From the idea that they’re “more complicated” to the myth that they should always be odorless, we’re surrounded by misinformation about vulvas and vaginas. With that misinformation comes shame. The reality is that vulvas and vaginas aren’t “confusing” or “dirty” - they’re just body parts that we have a lot of misconceptions and hang-ups around.
Getting comfortable with and understanding our bodies is a key part of having satisfying, shame-free sex, and there’s a lot to unlearn when it comes to vulvas and vaginas. Let’s bust five more myths about what’s really going on ‘down there’.
1. Your vagina should smell like flowers
Vaginas are self-cleaning. Despite a number of companies ready to prey on your insecurities and offer you products to ‘freshen up’ your vagina, you don’t need any special, scented wipes or soaps. In fact, using soaps and shower gels inside your vagina itself can be really bad for your vaginal health and lead to a pH imbalance. To clean your vulva, you simply need to use an unscented soap to gently wash - harsh soaps and scrubs can cause irritation and infection. Douching, where you flush water up into the vagina, also isn’t a good idea. It can disrupt your vagina’s natural bacteria and also lead to infections.
You don’t need products to make your vagina smell differently either. Your vagina’s natural odor is unique, and only you can know if it’s ‘off’ - which can happen if you have an infection. Vaginas aren’t supposed to smell like flowers, they’re supposed to smell like vaginas!
2. Your first time having vaginal sex will hurt
The myth that your first time having penetrative sex will definitely hurt is worryingly normalized in our society. Virginity is a social construct: the hymen isn’t a perfect seal over the entrance to your vagina, in fact it’s a flexible membrane that has at least one hole in it. Being nervous about your sexual debut - including being nervous that it will hurt! - can cause your muscles to clench, which in turn might make penetration more uncomfortable. Pain or bleeding during penetration is not something that should be happening - at any time! Pain in the vagina or vulva is often a sign that you’re not aroused enough, or there’s not enough lubrication.
To help with discomfort during sex, make sure you spend enough time ‘warming up’ your body so you’re fully aroused before attempting penetration. Lube can also help: Momentum Hybrid Lubricant is a water- and silicone-based lube designed for long-lasting slipperiness. If your pain is persistent, you should talk to your doctor.
3. Everything should look symmetrical
If you’ve ever been anxious about how your vulva looks, you’re definitely not alone. Lots of people with vaginas carry anxieties about how their vulvas look into the sex they have. The worry that your vulva isn’t “normal” can definitely be a barrier to fully relaxing and enjoying yourself during partnered sex. Especially if you’re a straight cis woman, the only other vulvas you have seen might be in porn, where vulvas are all perfectly hairless and often digitally edited to look even more symmetrical. Don’t compare your vulva to these images: vulvas are not supposed to look symmetrical! Whatever your vulva looks like, it’s totally normal.
4. You should be able to come from vaginal penetration
We can blame Freud for the idea that vaginal orgasms - coming just from vaginal penetration without any clitoral stimulation - are ‘superior’ to clitoral orgasms. In reality, there’s no hierarchy to orgasms! Despite how orgsms are often portrayed in mainstream media - where they are mind-blowing and happen at the exact same time as your partner’s - there are lots of people with vaginas who can’t come from vaginal penetration. In fact, a 2017 study found that almost twice as many cis women can orgasm with clitoral stimulation during penetration than from penetrative sex alone. You’re not ‘broken’ if you can’t come from vaginal penetration!
5. Only women have vaginas
The gender binary is a myth! There are far more genders than just ‘man’ and ‘woman’, and people of all genders can have vaginas and vulvas. Gender is not directly correlated to our genitals, though the gender we are assigned at birth is based on our gender assigned at birth. (This is the gender that a doctor or midwife gives you when they look at your genitals when you’re a baby and go “it’s a boy!” or “it’s a girl!”.)
A cisgender or cis person is someone whose gender identity is the same as the gender they were assigned at birth. Trans or transgender is an umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the gender they were assigned at birth. Cis women, intersex people, and trans people of all genders can have vaginas.