Labia

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female gender symbol

What are labia?

Girls are born with two sets of labia. They are located on the vulva which is the outer part of a woman’s genitals, or the outside of her vagina. The larger labia are called the labia majora (pronounced: lay-bee-a mah jor ah). They are skin filled with “adipose” tissue which is a type of fat that makes the skin look cushiony. During puberty, hair grows on the labia majora. The hair and extra padding protect the thinner and more delicate tissues of the smaller labia called the “labia minora” (pronounced: lay-bee-a mah nor ah). The labia minora are sometimes called “lips” (labia is the latin word for “lips”) because of the way they look.

Do all labia look the same?

No. Both the labia majora and the labia minora can vary in the size, color, shape and the way they look compared to other females. The labia minora (inner labia) come in all shapes, sizes and colors. The medical term for this is “normal variation.” Similar to other parts of the body, labia become larger during puberty.

What causes one woman’s labia to be larger than another’s?

It is unclear why some women have larger labia than others. It is not caused by masturbation, sex or sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Just like other parts of a person’s body that make them unique such as the size and shape of their ears and nose, labia are different too and this is completely normal!

Is it normal to feel upset about having extra-large labia?

Extra-large, large, medium size and small labia are all subjective terms, meaning that it depends on the way you view your body. There is no perfect size, shape or color that labia should be. It can be upsetting to think you may be different from other girls your age but it is also perfectly normal to be accepting of your body, or not to think about the size of your labia at all.

For some girls and women, concerns about how their body looks can become overwhelming, and can start to affect other areas of their life. If you find yourself unable to stop thinking about your body, or if your concerns impact your ability to go to work/school, spend time with family/friends, or do other things you enjoy, it is important to share that information with a parent, trusted adult and/or a health care provider.

Why do some girls/women have concerns about the size of their labia?

Some girls may feel upset if their labia cause irritation and/or discomfort in their crotch area. This may limit the type of clothing they can wear such as certain styles of bathing suits, or the types of activities they can do comfortably. Some girls may have seen images in magazines or online that cause them to wonder if their labia are normal. The trend to shave pubic hair has also caused young women to become more aware of the size of their labia which may look different than the images they see.

What kind of treatment is sometimes recommended for girls/women that have discomfort because of their labia?

Most of the time any discomfort caused from the size or shape of a girl’s/woman’s labia can be managed by wearing looser fitting underpants, jeans, shorts, and perhaps a different style of bathing suit. Some girls are more comfortable wearing skirts and dresses instead of pants. Applying a topical emollient such as petroleum jelly to the labia can also help prevent irritation and chafing.

Is surgery recommended for treatment or discomfort?

Surgery should only be considered when a young woman who has completed puberty is 18 years old. Requests for treatment are usually based on symptoms such as: chronic discomfort in her groin area, pain with sex, chronic irritation or other symptoms that are emotionally distressing. Surgery should be considered only when other methods to lessen discomfort such as changing the style of clothing don’t work.

What is the name of the surgery that reshapes the labia?

The name of the surgery that reshapes one or both labia is called, “labioplasty.” This type of surgery should be done by a doctor who has a lot of experience performing this type of procedure. Having a labioplasty is an emotional decision for most young women. Young women who are thinking about having a labioplasty should be able to talk to their health care provider openly, and have all of their questions answered before making a decision to have surgery. Many young women accept that their labia are unique and decide not to have a labioplasty or wait until they are older to decide.

Are there any risks with having a labioplasty?

Labioplasty is usually done with general anesthesia. Although very low, there are some risks involved with the medicine that is used to put a patient to sleep. We are not sure how much the labia affect sensation, so having surgery may impact how some women feel during sex. Ask your health care provider to explain what the risks are. Other possible risks include bleeding, infection, possible breakdown of the stitches and/or scarring around the labia and/or need for more surgery. If you are considering a labioplasty, ask if the clitoral hood (skin covering the clitoris) will be affected. Sometimes there can be scar tissue that may make future sexual activity painful. Also, it’s possible that the results may not be what you expected. Anyone who has a labioplasty should follow their health care provider’s instructions after surgery to lower the chance of any complications from happening.

If you are concerned about the size or shape of your labia, talk to a parent, trusted adult or counselor, and make an appointment with your health care provider.