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Women's sex organs come in different shapes and sizes. Many people (OK, mostly men) confuse the vagina and the vulva. For men who may be wanting to understand and support the woman in their lives, here's a quick anatomy lesson:

The vagina is the birth canal. Only the opening of the vagina is visible from outside. The vulva is a woman's sex organs external to the vagina and the urethra, which lies below the vagina. The vulva is all of these outer organs, including the labia, the hood of the clitoris, the urinary meatus, the vaginal opening, and the hymen.

The cervix is at the upper part of the vagina. Since it's made of cartilage, like the cartilage in your nose, it feels hard and smooth. It's reachable by fingering but usually not during sex, because the cervix raises during intercourse. The "G spot" is a spongy like tissue that covers the meatus, the opening of the urinary tract, during intercourse. Pressing on the G spot sends sensations up the urinary tract. The clitoris is a woman's erectile tissue. It becomes firm during sexual excitement. 

Labia (the outer and inner lips of the vulva) can be big, small, short, long, smooth, lumpy, or even ruffled. The outer lips, the labia majora, are two fat pads (this isn't a bad kind of fat) that are usually covered with pubic hair. The inner lips, the labia minora, are not covered with pubic hair. They are often compared to two butterfly wings that join at the hood of the clitoris, where they are thicker, and reach out to the opening of the vagina, where they are thinner.

This anatomy lesson is primarily for guys reading this topic so they can understand the woman in their life better. But now let's get to the question of size of the labia. The first thing to understand about what's normal for labia is that nude models promoted in videos and films aren't "normal."

Close-ups of the labia in porn usually reveal symmetrical lips. Drawings of the labia in textbooks are usually symmetrical. Real-life labia usually aren't. Labia can differ in size and color from left to right and from front to back. They may join together, or they may be separate. The labia minora can protrude past the labia majora. If you have always looked the way you look now, this is normal for you.

Usually, anyway. Here's what is important to know about labial hypertrophy:

  • It's completely appropriate to see a doctor about the size of your labia minora just because you don't like the way they look or difficulty wearing tight clothes or keeping them tucked in when you swim or do sports. And it's certainly appropriate to let your doctor treat itching, bleeding, and pain.
  • Don't rely on measurements to determine whether you are small or large. Some measurements refer to the midline of the labia, and some refer to the distance to a free edge (which makes the labia seem larger). The important consideration isn't whether your size is "normal," it's whether you are comfortable with it.
  • Your doctor will take size into consideration when recommending labiaplasty (labia reduction surgery) or labia minoraplasty (reduction specifically of the inner lips), but it's not the most important consideration. Women who have difficulty exercising or who have traumatic injuries to the labia are the most likely to be referred for surgery, but you don't need to injure yourself to get the doctor's attention. The potential for infection is also a concern.
  • Labiaplasty sometimes can reduce the labia minora and augment the labia majora in the same procedure.
  • Never, ever attempt to reduce the size of your labia on your own. Women who have tried to kill labia tissue with rubber bands have induced gangrene requiring surgical removal of the vulva.
  • If you have labiaplasty, don't smoke. The chemicals in tobacco smoke get into circulation and interfere with the way the tissue injured in the surgery sloughs off so the labia can heal.
  • Crohn's disease can cause blistering and swelling of the labia minora. You can't treat the problem with the labia without treating Crohn's in these cases.
  • The labia minora usually don't become unusually large before puberty, although in rare cases it happens.
  • Sometimes couples are not of readily compatible sizes down there. They may need to use a little imagination to achieve really good sex for both partners.

No woman should suffer in silence about  problems with the size of the labia. There are things the doctor can do that don't necessarily involve labiaplasty. And couples who have mechanical issues with sex can seek help from a sex therapist. The therapist can advise them in ways that give both partners maximum pleasure no matter which organs need special attention.

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