Vulva and vagina: which is which?
The vulva is one of the hardest-working and most wonderful parts of the body. It’s been
long time so many of us don’t understand the difference between the vulva and the vagina. The
- The mons pubis
- The labia minora and majora
- The clitoris
- The urethra
- The Skene’s glands
- The Bartholin’s glands
- The opening to the vagina
The vagina is everything from the opening in the vulva up to the uterus, including the vaginal
basically, everything that’s inside the body.
It’s important to name the vulva correctly as it helps reduce the shame and taboo around talking
The vulva is the gateway to the genitals
The vulva is responsible for sexual arousal, urination and protecting the sexual organs. This is
important to take care of our vulva and show it some love!
It’s working hardest during sexual activity; this is when many parts of the vulva come into
arousal, blood rushes to the clitoris and the labia, which changes the shape and size of the
clitoris will become harder and larger, and the Skene’s glands begin to produce lubrication.
The presence of the urethra means that not only does our vulva help us pee, it also means we have
extra care to keep this area clean to avoid bladder infections. Tip: remember to pee
I’m worried my vulva doesn’t look normal…
We’ve probably all worried whether our vulva looks normal at some point. This is a totally
and it’s a good question, because vulvas show an incredible level of diversity. From
length to skin
colour and texture, each one is uniquely beautiful. Think of vulvas as being like snowflakes: no
The appearance of the vulva can change depending on oestrogen levels during puberty but, apart
from a few
rare conditions, the size, colour, texture and appearance of the vulva does not affect sexual
So now we know there’s no ‘normal’ vulva, what features can we look out for as ‘regular’?
Let’s start with skin colour. The skin on the genitals acts a little differently
skin on the rest
of our body and it’s very common for this skin to look darker. This is because of
starts in puberty and can increase with age. This is nothing to be ashamed of – it’s just
that makes your vulva special.
Labia vary A LOT! The labia can be longer, shorter, asymmetrical, frilly and
might look very
different from others you’ve seen. The labia do a really important job of keeping your genitals
matter what they look like, they keep you healthy and help you experience pleasure.
Talking of pleasure, let’s move to the clitoris. The part of the clitoris we see
body is called
the glans clitoris and the average size is 1-1.5cm but your mileage may vary.
hide under the
clitoral hood and only pop out during arousal, and for others it will pop out more.
So as you can see, there’s no ‘perfect’ vulva – just millions of perfectly unique ones!
How do I know if my vulva is healthy?
It’s so important to get to know your vulva. Because the vulva does such an important set of
can be one of the indicators of illness or infection, so let’s look at what’s healthy and what’s
make a habit of regularly checking your vulva so you know what’s normal for you.
First, let’s get one thing straight. Vulvas have a natural smell, produce discharge and
pubic hair and can have moles, skin tags and darker skin than the rest of the body.
We need to normalise pubic hair. It serves a really important function, keeping your genitals
which helps sexual function. It also transmits pheromones, meaning your partner might become
aroused if you have pubes.
The smell of the vulva changes during your menstrual cycle and again during menopause. This is
discharge passes through the vaginal canal as the vagina cleans itself. You can often tell what
your cycle you’re at or whether you have an infection just by looking at and smelling your
What is healthy discharge?
Healthy discharge can be clear and thin, or thicker and white. It can change a little after your
the old blood is removed. A
natural smell is absolutely normal, and changes based on
eat, when you
last had a shower and where you’re at in your cycle. It’s also completely normal for the
When should I visit the doctor?
If the discharge is green, foamy, grey or thick and cottage cheese like, or if the smell is very
foul, like fish or old meat, please visit a doctor.
How can I clean my vulva?
Luckily, your vulva is very easy to clean. The vagina needs nothing as it’s self-cleaning, and
only needs water. Don’t be tempted by the scented intimate washes on the market; they’re
alter your natural, healthy pH.
If you notice a new spot, bump or cyst, a patch of skin changing colour or texture, or pain,
itching in your vulva and/or vagina, it’s always best to visit the doctor.
How can I have a better relationship with my vulva?
Your vulva is such a beautiful and important part of your body. It keeps you healthy and gives
But it can be really hard to love your vulva when society puts so much body shame on us. Here
tips to start building a beautiful relationship with your vulva:
- Stop looking at porn for sex and body education.
- Start following accounts like The
Gallery, or buy their book. They showcase hundreds of drawings of
people’s vulvas. Everyone looks different, but you quickly see that they are all beautiful.
- Have an honest look at yourself, with or without hair. It will be awkward at first, but
have in our minds is worse than the reality.
- Keep looking at your vulva – make a note to check yourself out once a week, for example. The
it, the more it becomes normal, trust me!
- Give yourself some love. That could be a vulva massage, a bit of solo-sex, or even a fun
- Surround yourself with photos and artwork of vulvas. Honestly, the vulva is probably one of
wonderful designs in nature. When you start seeing it as art, you can appreciate the
- Turn your vulva into a literal piece of art. Draw your vulva or make a cast of it! Reclaim
proud of it.
- Repeat these steps. Loving your vulva is an ongoing process and you might have days or weeks
dislike it, but that’s okay. Just know that you and your body deserve love: that’s