If you’ve ever wondered (aloud or silently) if you have a normal vagina or vulva, you’re not alone. Gynecologists field questions from patients who wonder: Is my vagina normal? all the time, Sherry A. Ross, M.D., a women's health expert and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health. Period., tells SELF. “What we always say is: Just like no two snowflakes are alike, no two vaginas are the same,” she says. “Everyone is different.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t bring your concerns or insecurities to your healthcare provider. That’s precisely what your provider is there for: to talk through your questions, address any unfounded insecurities, and to come up with a treatment plan if necessary.
Still, it can be helpful to know what’s normal vagina behavior so that you don’t get freaked out every time you notice something that seems weird. So, we put together a list of totally normal things you might notice about your vagina and your vulva. Also, let’s be clear: Your vagina refers to your internal anatomy (like your vaginal canal), while your vulva refers to the external parts that you can actually see.
1. Labia that come in all shapes and sizes
When it comes to “Is my vagina weird?” or “what does a normal vagina look like?” questions, many people are actually wondering about their vulva, and worries about labia minora are fairly common. The labia minora are the inner lips of the vulva—not to be confused with the labia majora, the outermost folds of skin where you typically have pubic hair.
Both labia minora and labia majora can come in all different sizes, which is important to keep in mind if you’ve ever compared yours to a partner’s or what you saw in porn and thought, OMG that is not what mine look like.
Here’s the deal: Labia minora are typically between one and two inches long, Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale Medical School, tells SELF. Some people have labia minora smaller or bigger than that, which is also normal. Some people’s labia minora extend past their labia majora and some don’t. It’s all good.
The only sign that your labia may actually be “too long” is if they cause swelling and pain when biking, swimming, running, or otherwise being active, or even get dragged into the vagina during sex. “When the labia become disruptive and painful, that’s when we talk about surgically fixing them,” Dr. Ross says.
Labiaplasty, the surgery to shorten the length of the labia, is not often recommended for medical reasons alone, which you can read more about here. That said, if your labia are causing you extreme discomfort, talk to your doctor about your concerns.
2. Labia that are a different color than the rest of your vulva
Your vulva doesn’t have to be the same color as the rest of your body—and certain parts of your vulva, like your labia minora and majora, might even be different colors than other parts. Your vulva also changes color throughout your life, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), it can range from pink to brown or even black, and different hues may vary across ethnicities. When it comes to labia specifically, It’s all normal and fine, Dr. Minkin says, but she does add that sudden changes like redness or inflammation can point to some sort of irritation or infection, in which case you should see your doctor.
3. A good amount of vaginal discharge that changes throughout the month
“It’s good to have a little moisture in the vagina,” Dr. Minkin says. Discharge helps keep your vagina clean, plus it can be part of the natural lubrication that makes sex feel better than it would otherwise.
Throughout the month, your discharge might change from a clear egg-white consistency to a slightly thicker output, Dr. Ross explains. This is based on a variety of factors, like where you are in your cycle, your birth control, and sexual activity.
Chances are your discharge is nothing to worry about unless it takes on a form you’ve never experienced before. Discharge that suddenly seems cottage cheese-like can point to a yeast infection, while discharge that turns grey, green, or comes with a strange odor can hint at something like bacterial vaginosis or an STI like chlamydia.
These signs are especially worth noting when accompanied by irritation, itching, or burning, Dr. Minkin says. If you’re experiencing any of that, get to a doctor, stat.
4. The occasional lump or bump on your vagina or vulva
Don’t automatically freak out if you get a bump down below. Various glands, like sweat glands and Bartholin's glands, are located around your vagina, and sometimes they can get blocked, causing cysts that may or may not be painful. There are also other benign causes like razor burn, which can appear on the labia majora if you shave there, and ingrown hairs, which can crop up in the folds between your legs and vaginal area and on the mound of skin above the clitoris, known as the mons pubis.
“They come and they go, and it’s not unusual,” Dr. Ross says. “The vagina is so similar to the face in that you can get ‘acne,’ but it tends to go away and is nothing to worry about.” Of course, some genital bumps are a sign of other common conditions that need treatment like herpes or HPV—here’s more information on how to spot the difference. If the bumps hurt, appear in clusters, blister, or are worrying you for any other reason, you should see your doctor.
