When you get out of the shower and look in the mirror, take a look “down there.” Does everything look normal? I mean, what is normal anyway?
The vulva is the area of female sex organs that lies outside of the vagina. These organs include folds of sensitive tissue called the labia (labia means “lips”). The labia has two parts. The outermost folds are called the labia majora. A second set of folds, called the labia minora, is enclosed within the labia majora. The vulva also contains the mounded area made by the pubic bone, a small, round organ (clitoris), and the openings of the vagina and urinary canal (urethra).
Many women experience uncomfortable, vaginal infections at one time or another. The vulva can also become irritated. Steps can be taken to relieve and prevent vulvar discomfort and vaginal infections.
Not all vaginal infections are alike and home treatments can worsen some types.
Besides pregnancy and childbirth, certain things can affect the vagina and vulva.
- Unprotected Sex. Unprotected sex can result in a sexually transmitted infection. Forceful sex or an injury to the pelvic area can result in vaginal trauma.
- Certain health conditions or treatments. Conditions, such as endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease, might cause painful sex. Scarring from pelvic surgery and certain cancer treatments also can cause painful sex. Plus, using some antibiotics can increase the risk of vaginal yeast infections.
- Birth control and feminine-hygiene products. Barrier contraceptives, such as condoms, diaphragms and associated spermicide, can cause vaginal irritation. The use of sprays, deodorants or douches, especially those that are “scented,” may cause irritation or make existing irritation worse.
- Psychological issues. Anxiety and depression can contribute to a low level of arousal and result in discomfort or pain during sex. Trauma — such as sexual abuse or an initial painful sexual experience — also can lead to pain associated with sex.
- Hormone levels. Changes in your hormone levels can affect your vagina. For example, estrogen production declines after menopause and during breast-feeding. Loss of estrogen can cause the vaginal lining to thin (vaginal atrophy) — making sex painful.
When it comes to what your vulva looks like, there’s really no such thing as a “normal” looking vulva. Vaginas and vulvas are as unique as faces — they all have the same parts, but everyone’s looks a little different. Labia (the inner and outer lips) come in all shapes and sizes. People can have dangly labia, puffy labia, or barely-there labia. Some people’s inner labia stick out past their outer labia, and others have inner labia that are more tucked in.
Some people have wide vaginal openings, others have smaller ones. The clitoris can be big or small, and it may stick out or be tucked away under the clitoral hood. It’s totally common for your vulva to be asymmetrical (when one side looks different than the other). And vulvas come in a whole rainbow of skin colors, from dark brown to purple to tan to light pink, with many different textures, types, and amounts of pubic hair.
Most people with vulvas are born with thin tissue that stretches over part of the opening of their vagina — this is called the hymen. Some people have hymens that cover most of their vaginal opening, and others barely have a hymen at all. As time goes by, normal, everyday activities can cause your hymen to stretch and open up — like riding a bike, doing sports, or putting something in your vagina (like a tampon or finger). Having penis-in-vagina sex can also stretch your hymen. Read more about hymens.
One thing to be concerned about is vaginal discharge coming from that area. Some vaginal discharge may be alright, but when it smells funny, looks weird or is happening more often than usual that you may get a bit concerned. Next time this happens (after reading this, of course), you will be able to decode your discharge before running to the store to buy a slew of creams, sprays and suppositories to “fix” it.
Clear/White and Wet
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