Warning: This article contains images of real vaginas in all their unique glory. You should definitely read it. Just not at work.
It probably doesn’t surprise you to learn the likelihood of seeing a naked women on screen is twice as high as the chances of seeing a nude man.
But, it may perplex you to learn that, while most censors don’t have a problem with showing a penis, they do have one with showing a vulva. The vaginas we see in print and on porn are so heavily edited they in no way reflect reality. In fact, the people who choose which vaginas make the cut are extremely selective.
For example, Australian censorship laws dictate what vaginas have to look like if they are going to appear in magazines and soft porn. The Guidelines for Classification of Publications require the labia minora and clitoris to be airbrushed out of photographs. They call it ‘healing to a single crease’.
While the UK and the US don’t have laws dictating what kinds of vulvas make it into popular media, the single crease, flattened-out ‘Barbie vulva’ is the one which appears almost all of the time, across the world. In pornographic videos, it’s often the result of a labiaplasty – a procedure in which the inner vaginal lips (labia minora) are essentially trimmed back, so they don’t protrude as much. And in print, it’s thanks to heavy Photoshopping.
But the truth is, while a seemingly labia-less vagina can be perfectly normal, it’s not the only kind of vagina. In fact, it’s more common for the labia to protrude and for the lips to be at different lengths. If your labia is so large that it’s causing you discomfort during sex or wearing underwear, then a labiaplasty can be a useful procedure. Disturbingly though, the majority of women undertaking the increasingly popular surgery are seeking it for purely cosmetic reasons.
Northwestern University’s associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology, Dr Lauren Streicher, says worrying about what a labia looks like is a relatively new concern for women.
“When I first went into practice in the 90s, I can’t think of anyone who came in and said, “I’m concerned about my labia”,” she says.
“But, now, a week doesn’t go by that a woman doesn’t ask me if she looks normal… I’m only concerned if there’s new development of moles or discoloration, which could be an indicator of skin cancer. Beyond that, women generally have nothing to worry about.”
There are serious risk factors involved with labiaplasty, including loss of sensitivity during sex, infection and pain. And a labiaplasty is one surgery which can be particularly devastating if it ends up being botched.
“For the most part, women really shouldn’t be messing with this area. There are a lot of blood vessels down there, so when you have plastic surgery in that region, you risk having significant bleeding. There are issues with infection, and you can end up with scarring, which can actually make it look worse,” advises Streicher.
So how do you know if your vagina’s, well, normal? According to Streicher, there’s no such thing. Every vagina is different; they’re pretty much as unique as our fingerprints.
“Just as a lot of women have one breast that’s bigger than the other, there will often be one labia [the vaginal lips] that’s a little longer.”
Need proof? Here are nine healthy women’s vulvas, thanks to website The Labia Library, an online project aimed at breaking the stigma surrounding the ‘perfect’ vulva by encouraging real, everyday women to anonymously share photographs of their lady gardens. As you’ll see when you scroll, no two are the same…
1. This hoo-hah.
2. This beautiful flower.
3. This pink bit.
4. This rose garden.
5. This delicate vah-jay-jay.
6. This wonderful blossom.
7. This marvellous muff.
8. This pierced beauty.
9. And this lovely lady bit.
In a world where talking about vaginas and female sexuality is already widely considered taboo, it makes it easy for these representations of ‘normal’ to be overshadowed by warped images. We already feel pressure from every other aspect of our lives to change and become ‘good enough’; do we really need to start worrying whether our genitals are acceptable, too?
Images via The Labia Library and Playboy.