Illustration by the amazingly talented Amie Wee from heyweeirdo
I guess you could say that my vulva and I were on pretty good terms until I eyeballed my first porn magazine.
I was a teenager, 15 or so, and I remember secretly perusing a stash of porn mags I’d found in Dad’s shed. I remember being mesmerised by those shiny, sexy pages bursting with perfectly-proportioned playmates, with breasts that defied gravity and bodies that boasted these suspiciously slick crotches that didn’t look anything like my own. Suddenly, I felt self-conscious about my own bits. Did the puff of pubic hair make my box too boisterous? Did having a lopsided lip make my fanny freakish? Did my cunt have a bit too much character? Or did I just possess a pussy with personality? And ultimately, who decided there was a beauty standard when it came to vulvas?
Ironically, it took working as a writer and designer for the very same men’s magazines that made me question my own vulva, as well as being exposed to vulvas 9-5 for a decade, to realise the diversity when it comes to vulvas, as well as celebrate my own somewhat wonky junk. I also learned that you definitely shouldn’t believe everything you read (in a porn magazine at least).
So if you’ve ever felt-conscious about your crevice canyon, wondered if your bits looked normal, compared your vulva to anyone else’s, or you’re an appreciator of other people’s vulvas, this is for you.
That’s not your vagina
First up, let’s define the vulva, as a lot of people use the word ‘vagina’ when they’re actually referring to this majestic piece of anatomy. While the vagina refers to the internal canal that connects the vulva to the cervix, vulva is the correct term for all of the external parts: the pubic mound, the labia major and minora, the star of the show – the clitoris and clitoral hood, vaginal opening and urethra (the hole you pee out of).
There’s no such thing as a normal vulva or vagina
Like vaginas, there is no such thing as a normal-looking vulva. Vulvas are as unique as your fingerprint and can vary in size, shape, colour, texture and taste. Some are hairy, some are wrinkly, some are elastic tight and some have a little slack to them. Labia can be short or long, subtle, puffy or meaty, barely visibly or dramatically dangly, and like it’s pretty normal to have one boob that’s bigger than the other, one side of the labia can be longer than the other. Some vulvas have asymmetrical lips, prominent inner or outer lips, visible inner lips, open lips, or small closed lips that hide the labia and give the ‘clamshell’ appearance. And labia can be pink, purple, red, brown or a combination of colours.
Don’t just take my word for it – research from a Swiss study has shown that there is no marker for “normal” female genitalia, due to the huge number of variations that exist.
The study examined the vulvas of 650 women between the ages of 15 and 84 over a period of two years, with researchers finding the general appearance of all vulvas varied drastically between participants. For anyone who has ever questioned the size or length of their labia, it might help to know that the study showed that while the average length of the inner labia was 43 millimetres, sizes ranged between five millimetres and 100 millimetres in length. Likewise for the outer labia, which had an average length of 80 millimetres, while the smallest was 12 millimetres and the largest was 180 millimetres. Normal vulva diversity now!
The rise of the “designer vagina”
The trend of hair removal in favour of a smoother surface in the ‘90s put a lot of unnecessary pressure on vulvas.
Suddenly, vulvas were in porn’s spotlight. With the camera now being able to get an unobstructed close-up of the hair-free goods, a lot more scrutiny was put on what’s behind the bush. A lot of people felt the pressure to own a porn-worthy vulva, which led to a rise in labiaplasty, with women going under the knife to achieve a “designer vagina”.
For the uninitiated, labiaplasty is a cosmetic gynaecologic surgery to reduce the size or alter the shape of the labia. It typically involves trimming or amputating labial tissue to give the vulva more of a clamshell aesthetic. The surgery can also include vaginal tightening, restoring vaginal tissue, clitoral hood reduction, laser vaginal bleaching and g-spot fillers.
Some medical professionals have even stated that labiaplasty is the world's fastest growing cosmetic surgery, with the number of labiaplasty surgeries in 2016 up by 45%.
Beyond cosmetic reasons, labiaplasty can also be accessed by women whose labia causes pain or discomfort during sex or exercise, or for childbirth reasons.
The phenomenon of digital labiaplasty
Ironically, working for porn magazines has changed my relationship with my body (and vulva) for the better, because I’ve seen the effects of retouching.
Over the years I’ve seen pimples and cellulite disappear, breasts change shape, nipples change colour, legs become longer, teeth whiten, eyes brighten and skin became flawless with a few clicks. I’ve seen ingrown hairs be zapped away, boob job scars vanish and facial structure change. And alarmingly, I’ve seen many labias lightened and tightened - getting a hefty digital snip and tuck to comply with Australia’s ridiculous censorship rules.
At one place I worked, a retoucher once even showed me their “bumholes and vulvas” folder on their desktop – a collection of photos of genitals they would whip out to digitally manipulate over a vulva that the censorship office might deem as ‘too hardcore’ – aka. Having too much flap.
I’ve even heard models question their own need for labiaplasty after seeing their bits retouched in print.
So for love of vulvas, stop comparing yourself to images that have been retouched within an inch of vag-reality, because sometimes not even the model looks like the model the magazine.
Watch more porn
So what’s the answer to loving your vulva and having vulva confidence?
Simple. Watch more porn.
Hear me out - porn gets a pretty bad rap when it comes to being responsible for setting the standard when it comes to labiaplasty standards, however in my experience as someone who spent 5 years editing porn for a living, and another 5 surrounded by it – you won’t see a more diverse buffet of vulvas than you will in porn. And that’s the way it should be.
Fuck vulva beauty standards! Viva la vulva!