Debunking the top 4 vagina myths

Debunking the top 4 vagina myths

Debunking the top 4 vagina myths

By Nicole Guappone

We love busting myths! Especially ones that make you feel bad about yourself or like you’re doing something wrong. Because you’re not! You’re just doing your best. 

One reason a lot of folks have trouble separating fact from fiction about vaginas is because, historically, vaginas have been shrouded in mystery. Very little research was done on vaginas or for vagina-owners, and while things are slowly changing, even today cis-men are more often the subjects of most health and physiology research. (Some reasons why are understandable: research on pregnant people is especially challenging; Others are lazy: “menstrual cycles make it hard!”)

So let’s get to sorting out the truth about vaginas…

Vaginas are only 3-4 inches long

Not exactly! In its unaroused, “resting” state, the vagina is about 3-4 inches long (or deep) from the vaginal opening to the tip of the posterior vaginal wall. But vaginas are so stretchy! They expand in response to pleasure and even make room to bring a whole human baby into the world. 

The inner walls of the vagina are made up of smooth muscle, a type of muscle that we do not have voluntary control over (the gut is also made of smooth muscle). During arousal, the vagina creates its own lubrication and also lengthens in order to accommodate a toy, a penis, a finger, etc. Numbers vary because every body is different, but studies suggest vaginas can expand to 4-8 inches deep when aroused. 

If you feel like your partner is too long, an Ohnut might make penetration more comfortable, but vaginas are so elastic that with some time, relaxation, and yummy foreplay, they can lengthen to accommodate something larger. 

Is the size of my vagina correlated with my height? 

Have you ever wondered if you have pain with penetrative sex because you’re short? Kinda like how we assume big dudes have big dicks, some people think short vagina-owners have smaller vaginas. According to this study, while height does affect vaginal size, there doesn’t appear to be much functional significance: a 3 foot adult and 6 foot adult have less than a millimeter of difference in vaginal length on average.  

Just because you’re short doesn’t mean your vagina is! 

How much sex you have affects the size of your vagina

We kinda busted this myth already, but we came at it from a different, ahem, angle. The vagina is special. If it gets excited, it lengthens and expands. Then it’s up to you whether or not you put something in it! The vagina will return to its resting state post-sexual activity or when you’re no longer aroused. 

Similarly, the vagina will not become loose or remain “stretched out” from having a lot of penetrative sex—whether that sex is with the same person over and over or lots of different people. It doesn’t matter how big a toy or a penis or a fist is, the vagina will expand to envelop any of those things and return to its resting size afterwards. 

It’s true that pregnancy and birth can weaken the pelvic floor muscles, but the vagina itself stretches and returns to its regular size and shape more quickly. If you are unsure if your pelvic floor muscles are too tight or too weak postpartum, but sure to see a pelvic floor physical therapist for an assessment. With some tender loving care, pelvic floors (and vaginas!), heal from having a baby. 

You should wash out your vagina

Please do not wash out your vagina! Market research tells us that “feminine hygiene” is a multi-billion dollar industry. However, our vaginas can keep themselves clean (you may have heard them described as “self-cleaning ovens”)! Vaginas are incredibly resilient and they contain exactly what they need to keep their microbiome healthy and full of good bacteria. 

So why are there so many soaps, wipes, and spritzes to keep us “fresh” and “clean”? Because historically, advertising was a male-dominated industry and those in charge realized that if they made women feel bad about their “dirty” body parts and “fishy” odors, they could make loads of money.

It was really very easy, especially because in the early 20th century, Lysol (yes, the kind you clean your kitchen counters with) advertised itself as a “feminine hygiene” wash! Advertisements suggested that husbands were unhappy with their wives because they neglected to clean their vaginas.

Furthermore, “the vagina is not like balls or a penis where it’s just kinda hanging out there and you see everything,” Dr. Nicole E. Williams, OB-GYN and pelvic surgeon, says. “Everything is tucked in. That makes it more mysterious. And because of that mystery, it’s easy to fall prey [to marketing schemes].”

Vaginas don’t smell any more than any other body part, although the smell varies from person to person (think of it as your own signature scent). If the smell of your vagina changes drastically or do you notice a foul or “fishy” smell, this could be a sign of infection.

And a really good way to get an infection is using a cleansing product internally, which could kill off good bacteria, irritate the vaginal mucosa, and strip away natural oils—all of which are actually part of your vagina’s defense against infections.

All you need to keep yourself clean is warm water. If you do use soap, make sure it is mild and fragrance-free and only use it on your vulva and outer labia. 

An itchy vagina needs antifungals

This is a common misunderstanding, but don’t get it twisted. If you think you have BV or a yeast infection, absolutely have a professional check it out. Because some infections do cause itchiness! But don’t feel that you need to run to a doctor every time you feel a twinge. 

The vaginal microbiome can be affected by natural hormone shifts that occur over a menstrual cycle (it can even be affected by the presence of menstrual blood). If you track your cycle closely, you may find that you have irritation or itching around the same time every month. If it only lasts a couple of days, it’s probably just your cycle. This will likely resolve itself!

However, some people are more prone to dysbiosis (microbiome disruption). For those unlucky folks, some studies show that disruptive bacteria can increase during the menstrual cycle and put you at higher risk for vaginal infections like BV.

Even normal discharge in the underwear can lead to some irritation that feels kind of itchy. Furthermore, vaginal discharge is totally normal and a sign of a healthy vagina! According to gynecologist Dr. Jen Gunter, even thick, white discharge which is so often labeled as a yeast infection symptom is normal (as long as there isn’t also a burning sensation, pain, and/or an odor). 

Women and AFAB folks often want to treat even the smallest itch as a potential threat. While it’s good to be vigilant about your vaginal health, paying close attention to your body during all phases of your cycle can help you recognize what is normal for you (as long as it isn't super distressing) and what may be a sign of something that should be checked out by a doctor.

We get it, vaginas can be complicated. They shapeshift, they have lots of different muscles surrounding them, and it’s kinda hard to see inside. But hopefully we’ve removed some of the mystery for you and eased some worries you may have about what’s going on down there. 

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