Especially in regards to reproductive health, there is
a lot of misinformation out there. As a result, there can be many misconceptions and myths about the vulva floating around, which we might learn anywhere from our school health class to magazines. Thus, my friends, it's time to work together to debunk all the falsities and spread the good and true word where our reproductive organs are concerned.
First off, it's important to remember that there is no "right way" to have a vulva. "Vulvas come in as many variations as noses or ears," doctor of physical therapy,
Sandy Hilton, who specializes in pelvic health, tells Bustle. " There is no normal."
Your vulva can change, too, says Hilton. And that's OK. Hilton says that genetics and connective tissue mobility, pregnancy, and some dermatologic conditions like lichens sclerosis might make changes in your vulva. And as estrogen decreases in menopause, so can the size of your vulva and clitoris. Masturbation does not, however change the size, which some people think. But again, Hilton simply reiterates that your vulva is good as it is!
And getting to know and love your vulva, and knowing what is normal and healthy for you, is an important and personal experience. Below, let the pros dispel some of the common beliefs about our vulva that are total baloney.
The Vulva And The Vagina Are The Same Thing
One common misconception is that the
vulva and the vagina are one in the same, Dr. Wendasha Jenkins Hall, an independent sexual health researcher and educator, tells Bustle.
"Oftentimes people use vagina as a catch-all to refer to genitalia," Dr. Jenkins Hall says. "However, one cannot actually see the vagina, without the help of a speculum and a flashlight, because it is inside the body."
When people talk about the parts you can see outside the body, they are actually talking about the vulva — which consists of the labia majora, the outer lips, the labia minora which are the inner lips, the clitoris, the urethral opening, and the vaginal opening.
The vagina is the internal canal the connects the vulva to the cervix and uterus.
That Your Vulva Is Inherently Dirty or Smelly
good to wash the exterior and interior of the vulva with gentle non-scented soap. But vulvas do not need any kind of special cleaning products to rid them of a smell, Erica L. Smith, M.Ed. Sexuality Educator, tells Bustle.
"Our bodies have a natural odor and harsh cleansers to remove it may do more harm than good, and can cause irritation," she says.
There Is A Way It Should Look
The idea that your vulva should look a certain way, with everything "tucked in" is a total myth. As Smith says, in part that is based on what we commonly see in porn.
vulvas are as different as fingerprints," Smith says.
The idea that only women have vulvas? Not true! This one is definitely a fact to remember.
"Anyone assigned female at birth has a vulva," says Smith, "but that
doesn't mean you identify as a woman."
The Size Of The Vulva Doesn't Indicate The Size Of The Vagina
This myth is another one that is kinda based on how little so many of us learn about anatomy.
"Considering the fact that the vulva and the vagina are separate entities, the vulva's appearance doesn't necessarily indicate anything about the vagina," Adina Mahalli MSW, a women's health consultant for
Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. "For example, a larger labia doesn't mean a larger vaginal canal."
The Vulva Isn't Part Of Arousal
Sexologist Dr. Carol Queen of
Good Vibrations tells Bustle that we often think of the vagina and the clitoris as the main important sites of sexual play and arousal. But the entire vulva is sensitive to touch, and often vibration.
"The whole area
plays a role in pleasurable sex," she says.
All STIs Have Obvious Vulvar Symptoms
"Not all STIs produce symptoms, and of symptomatic infections, many symptoms often pass as ingrown hairs or are labeled as yeast or UTI infections,"
Vulva owners don't always know if they've contracted a sexually transmitted infection.
Tight Clothes Will Cause Vulvar Pain
There is a rumor going around, Dr. Hilton says, that tight clothes will cause vulvar pain. "Plenty of women wear tight clothes and have no pain," says Hilton.
But ultimately you know your body and what feels good for you. So listen to that most of all!
Cold Weather Is Bad For The Vulva
"There is no winter/summer vulva," says Dr. Hilton. But some people think that the cold weather isn't good for your genitals, she says, and that's just not true. Trust, y'all, your privates are equipped for every season. You don't need to get your vulva a sweater, or anything.
Pubic Hair Should Be Removed
"Pubic hair, which falls into the category of sexual hair, like all things of the incredible body, has a purpose," OB/GYN
Felice Gersh, M.D, founder and director of the Integrative Medical Group of Irvine, tells Bustle.
"The hairs protect the vagina by maintaining a healthy and appropriate vulvar skin microbiome."
Trim hair if you wish, she says, and remove hair extending into thighs if you want, but it's really best to leave the hair of the actual vulva. But again, it's your vulva, your choice.
Vulvar Skin To Skin Contact Can't Result In STIs
Contrary to proper belief, says Dr. Gersh, condoms don't prevent all STIs. Skin to skin contact of the vulva to the skin of another's pubic area can allow transmission of genital herpes and of human papilloma virus, and potentially of syphilis and other diseases.
"Sexual contact other than intercourse can result in disease transmission," says Dr. Gersh. "Oral sex can transmit oral herpes simplex one to either gender. In fact, [vulvar] acquisition of herpes is from oral sex more often than from intercourse."
She says that if blood is involved in the saliva, other STIs can theoretically be transmitted as well. If semen is involved and the person has any open cuts or sores on the vulva, HIV and hepatitis infections are theoretically transmissible, too.
"It's best for all parties to be tested for all STIs prior to initiating any sexual activity," says Dr. Gersh.
There you have it, a few myths about the wondrous vulva debunked. Spread the good word of vulvar health, my friends.