When it comes to vaginas, there are a lot of common misconceptions out there! So today we’re going to clear up a few myths about your muff in order to help you take care of ‘down there!’ Before we get into the nitty-gritty of it all, let’s get introductions out of the way…
A rose by any other name…
What do you call yours? Vajayjay (à la Oprah)? Hoo-ha? Pussy? Fanny (if you’re British)? Snippa (if you’re Swedish)? Vagina? Bertha? Whatever name or term you prefer to use when referring to certain parts of your body is up to you. But just for clarity sake, here’s a quick anatomy lesson:
When people say ‘vagina,’ they are usually referring to more than just the muscular canal that connects the uterus to the outside of a person’s body. Typically, they are using ‘vagina’ as a catch-all phrase for women’s genitalia –including the vulva. But as this clever comic points out –your vagina is inside your body and your vulva is outside. Both your vagina and vulva are great –but they are not one and the same. The vulva consists of all of your female genitalia: the mons pubis, the labia majora and labia minora, the clitoral hood, the clitoris, the urethral opening, and the vulvar vestibule (the opening to the vagina).
For a simple yet educational depiction and description of the vulva –check out The Labia Library’s “Anatomy” section
Myth #1: I smell and taste bad down there!
Have you ever worries about what sort of scent you’re emitting down there? Or been told (or worried) that your vulva smelled like fish, vinegar, sweat, or salt? Have you ever been reluctant to let your partner perform oral sex because you worried they would think you smelled (or tasted) weird? Read an article entitled “10 easy steps to make your vagina smell and taste delicious!!” lately?
If you answered yes to any of these, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, it is quite common for women to have concerns about how their vulva smells or tastes. Do not fear fellow females, for I have good news to share: Your vulva is normal. Let me say that one more time: your vulva is normal. It smells and tastes like a vulva –more specifically, it smells and tastes like your vulva! How it smells (or tastes to your partner(s)) may change slightly depending on your diet, hormones, genetics, where you are in your menstrual cycle, and even the type of soap or the laundry detergent you use. Variations in scent and smell are NORMAL.
As Jenny Block so eloquently wrote in her article Let’s clear up some lies you’ve been told about vaginas, “Here’s the thing: Pussies are not supposed to taste like cupcakes and smell like roses. They are supposed to taste and smell like pussies: sweet, pungent, spicy, delicious, and maybe a little bit like iron before, during, and after your period. But unless there is an underlying health issue, there is nothing wrong with a pussy that tastes, smells, and looks like, well, a pussy…”
Side note: some infections can change your normal scent –so if you notice a drastic, unpleasant change to your natural odor, go see your doctor.
Myth #2: Okay, so I taste and smell normal. But my vulva definitely looks weird…
In general, it seems that these concerns stem from a lack of knowledge about the great diversity in ‘normal’ female genitalia.1 This is not surprising, given that most of our knowledge about female genitalia comes from censored images in the media (see our ‘Looking beyond the “Barbie Doll” aesthetic’ post from last week); even most medical textbooks fail to show vulvar diversity.
When it comes to vaginas and vulvas, normal is not a state to achieve –instead, it exists within a large range! There is so much diversity and e-vulva-lution over the lifespan that it is impossible to define what a ‘typical’ vulva should look like. Not that science hasn’t tried…and failed! A study in 2006 aimed to measure and characterize vulvar anatomy, their findings? “No one description characterized the shape of the human [vulvar].”2
Myth #3: My vulva is a weird colour!
Should you be worried about the colour of your vulva?
- The short answer: no.
- The long answer: your vulva will change colour as you get older. And guess what: no single colour is more normal than another (except maybe green!). There is a huge spectrum of colours that your genitals can be. Same thing goes with size, shape, and symmetry. No one vulva is the same.
Myth #4: I need to get rid of my pubic hair!
Do you shave it, wax it, trim it, or keep it au naturel?
The removal of pubic hair appears to have become the new norm; it is viewed as part of regular ‘maintenance’ needed to have a sexually desirable –or even just normal –body. In a study seeking to understand this trend, researchers asked a series of questions about pubic hair and why people remove it.3 They found that there were 5 key themes to the removal of pubic hair, including: physical attractiveness, sexual impacts, and cleanliness. In addition, it was viewed as more of an issue for women than men.
So -should you shave it, wax it, trim it, or keep it au naturel?
That’s up to you and you only. Not society, not the media, and especially not your partner(s). It’s your body and your choice. You like to keep a neatly trimmed bush? Go for it. You prefer a bikini wax? Rock on. You are low maintenance or just full-out prefer to keep it au natural? Good for you! Whatever floats your boat…or beaver in this case. Just be aware that shaving or waxing can irritate the vulvar area –so if you’re feeling a bit too sensitive down there, you may want to consider switching up your grooming strategy (e.g., trim your bush instead)!
Myth #4: But it’s dirty down there right? I definitely need to clean it…
Your vagina is self-cleansing –let me say that again- your vagina is self-cleansing. You do not need to douche, scrub, steam, or use a fancy body wash. In fact, if you do these things, you are likely to do more harm than good. Vaginal douching, for example, disrupts the normal balance of bacterial in the vagina and puts women at risk for developing bacterial vaginosis.4 So don’t do it. Just don’t.
As for your vulva? Regular showers are all that’s necessary. That’s right –a simple combination of water and a gentle soap is all that’s necessary here! No need to scrub or use fancy soaps.
So, let’s all practice a little more self-love….and take care of down there!
1 Yurteri-Kaplan, L. A., Antosh, D. D., Sokol, A. I., Park, A. J., Gutman, R. E., Kinsberg, S. A., & Iglesia, C. B. (2012). Interest in cosmetic vulvar surgery and perception of vulvar appearance. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 207, 428.e421-427.
2 Barnhart, K. T., Izquierdo, A., Pretorious, E. S., Shera, D. M., Shabbout, M., & Shaunik, A. (2006). Baseline dimensions of the human vagina. Human Reproduction, 21, 1618-1622. doi: 10.1093/humrep/del022
3 Braun, V., Tricklebank, G., & Clarke, V. (2013). It shouldn’t stick out from your bikini at the beach: Meaning, gender, and the hairy/hariless body. Psychology of Women Quaterly, 37(4), 478-493. doi: 10.1177/0361684313492950
4 Cottrell, B. H. (2003). Vaginal Douching. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, 32: 12–18. doi: 10.1177/0884217502239796