We’re about to delve into a rather serious (and squirm-inducing) subject, so let’s start of by clearing up a few misconceptions.
Firstly, the word ‘normal’ just isn’t a thing when we’re talking lady parts. You’ll get what we mean soon.
Secondly, the vagina is an incredibly sophisticated and clever body part – more on that later.
Thirdly, we get that it’s scary and confusing and you’re like, ‘WTF is up with that thing,’ but trust us - you’ve got absolutely nothing to be afraid of. When you finish reading these pages, you’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I love my vagina, what of it?!’
Vaginas – what’s the G.O.?
“They’re like faces, they all look completely different,” says GP Dr. Ginni Mansberg, “It’s the vulva – the outside - that varies the most, but inside they’re mostly the same.” Makes sense so far. Which leads us to… [art note: arrow to next paragraph]
What should a vagina look like?
Unless you’re particularly inquisitive, or extremely flexible thanks to years of yoga, you’re never going to see the whole ‘set up’ down there. Here’s a handy guide to what’s going on. [art note: arrow to illustration of vagina] Obvs our illo is a generalization, but you can visit labialibrary.org.au to see how different vaginas really can look.
Here’s the sitch:
- CLITORIS: Varies in size and pigmentation, the clitoris is a bud above the urethra which is also a source of intense pleasure for many women when stimulated. It’s packed with nerve endings that can trigger a female orgasm.
- URETHRA: Yes, there is a different hole that urine comes from. It’s this one.
- VULVA: That’s the general term for the outside, visible parts of the vagina.
- LABIA MAJORA: The ‘big lips’, or outer folds of skin, which is where pubic hair is often found. These vary in size.
- LABIA MINORA: The ‘small lips’ on either side of the vagina’s entrance. These vary enormously in size, and many girls have some part of them sticking out.
- VAGINA: The passage that leads to the uterus (womb) from outside your body. It is stretchy and muscular and will expand and become lubricated when you’re aroused. This is the hole that your period comes from, and one day, you might push a baby out of it (seriously!).
- PERINEUM: The bit of skin under the vagina; it differs in pigmentation and can be quite lumpy and bumpy.
- ANUS: The passage from which excrement leaves the body.
What’s up with pubic hair?!
Initially, a few stray hairs appear (and don’t freak out, coz they can get quite long). “Before smelly armpits and boobs and periods and all that other puberty stuff, you get pubic hair,” says Dr. Ginni. They’re kinda like the indicator that puberty is on its way, and can appear as young as 8 years old. Often your genes have a lot to do with how early they appear, so chatting to an older female relative about when puberty started for them should shed some light. “If you’re really concerned about it, chat to your mum or ask to see a female doctor.” adds Dr. Ginni.
There’s stuff in my undies…
Remember what we were saying about vagina’s being incredibly sophisticated and clever? Here’s why: that clear or whitish stuff in your undies is called ‘discharge’. It usually appears six to twelve months before your first period and it’s part of the vagina’s self-cleaning mechanism. It’s actually really important – and normal! “The vagina is a dead-end street, it doesn’t go anywhere. Discharge happens because your body needs to clean out the vagina, which begins producing lots of oestrogen during puberty. How much discharge you have depends on the person,” says Dr. Ginni. If it’s not super smelly or coloured, there’s no need to worry, but if it makes you feel uncomfortable, a panty liner will keep things nice and dry (they’re super discreet). If there is sudden or weird change to your discharge, go see a doctor to make sure nothing’s up. If you’re sexually active, STIs can make themselves known by messing up your discharge.
So fresh, so clean
When it comes to keeping things hygienic down below, the inside of the vagina should be left alone. “You’re only going to cause yourself harm if you try to mess around with your vagina, so don’t try ‘douching’ or squirting water up there” says Dr. Ginni. “Your body knows what its doing.” The outside lips of the vulva – the labia majora – can get sweaty and smelly, but you can just use a mild soap (some something like sorbelene if you’ve got dermatitis) to keep things clean.