Labia lowdown! (Or, what should my vulva look like?)

Originally Published: July 31, 2009
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Dear Alice,

Are the inner lips of the vagina supposed to be "longer" OR "shorter" than the outer lips? Also, my right inner lip is longer than my left inner lip. Like, a lot longer. My right inner lip sticks out from my outer lips and is very visible. Is this abnormal? Thankyou :]

—Disproportionate

Dear Disproportionate,

While the words "longer" or "shorter" may accurately describe your labia, these terms lack the ability to flesh out what your labia do for you and what is normal. The thing is, Disproportionate, when it comes to the labia, disproportion is absolutely normal. Whether roughly symmetrical or wholly uneven, every person has a combination of genitalia that creates a unique anatomic signature — each one normal!

The term "vulva" refers to the female physical package below the belt: the labia, clitoris, and vaginal and urethral openings. Like bodies in general, vulva composition and proportions are unique to every woman and play an integral part in function and pleasure. The labia (meaning "lips" in Latin) refers to the two sets of tissue surrounding and protecting the vaginal opening. The outer labia, usually decorated with pubic hair, come in different sizes, shapes, and colors. Inner labia are extra sensitive, and run from the clitoral hood to the bottom of the vaginal opening. The inner labia may be longer or shorter than each other or than the outer labia.

Tucked inside the top of the inner labia rests the clitoris, covered by the clitoral hood. The clitoris and hood can also vary in color, size, and shape. The clitoris contains thousands of nerve endings. When aroused, the clitoral hood retracts and both the inner and outer labia swell in heated response. The vagina is the inner passageway that leads to the uterus, and plays an essential part in heterosexual intercourse and childbirth. Often the vagina is the focus during sex. While this works for some women, a universe of pleasure can be found by exploring the rest of the vulva as well.

If you're feeling self-conscious about your own anatomy, it may be helpful to think about the source(s) of these labial insecurities. Are you simply curious about what is considered normal? Has someone commented on the size or shape of your labia? American standards of beauty affect us in different ways — could the desire for symmetry be an extension of a perfection-obsessed media?

An exercise that may give you a new perspective is to actually get a closer look at your vulva. Shun shyness and bust out a hand mirror in a comfortable reclined position to really get a look at what makes you unique. For more encouragement and food for thought on labia, vulvas, and body image, check out Our Bodies Ourselves, a groundbreaking book written by women for women. Also see The Vulva: An Owner's Manual on Teenwire, the online guide for teens around bodies, sex, and sexuality for the lowdown on owning a vulva.

Gaining confidence in how your labia or vulva appear may take time. But rest assured you are one hundred percent normal.

Alice