The human body is equal parts complicated and fascinating — especially the vulva. The vulva isn't just home to the vagina, but the labias minora and majora, the urethra, and, of course, the clitoris — the only part of the body that exists for pleasure. While the penis may result in pleasure, it also serves a purpose: to procreate. A woman doesn't need an orgasm to get pregnant. In other words, those of us with a clitoris hit the pleasure jackpot.
While the vulva is home to all these great and interesting body parts, far too often it's conflated with the vagina, when the vagina is just a piece of the whole pie. The vagina is the canal where tampons go and babies exit, while the vulva is all of it put together. But even those who know the difference, sometimes have concerns about their vulva. Most notably, if it's "normal" or not.
“[Patients] ask about the texture, the size, the roughness the bumps and growths, the sensitivity, the sore areas, and why it doesn't feel or look ‘normal.’” Dr. Rebecca Levy-Gantt tells Bustle. “Unfortunately, this is almost always because they have some idea of what ‘normal’ is — from porn, from things they have read or seen online, or from what other people (mostly partners) tell them. Then, when I look, they definitely look within the wide range of ‘normals’ to me.”
But while Dr. Levy-Gantt will tell you that your vulva is normal, there are some facts about vulvas that doctors leave out, either because the patient doesn't ask or it just doesn't come up. Here are seven of those things.
1. You Can Orgasm From Rubbing Your Vulva
Although we're often taught that, when it comes to female pleasure, the clitoris with those 8,000 nerves is the main player, we need to remember there's an internal part of the clitoris too. Because of this, you don't always have to go straight to the glans of the clitoris to orgasm.
"Since the clitoral bulbs, the internal shaft and the legs of the clitoris are inside of the body, many of us can have clitoral orgasms from rubbing the entire vulva," Dr. Jess O’Reilly, host of the Drive Him/Her Wild With Pleasure Webinar Series, tells Bustle. "The internal erectile tissue swells during sexual response and many women find that rubbing on the outside leads to intense orgasms thanks to the underlying structure of the clitoris."
2. Your Vulva Should Be Moisturized Just Like The Rest Of Your Body
“The skin of the vulva is prone to dryness if not taken care of properly,” Dr. Sherry Ross, women’s health expert and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period., tells Bustle. “If you don’t moisturize your vulva, the skin will become dry, which can cause irritation, itching, burning and pain."
While there are many things that can lead to vulva dryness, including, but not limited to sanitary wipes, certain lubes, fragrant soaps, and even laundry detergent, the area, in general, is sensitive and definitely needs an extra dose of moisturizing love. Dr. Ross suggests taking warm baths with extra virgin coconut oil to help keep the skin soft and healthy.
3. Your Lips Can Change Color
"As you become aroused and your lips engorge with blood (your labia are also made up of erectile tissue), you might see some temporary swelling and darkening in the area," Dr. O'Reilly says. "The degree of visual color change varies from person to person and may depend on the skin tone or your lips in an unaroused state."
While you may not notice this color change when you're aroused unless you're staring at your vulva or you notice it in a partner with a vulva, there's a good chance you will notice the color changes that sometimes pop up throughout your life.
"Puberty and pregnancy, for example" Dr. O'Reilly says, "have been reported to result in changes to the color of your lips."
4. Your Vulva Can Get Acne
In fact, any part of your body can be prone to acne if it isn't taken care of and cleansed properly.
“A healthy vagina needs hygienic attention similar to the way we care for our face,” Dr. Ross says. “The vulva has sweat glands and hair follicles that are prone to dirt buildup, just like any other of the body with hair and sweat. Between urine, sweat, and being so close to the anus, cleaning the vulva regularly is critical to prevent dirty bacterial buildup which could lead to acne, pimples, rashes, and sores."
So pay attention to your vulva and keep it clean. Then, of course, moisturize.
5. What You Wear Affects Your Vulva Health
"The National Vulvodynia Association recommends that you wear cotton underwear, avoid pantyhose (try thigh-highs instead), remove wet bathing suits right away and use a dermatologically approved detergent for washing undergarments if you experience any irritation," Dr. O'Reilly says.
In addition, you might want to reconsider thongs, too. The way thongs move when you wear them can sometimes bring E. Coli from the back to the front and your vagina, which isn't a big fan of E. Coli, especially since it messes with the vagina's natural balance.
6. Your Lips Are Normal
"Each person’s labia are unique and what you see in porn may not be reflective of your own body," Dr. O'Reilly says. "Just as noses come in many shapes and sizes, so too to your labia."
So the next time you're watching porn, don't compare you vulva to what you see on the screen in front of you. Your labia is exactly how it's supposed to be.
7. You Can Experience Vulvar Pain
Although we often talk about vaginal pain or other types of internal pain, it really needs to be noted that vulva pain exists too and, if you're experiencing this, you need to see a specialist as soon as possible.
"Vulvodynia refers to chronic pain in the vulva without an identifiable cause and you might need to see a gynecologist, neurologist, pelvic floor therapist, and/or dermatologist to address the symptoms and their underlying cause," Dr. O'Reilly says. "The National Vulvodynia Association recommends that you use a water soluble lube like Astroglide during penetration."
No part of your body can be ignored and assumed it will just work perfectly on its own, that's why it's important to be aware of what's "normal" for your vulva and when something that isn't "your normal" pops up, you get to the doctor.