How to make friends with your vulva

Yes, we said vulva, and you should too.

It’s not exactly news that we are constantly bombarded with images of what we “should” look like, whether in the form of clothing and makeup ads or our own friends’ highlight reels on Instagram. Though we’re probably not seeing photos of models flaunting “perfect vulvas” on Instagram or ads selling us $100 overnight vulva serums, our vulvas are very much subject to unrealistic and damaging beauty standards.

What’s shown in most porn (or even what you’ll see in a Google image search) is not representative of the full range of what vulvas look like, and most people aren’t checking out their friends’ vulvas (though you totally should if you want to and it’s consensual). The point is, it’s really easy to get the wrong idea about what’s “normal” or what’s “desirable” with these limited and skewed sources of information. Add to that traumatizing sexual encounters with people who say rude or insensitive things, and you have a recipe for feeling some major anxiety and even depression about how you look. But guess what? If you have a vulva, you have a perfect vulva. And we’re going to teach you how to love it.

(A note on terminology first. Lots of people mistakenly call vulvas vaginas, but they’re not the same thing! We think it’s cool to be educated about our bodies and, like, grown-ups use the right terms for the right parts, right? So here’s the deal: the vulva is on the outside, and the vagina is on the inside. The vulva is actually ALL the sexual parts that are on the outside of your body, including the clitoris and the inner and outer labia (sometimes called the inner and outer lips). The vagina is on the inside—you can’t see it. It’s the stretchy tube that connects your uterus to the outside of your body. If you’re curious about anatomy, we’ve got more for you here.)

Now that that’s out of the way, here are some ways you can start to love your vulva:

Learn what’s normal (hint: pretty much everything)

The only thing we’d say isn’t “normal” is if something hurts. We like The Vulva Gallery, a collection of illustrations by artist Hilde Atalanta that celebrates vulva diversity. Check it out and you’ll see right away just how unique every vulva is. There’s endless variation in size, shape, configuration, and color of the clitoris, the inner and outer labia, pubic hair, everything. Scroll through, and you may just see one that looks a lot like yours, but even if you don’t, you’ll see that there are tons of different ways to have a perfectly normal vulva.

Get to know it

Spend time with your vulva. Touch it, check it out in the mirror, smell it, taste it. Learn what makes it feel good and what doesn’t.

Treat it nicely

This starts with making sure you’re healthy. Get regular pap smears, pelvic exams, and STI tests. Get vaccinated for HPV if you haven’t already. If you’re having the kinds of sex that can lead to unplanned pregnancy and/or STIs, get on a birth control method that works for you. Follow up on anything that doesn’t feel right to you, like any pain, unusual itching, burning, discharge, or sores.

Find a sexual partner who treats it nicely

(If you’re into sex with other people.) Part of treating it (and you) nicely is respecting your decisions about birth control. But also, if a sexual partner tells you there’s something wrong with the way your vulva looks, or otherwise makes you feel bad about it, they’re not only a jerk, but they’re also dead wrong. There are plenty of non-jerks who aren’t going to act this way, we promise. Find someone new to be with. You and your vulva deserve better.

P.S. Loving your vulva may not be so straightforward for transgender people, other people along the gender spectrum, or people who have experienced trauma. We just want you to know we see you, we support you, you’re beautiful, and your feelings and experiences are valid.

Written by Lauren Kernan, MA

Lauren Kernan is the Director of Content and UX Strategy for Bedsider and Abortion Finder. In her spare time, she can be found sewing or starting and giving up on various other crafts.

Want to learn more?

Select one of the related topics to find more.