5. A distinct odor
Contrary to what you see on commercials, vaginas are supposed to smell like vaginas, not like you’re traipsing through an English garden. Your personal scent is individual, Dr. Minkin says, but if you notice a change from your normal scent that’s reminiscent of anything rotting, fishy, or otherwise foul (all potential signs of something like bacterial vaginosis or an STI, you should check in with your provider.
Dr. Minkin and Dr. Ross both recommend against douching or using products designed to make your vagina smell different—they can be irritating and throw off the pH of your vagina, potentially leading to infection (here’s how to actually clean your vulva, in case you’re wondering). If you think something’s up down there, it’s totally fine to chat with your doctor for advice.
6. Passing big clots of blood on your period
As it turns out, seeing clots in your period blood is completely normal. These clots basically happen when blood is coming out more quickly than your body’s anticoagulants, or anti-clotting substances, can keep up with. This is more likely to happen when your period is heavy, Dr. Minkin explains.
While clotting during your period is normal, dealing with a period so heavy that you’re soaking through a pad or tampon (or more) each hour is cause for concern. “I would say that’s excessive bleeding,” Dr. Minkin says, adding that if this is your experience, it’s definitely time to seek medical attention. You could have a condition called menorrhagia, which affects one in five women in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and is typically a symptom of some other condition like, growths, pregnancy complications, or hormone-related problems.
7. Not getting as wet as you’d like during sex
Thanks to a series of incredibly cool biological mechanisms, your vagina will typically make its own natural lubrication when you’re turned on. But sometimes you need a little help, whether it’s because you’re not as lubricated as you’d like, because you’re about to have a quickie and really do not have the time for your vagina to get with the program, because your vagina is undergoing age-related changes that can induce dryness, or because you just like really slippery sex. In any case, go for the lube without shame, Dr. Minkin says.
Keep in mind that if you’re using condoms during sex, oil-based lubricants degrade latex, so you’ll want to opt for water- or silicone-based lube instead. And, if you have a sensitive vagina, you might want to check the ingredients in your lube in the interest of keeping your privates as happy as possible.
8. Changes in your pubic hair
Just like the hair on your head, pubic hair changes as you get older. It’s not unusual for your pubic hair to turn grey or change in texture, Dr. Minkin says. And, though it might be jarring, you might lose some pubic hair as well. It’s unclear exactly what causes pubic hair loss, but Dr. Minkin suspects that its changes in estrogen. “When we go through menopause, we lose hormones asymmetrically,” Dr. Minkin explains. “We lose our estrogen first but our ovaries are still making a moderate amount of testosterone.” This could be, in part, why we end up experiencing hair loss, she says.
If you’re concerned that your hair is suddenly growing in different patterns or that your pubic hair loss isn’t tied to menopause (or grooming), it’s totally fine to speak to your doctor. There are some conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder, or thyroid conditions like hypothyroidism that might require treatment. “If I see someone who does have significant hair loss that I’m concerned about, I will get a thyroid test on them to rule out hypothyroidism,” Dr. Minkin says.
9. Brown period blood
If you’ve ever noticed a little bit of brown discharge before your period or right after, you might be wondering if something’s wrong. “I do get that question regularly,” Dr. Minkin says. “It’s related to the blood having been sitting there, and it gets a little more oxidized.” Oxidation is a chemical process where your blood meets, well, oxygen and changes the color a bit. The blood that’s being discharged at the beginning or end of your cycle isn’t as heavy as your normal flow, and has been sitting in your vaginal canal a bit longer—it’s simply had more exposure to oxygen. “It’s usually nothing to be worried about,” Dr. Minkin adds.
Ah, vaginal flatulence, one of the many joys of sex (or sometimes, exercise). While farting involves intestinal gas escaping your body, queefing is simply air escaping your vagina, and “it’s totally normal,” says Dr. Ross. “It often happens after intercourse or even after fingers or a dildo are inserted into the vagina. It can also happen after exercise.” So while it might be slightly embarrassing, medically speaking it’s nothing to worry about.
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Originally Appeared on Self