What Do "Normal" Labia Look Like? 3 Rare Situations When You Should Get Yours Checked Out By A Doctor

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Due to beauty standards learned from mainstream porn, many people with vulvas have gotten the idea that their inner labia should look one particular way: with small, symmetrical lips. But that's not how everybody's genitals look, and that's perfectly OK. The great majority of people who think there's something wrong with their labia are actually perfectly normal. But is there any situation where your labia might actually be cause for concern?

"Like an ear, a nose, or a myriad other body parts, women’s genitalia comes in a variety of shapes and sizes," Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) Debra Ames tells Bustle. "Unfortunately, due to the proliferation of marketing, celebrity endorsements, and societal pressures, it’s become another area of the body for women to feel insecure about."

There are many, many normal variations of labia, Good Vibrations staff sexologist Carol Queen, PhD tells Bustle. Queen recommends the book Femalia by Joani Blank if you want to know what the different kinds look like. "The type of labia that is most commonly altered via labiaplasty is likely to be the type where the inner labia protrude visibly between the outer ones," says Queen. "Many people believe this is abnormal, though in fact it is a pretty common variation."

Labiaplasty is on the rise, but many people are getting it without realizing how it can affect their sex lives. The labia are actually made of the same tissue as the clitoris and have many nerve endings, so labiaplasty can drastically decrease sexual sensitivity.

That said, there are a few rare situations when there might actually be something up with your labia that you need to get checked out. Here they are, according to experts.

1They're Causing You Discomfort

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There are some rare cases where really large labia can rub against each other or other parts of the vulva to cause discomfort. Tracy Kiss, a model and fitness blogger, spread awareness of this issue when she made a necklace out of the labia she got removed to reduce her pain. "I have always found wearing underwear, jeans, cycling, and sitting on hard surfaces very uncomfortable on a daily basis," she told Teen Vogue. Labia like hers aren't common, but they exist.

Ames advises seeing a doctor if your labia cause you pain during sex or other physical activities. "There can be some anatomical issues or conditions that can be corrected if they cause a problem," she says.

Of course, that's not to say that larger-than-average labia are a problem in of themselves. They're only a problem if they're causing you physical discomfort (and even then, it's your choice if you want to do something about it). And if you're experiencing pain or a lack of pleasure during sex, you shouldn't automatically blame your labia, says Queen. First, make sure you're sufficiently aroused and lubricated and that you're getting the right kind of stimulation. You might find, for example, that your labia only get pulled up into the vagina during intercourse if you're not using enough lube.

2The Skin Looks Different From Usual

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"It’s normal to get the occasional pimple or even a bug bite, but women who find a lump or growth should get it checked," says Ames. "Lumps and bumps could be signs of sexually transmitted disease, cancer, or simply an ingrown hair or zit."

Sores and lesions would also provide impetus to see a doctor, says Queen. However, she says, "it's always best to trust those doctors with your genitals who have some experience and specialized training in sexual issues, if you can find such a doc."

3They're Fusing Together

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This is not common, but there's a condition called lichen sclerosus where the labia fuse together, pelvic floor physical therapist Rachel Gelman, DPT, PT tells Bustle. This may lead the vaginal opening to narrow, and the skin might look white and shiny. If you notice anything like this, Gelman recommends going to a vulvar dermatologist.

There are some features of labia that might indicate a physical health issue. But Queen discourages getting labiaplasty for appearance-related reasons. "I would always recommend that people stop comparing themselves to others and pay closer attention to the lovely sensations the labia can evoke," says Queen. "Oral sex is a good way to explore this, or solo touching. Use lubricant, which can make the sensations more pleasurable."