For a simple body part in a very out-of-sight area, labia are subject to an unfair amount of scrutiny. To put it simply: No two sets of labia are the same, everyone has vastly different labia, and almost all labia are very much normal and healthy. But if you’re wondering if yours are “too big,” you’re not alone. An unfortunate part of being a woman means spending undue amounts of time wondering if the tiniest parts of our bodies are suitable, and that’s fucked. To put your mind at ease, here’s everything you need to know about labia size.
What counts as “too big”
You have two sets of labia: The labia majora, or the “outer lips,” and the labia minora, or “inner lips.” A 2005 study published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology measured various parts of the female anatomy and found that flaccid labia majora lengths were about 7 to 12 centimeters, and labia minora lengths were about 2 to 10 centimeters. That’s quite a range! And another study from 2004 found that about half of all women have labia minora that are longer than their labia majora, meaning they stick out a little bit. This is just more proof that labia are all very different.
But even if your labia are outside of that range, that doesn’t mean they’re “too big” or “abnormal.” Dr. John G. Hunter, a clinical professor of surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, likened labia size to breast size. You may feel like your breasts are abnormally large (because there are very specific expectations for how a woman’s body should look, and those expectations are all bogus) but it’d be inappropriate and wrong for your doctor to say “your breasts are abnormally large.” The same is true for labia.
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“Thirty years ago, there was no internet porn and now there is,” Hunter said, referencing that labias are now much more visible than they were a few decades ago. “A lot of younger women have been exposed to the varieties of labia size shapes, and it seems to be that most women don’t want their inner lips hanging out past the outer lips.”
What’s a labiaplasty?
There’s a cosmetic surgical procedure called labiaplasty in which the labia can be made smaller. Key word here: Cosmetic. In incredibly rare cases, a woman’s labia cause discomfort and get caught in clothing and cause dyspareunia, or painful sex. In these instances, a labiaplasty may be recommended. A 2017 study (link NSFW) found that this has much less to do with size than it does with the location of something called “labial hypertrophy,” or elongated labia. Hypertrophy in the back third section of the labia was found most likely to cause frequent dyspareunia. Dr. Barbara Levy, vice president of health policy with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said that in more than 30 years of practicing, she’s only considered labiaplasty on a handful of women who were experiencing physical discomfort as a result of labial hypertrophy.
“As a women’s activist and feminist, I avoid operating on women for purely cosmetic reasons unless I have a really compelling reason to do so,” she said. “For women who really feel like their lips are getting in the way, I would say that’s worth a conversation with a provider. But removal of any of that tissue is removing sexually functional tissue, and it’s going to leave a scar that could potentially be painful and may be a long-term problem.”
That said! Your body, your choice. Hunter said he’s performed close to 1,000 labiaplasties at his office in New York City, and the vast majority of the people he sees aren’t experiencing dyspareunia or other physical discomfort related to their labia.
“Most of it really ends up being what a patient’s personal preference is,” he said. “It’s usually inner lip related — the labia minora. The common complaint, which virtually everybody has, is they think their inner labia are too big, they bulge in bathing suits or in panties, they pop out of things, they get yanked and pulled on, and, by and large, they just don’t like the way that they look.”
Think about Hunter’s breast analogy. It’s unlikely any doctor will recommend a patient get a breast reduction unless larger breast size is negatively impacting someone’s life or health. But some women just feel their breasts are too big and opt for a breast reduction. That’s their choice, and most (decent) people know well enough not to shame a woman for choosing to change the size of her breasts.
But, back to Levy’s point, if you’re experiencing pain related to your labia, you can and should talk to your ob-gyn about it. If you’re a good candidate for labiaplasty, that’s something you can talk about. And not to invalidate any ~cosmetic~ concerns, but labia should be celebrated more than critiqued. Anyone who has a problem with your labia can kindly shove off.