Photo from "Coin Cunts" collection reproduced with permission from the very talented Suzanna Scott
As a kind of well-known sexpert and media personality I get a lot of emails and messages from people all over the world asking my advice on all things sex related. I get them from people who have read my columns or who follow my social media accounts, and I also get them from friends.
My friends know they can basically ask me anything and they'll get a no bullshit, honest reply, and they also know they have my complete confidence and discretion. This being the case, I know some pretty personal details about my friends bodies and sex lives and I asked one friend if I could share her story here.
Am I Normal?
My friend, I'll call her Sally, sent me a message a few months ago. The message itself was brief:
“Is this normal??” and attached to it was a close-up picture of her with her legs open, spreading her labia out in all its beautiful folded glory.
I'll admit I had no idea what she was talking about. I spent some time looking at it for sores, or weird lumps, or something that looked out of place and I couldn't, so I sent her back a message asking her what she meant, that I couldn't see any sores or anything unusual.
“No. I mean my labia. Is it too big?”
“Too big for what?”
Her reply not only surprised me, it saddened me. She'd recently been with a guy who, while going down on her, had commented that her labia was “really big and fat” and that he “wasn't into that at all.”
It had rattled her and upset her because, up until that moment, she'd assumed her labia and all her bits were normal. She had never had anyone comment before and had never really seen anyone else's labia to compare it against. She's in her late 20s too, so it wasn't her first sexual encounter, although since that night she hadn't even masturbated, let alone had sex, because she was so embarrassed and worried that there was something wrong with her. She was feeling unattractive and unsexy.
Labia Are Supposed To Hang
The first thing I did was assure her that she was absolutely normal. Completely! Like so normal I hadn't even looked at the labia when examining her pic but beyond it, looking for something actually wrong. The next thing I did was send her a link to a few amazing websites. One was to a great blog called “The Large Labia Project” and the other to “The Labia Library”. These are wonderful sites created specifically to show women (and men) that labia and vulvas come in all different sizes and shapes and lengths and fatness and even colours. That just like every body bit that everybody has, they're all different and unique and normal.
One of the main reasons these are such important websites is precisely what my friend experienced and went through. There is so little information out there for women and girls about their vulvas, labia, and vaginas that we simply just don't know what they are supposed to look like. Most of the images we see in pornography are airbrushed and trimmed to look “neat” because Australian censorship laws dictate it to be so. The actual wording on the legislation about it is that female genitalia must be “healed to a single crease”. Yes. Healed. Because obviously an adult vagina is broken and disgusting.
You Show Me Yours & I'll Show You Mine
The thing is, women don't often see other vaginas etc. We don't see or examine our friend's genitals because we're not in the situation to do so. Unlike men at the urinal or in changing rooms, our toilets and showers at public spaces like gyms etc are all cubicled. We can't do a sneaky peek, or wave ours around like I've been told some guys do in gym locker rooms, and to top it all off we've usually always been told how dirty and icky lady genitals are, so it would actually seem odd and weird if we asked to see our friends'.
So yes, it's no wonder that so many young women are concerned that they are abnormal and why so many of them are opting for unnecessary labiaplasty surgery (the cutting and trimming of the labia so it is no longer visible outside of the vulva.) The rise in this surgery over the past fifteen years has been exponential and almost every single procedure that has been done is medically unnecessary.
Yes there have been cases where an extremely large labia has caused enough problems to warrant surgery. I have spoken to a few women who have had the surgery for medical reasons and every single one of them sited “pain and discomfort” as the reason they opted for it. One woman had had such a long labia that she couldn't sit in certain positions because it caused extreme pain, and the other women I spoke to were similar.
Now I'm all for people being able to do exactly what they want with their own bodies, if you really feel you would benefit from cosmetic surgery then I have no right to tell you it's wrong... But I do wish that women who were opting for this surgery had better education and around the topic and understood exactly what they were changing and why. If we had more prominent images of genitals in our sex education books and more real and natural genitalia in our pornography people would realise just how normal it is to not look like those airbrushed photographs and probably wouldn't even consider surgery. And this wish also extends to men. So many men get their sex education from pornography and in doing so are often given an unrealistic expectation of what women's bodies (and indeed sex itself) should look like. The guy who told my friend her labia was “too fat” was not only rude and should have kept his mouth shut (except to lick), he also probably hadn't seen that many real genitals in his life and wasn't even aware of what they should really look like. And that is sad too.
I am by no means anti porn, but I am absolutely pro education, and I don't believe you can safely have one without the other. Just like you know your burger isn't going to look like the picture on the wall at Maccas, you really need to understand that your genitals won't look like they do in a magazine, and that it's okay that they don't because just like the burger, it's still gonna taste damn good and give you a lot of pleasure!
What Do You Think?
I'm going to leave you with some quotes from people (both men and women)I asked about their preferences for labia, and just like the comments I received back from the penis size question, the answers are all as varied and as unique as our individual genitals are.
The Labia Library is a website that was developed by Women's Health Victoria to show women that, just like any other part of the body, labia come in all shapes and sizes. The website is a world-first, featuring a photo gallery that shows real, unaltered images of women’s genitals, addresses common concerns around issues like labia size and shape and explains that women's genitals are often photoshopped in magazines and pornography.