When the researchers behind a new study decided to determine what constitutes a “normal” vulva, they recruited more than 600 female study subjects who each consented to having their external vaginal area measured—including the clitoris and inner and outer labia.
What did the study conclude? That there’s so much variety when it comes to what a healthy vulva looks like, a so-called normal one doesn’t actually exist.
The study, published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, examined 657 white women between the ages of 15 and 84. All of the women were in good health, and none were pregnant. For each woman, the researchers measured the distance between the clitoris and labia. They also recorded labia length, among other measurements.
Ultimately, they found such wide variation among the vulvas, they concluded that size had no connection to vulvar diseases. Vulvas can be different sizes and all can be considered totally healthy.
Alyssa Dweck, MD, author of The Complete A to Z for Your V and assistant clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, confirmed this in a previous article in Health.
“As physicians, we don’t consider labia to be abnormal unless they’re causing trouble with chafing or infection, or if you’re having difficulty inserting a tampon or with intercourse,” said Dr. Dweck.
And while the study didn’t go into it, the color of a woman’s vulva doesn’t indicate anything significant either. “Pigment changes happen in the vulva frequently, particularly hormonal changes related to pregnancy and childbirth,” Dr. Dweck notes. (But be sure to check in with your doctor if you see unusual spots or discoloration.)
In the study, the researchers brought up the growing popularity of labiaplasty, a cosmetic procedure in which a surgeon trims the inner lips of the vulva. According to statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), the number of labiaplasty procedures spiked 39% in 2016, with more than 12,000 surgeries.
In an era of so-called “designer” vaginas and elective surgical procedures like labiaplasty, this new study on what constitutes a normal vulva couldn’t have come at a better time.
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