labia
Swollen labia is a condition that can affect women of all ages and is characterised by the enlargement of the labia majora or labia minora. Labial swelling can be caused by several factors, including hormonal changes, pregnancy, and certain medical conditions.
In most cases, swollen labia is not a cause for concern and will resolve independently. However, if the swelling is severe or accompanied by other symptoms, such as pain or unusual discharge, it is important to see a doctor to rule out any underlying health issues.
A labia abscess is a buildup of pus that forms in the labia, the fleshy folds of skin that surround the vaginal opening. Labia abscesses are usually caused by an infection, such as a bacterial infection or a sexually transmitted infection (STI), or an injury, such as a tear in the labia.
Labia abscesses are usually painful and can cause swelling and redness in the affected area. Left untreated, they can lead to severe complications, such as a pelvic abscess or sepsis. Treatment for a labia abscess usually involves draining the abscess with a needle or a small incision. In some cases, antibiotics may also be necessary.
Labia psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that affects the vulva, including the labia. It is characterised by red, scaly patches of skin that can be itchy, painful, and uncomfortable.
Labia psoriasis is often mistaken for other skin conditions, such as eczema or contact dermatitis. There is no cure for labia psoriasis; however, it can be managed with treatments like topical corticosteroids.
Genital warts and genital herpes
Genital warts are small, fleshy growths that can appear on the vulva, vagina, or anus. They are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Genital warts are usually benign (not cancerous); however, some types of HPV can cause cervical cancer. Genital warts can be treated with herpes medication, but they will often return. The best way to prevent genital warts is to get vaccinated against HPV.
Lichen sclerosis is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that most often affects the genital regions of postmenopausal women. It is characterised by thinning and inflammation of the skin, which can lead to itching, pain, and tearing.
In severe cases, lichen sclerosis can also cause scarring and shrinkage of the vulva. There is no cure for lichen sclerosis; however, it is possible to manage the symptoms with medication and lifestyle changes.
8. Labia may get itchy, but there are ways to manage
Often when a woman experiences yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis (BV), the labia majora deals with a major share of the itchiness, discomfort and vaginal discharge associated with an off-kilter vaginal pH.
If your labia feel uncomfortably itchy, there are a few things you can do to help manage the itchiness. First, ensure you keep the area clean by washing regularly with soap and water. You may also want to use a mild, unscented laundry detergent for your underwear. If the itchiness is persistent, you can try using a hypoallergenic lubricant or moisturiser. These can help to soothe the skin and reduce irritation.
If the itchiness is severe or accompanied by other symptoms, such as burning or redness, you should see a doctor to rule out any underlying medical conditions.
9. Pubic hair on the labia is normal
Despite generational trends pushing many women into habits of ladyscaping to remove all hair between their legs, pubic hair on the outer labia is completely natural. If you’re concerned about the combination of sweat glands on the vulva and thick pubic hair causing you to itch during summer, we support the removal of pubic hair.
But, for any woman who lets their pubic hair grow (whether due to preference or lack of time for maintenance), we salute you. Your body, your rules!
10. Don’t believe everything you see in pornography
Most of the time, imagery that appears in pornographic magazines or films has undergone extreme editing and airbrushing. So, porn isn’t the best method of measuring healthy and “normal” labia. Plus, it’s well-known that most porn stars have labial surgery, so what you’re seeing isn’t always natural.
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