5 myths to unlearn about vulvas and vaginas
Many people with vaginas carry around shame and misinformation about what’s ‘down there’. From the language we use to talk about our genitals to our insecurities about how they look, there’s a lot for us to unlearn to help us get more comfortable with our bodies and understand them better. Let’s bust five myths about vulvas and vaginas:
1. It’s all called the vagina
It’s common to use ‘vagina’ to talk about the whole genital area, but the vagina is only one part! The vagina is a muscular canal that connects the uterus and cervix to the outside of the body, allowing for menstruation and penetration. The external part of the genitalia is called the vulva, and is made up of the labia, the vaginal opening, the clitoris and the urethra. The outer folds of skin are called the labia majora and the inner folds are the labia minora. The clitoris is a highly sensitive, erectile organ at the top of the vulva, and urethra is the tube that allows urine to pass out of the body, just above the vagina.
2. Wetness equals arousal
In all of the messages we’re given about sex, we’re taught that vaginal lubrication means you’re aroused and ready for sex. In reality, our genital response is distinct from our mental engagement and interest in sex. Have you ever felt really turned on and in the mood for sex but been unable to get wet? Or maybe you’ve found your body responding when you’re not into it? This is arousal non-concordance, the disconnect between our body and our brain. In her book Come As You Are, Dr Emily Nagoski explains that this is common: there’s only a 10% overlap for cis women with their genital response and the stimuli they feel subjectively aroused by. For cis men, there’s a 50% overlap between gential response and subjective sexual arousal. Simply put, wetness doesn’t equal arousal or interest in having sex - and it certainly doesn’t equal consent!
It’s completely normal if our bodies aren’t always up for sex, or for them to get aroused in non-sexual situations. And of course, if your body isn’t producing any natural lubrication but you still want sex, store bought lubrication is fine! Momentum Hybrid Lubricant is a water- and silicone-based hybrid lube designed to give you long-lasting slipperiness without the unnatural, sticky feel.
3. Everything should look symmetrical
People with vulvas - especially heterosexual cis women - rarely see other people’s vulvas. This leads us to comparing our own to the few examples we are shown, which often includes porn - and while watching porn can be a lot of fun, it’s definitely not representative of what an ‘average’ vulva looks like. In reality, labias are rarely symmetrical, and the inner labia are not neatly tucked away. It’s normal to be anxious about what your vulva looks like, but it’s also totally normal for it to look exactly how it looks. If someone tries to shame you for the length of your labia, they’re probably not someone you want to be having sex with!
4. Discharge isn’t normal
Vaginal discharge is the fluid or mucus that keeps the vagina clean and protects it from infection. Discharge is very, very normal: most people with vulvas get it! The amount of discharge you can get varies, but can get heavier if you’re pregnant, sexually active, or using birth control. You’ll often experience vaginal discharge for a few days between your periods, when you’re ovulating.
5. Your vaginal tightness reveals how much sex you’ve had
An incredibly damaging myth about vaginas is that they ‘loosen’ with frequent sex, or sex with numerous partners. It’s a myth that’s rooted in trying to control and shame women and other people with vaginas for their sex lives, In reality, the vagina is a muscular canal, and its tissue is elastic. Like other elastic tissue in your body, your vagina can stretch, but it doesn’t stay all stretched out! It ‘bounces back’ to its original state. When a muscle tenses or relaxes, it makes the muscle feel tighter or looser. During sex, your pelvic floor muscles relax with arousal, making the vagina ready for penetration.
It doesn’t matter how often the vagina is penetrated - or how hard it’s penetrated, or how big an object it’s being penetrated with - when you aren’t aroused any more, the vagina returns to its original state. Vaginas do lose some of their elasticity as you age and after childbirth, but even then the change in tightness isn’t huge. Vaginal tightness can occur when you’re not aroused, leading to uncomfortable sex, but isn’t an indication of how little sex you’ve had.