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Dr Suzy Elneil, consultant in urogynaecology and uro-neurology at University College Hospital, London, has worked with a lot of women. “Like people, vaginas are completely individual,” she says. “No two are the same.”
Don’t compare yourself to anyone else – what someone else’s vagina looks like is normal for them, but won’t necessarily be what’s normal for you. Yours is unique.
Some of a woman’s sexual organs are inside the body (such as the womb, ovaries and vagina) and some are outside. The external organs are known as the vulva. This includes the opening of the vagina, the inner and outer lips (labia) and the clitoris, which is located at the top of the vagina.
The vagina is a tube about 8cm (3in) long, which leads from the cervix (the neck of the womb) down to the vulva, where it opens between the legs. The vagina is very elastic so it can easily stretch around a man’s penis or around a baby during labour.
“Vaginas vary in shape, size and colour,” says Dr Elneil. “Some are small and ovoid (egg-shaped), some are large and cylindrical, and the colours can vary from light pink to a deep brownish red-pink. But all are normal and very individual. The important thing is that the vagina functions normally.”
Pelvic floor exercises can help keep your vagina in shape. “These are good for maintaining good pelvic floor tone and can improve sexual function,” she adds. “Normal exercise also helps maintain good vaginal function, as walking and running helps the pelvic floor tone up and helps ensure good general health.” Find out about pelvic floor exercises, including how to do them.
Some women worry about the size of their labia (the lips outside the vagina), but there isn’t usually any cause for concern. Labia vary from woman to woman, so don’t judge yours by anyone else’s standards.
“Large labia are only a medical problem if it affects the woman’s working, social or sporting life,” explains Dr Elneil. “Size is really not a problem per se, for most women. However, for cyclists, the length and size of the labia can affect their ability to sit comfortably on the seat, but this is a rare problem.”
If you're worried, talk to your GP.
It’s normal to have vaginal discharge (mucus or secretions), and the texture and amount of discharge can vary throughout your menstrual cycle. If your normal vaginal discharge becomes different, for example if it changes colour or smells, this could be a sign of infection so see your GP.
A healthy vagina shouldn’t be itchy. Itching can be a sign of thrush or other infection, but it can also have other causes.
“Itching can be part of a generalised skin problem, such as eczema,” Dr Elneil says. “Or it can be a sign of benign or malignant (cancerous) changes to the skin, such as lichen sclerosus or vaginal intra-epithelial neoplasia. All need treatment, so if the itch persists for more than a month, get it checked by a GP or gynaecologist. They need to see the vulva, perineum (between the vagina and anus) and the vagina directly.”
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