Women Have Them Too!
It is perhaps difficult for many to imagine why teenage girls and adult women should be concerned about the size and shape of their genitals. This is because we often times do not envision them as having external genitals; everything is suppose to be inside their body and out of sight. Women have a vagina, this is what we are told in school and life. The fact that girls and women have a vulva is seldom mentioned. Women's clothing, specifically their swimwear, exemplifies the expectation of a perfectly featureless genital region. What many do not realize is, women and girls do in fact have external genitals that come in many unique shapes, colors, textures, and sizes.
As young girls, women and teens may have come to see their genitals as nothing more than a smooth dimple between their thighs. What is there is small, smooth, pink, and non-distinct. While the genitals of young girls do vary, they all look very much the same to the casual observer; there are normal and healthy preadolescent girls who have very prominent labia and clitorises. Young girls are not likely to know the vulva of their mother and other women usually look very different from their own. Since pubic hair commonly conceals the genitals of adult women, even if girls see women in a state of undress they are likely to believe their genitals look the same under the concealing hair. By not allowing girls to examine the genitals of their mother and other women, and by not permitting them to see photographs of vulvas, we may, and often times do, cause them to have a very negative self-image of their vulva later in life.
During puberty a girl's genitals can, and often times do, undergo a major transformation. Even before noticeable breast development becomes apparent, the tissues of the vulva start responding to increased hormonal levels. During puberty a girl's inner and outer labia, hood, clitoris, and hymen increase in size, often times significantly. Not only may the size of a girl's genitals change, but also their shape, color, and texture. Following puberty a girl's genitals may look nothing like they did during childhood. During adolescence the rose bud of youth often blossoms into the colorful flower of adulthood.
Since pubic hair also starts developing at this time, girls are less likely to be aware of these changes unless they go looking with a mirror, or take notice while exploring with their fingers. Even if an adolescent girl bathes with others of her own age she is unlikely to be aware that they too have experienced the same changes. Girls and women after all are not commonly permitted to play genital show and tell, though mutual exploration is not uncommon among young girls. (A survey on this website indicates 51%, 1 out of every 2, girls under the age of 10 has examined the vulva of another girl.) I am also pretty sure girls and women glance at the genitals of others when they have the opportunity, because of natural curiosity. These childhood examinations and adolescent glances don't truly provide an opportunity to fully appreciate the amount of change that has or will occur.
If teenage girls and women examine their genitals they may become concerned about these changes, feeling strange and perverse. They may believe they have deformed their genitals while masturbating, and as a result everyone who sees their vulva will know they masturbate. They may even believe they are being punished for having sexual thoughts and desires. It is for these reasons that girls and young teenagers should be made aware of these changes before they occur. They should know these changes are normal, to help maintain or improve their self-image. You do not want them to feel a need to hide their genitals from others, particularly their sexual partner.
In the not too distant past, and to varying degrees today, women would never imagine themselves examining or touching their vulva. This was strictly the responsibility of a doctor. It was all "down there" and appropriately out of sight. Their genitals were off limits to them, and were placed off limits by their family and community. Today, women are more comfortable with their body and more likely to explore their genitals, or as a result of a desire or need to trim and/or shave their pubic hair they may find themselves unavoidably confronted with it. When they explore their genitals they may not be comfortable with what they find, because women frequently have an unrealistic expectation of how their genitals will look, remembering back to childhood.
To make matters worse, most anatomy books portray the female genitals as small and uniform, and often times leave out significant detail. If the illustrations are in color, the inner structures of the vulva are usually shown as being uniformly pink. These references seldom address women of color, compounding the problem for women who are not Caucasian. As a result, it is reasonable to believe that many women feel uncomfortable with the appearance of their genitals, even if they are comfortable with the idea of looking at them. This may and does have major repercussions on their sexuality. We tend to hide the things we are ashamed of and embarrassed by. This presents a barrier to sexual activities and pleasure that require a woman to grant her partner full access to her vulva, specifically activities like genital massage and cunnilingus.
Since so many women do view their genitals with some degree of shame they are frequently uncomfortable with the idea of looking at photographs of other women's genitals. They may also believe these images, and the act of looking at them, is inappropriate and/or harmful. In reality these photographs hold the key to helping women appreciate and understand the normal and enormous amount of diversity that exists. The only means most heterosexual women have of seeing other women's genitals is through photographs and video, as adult women are not likely to compare their genitals with their friends, unfortunately. The collection of photographs on this website, and others like it, affords every women the opportunity to see hundreds of unique vulvas at a single sitting, something that is otherwise impossible.
The area that appears to concern many women is the shape, size, and color of their inner lips, their labia minora. For many women, their inner lips are larger than their outer lips, their labia majora, which is in stark contract to what their names imply. Many if not most women do not have the simple heart shaped labia shown in popular texts. The color of their labia could be brown or black rather than the expected pink. They are thick and wrinkled versus thin and smooth. This vast array of characteristics is greatly unexpected by the average person.
As the photographs and illustrations on this website clearly demonstrate, the inner labia come in a multitude of normal shapes and sizes. The photographs and illustrations presented on this website provide women with a rare opportunity to view the natural diversity that is exists in the world around them. Popular men's magazines often times do not show such diversity, as they only present what men expect to see, and as a result want to see. The images shown in these magazines may have been modified to fit the expectations of the publishers and censorship laws.
The concern regarding labial size and shape is perhaps greater for women of non-Caucasian races, as most anatomy books are based on Caucasian ideals. Women and doctors are not likely to be aware of the fact that girls and women of a racial group originating in South Africa frequently have distinctive labia minora that project up to four inches beyond the labia majora. These girls and women may be seen as deformed by themselves, and their doctor, rather than as having a distinctive racial characteristic; there appears to be an example of this on Dr. Alter's website. Inner labia that project beyond the outer labia are common and normal in all races of women, but it is not as common, being almost universal, in these Khoisan and San girls and women. The amount of projection for all races of women can be up to a couple of inches (5 cm) when the labia are at rest, and greater when the labia are spread open or placed under slight tension.
The inner labia can be modified, as they have nothing in their structure that will maintain their size and shape if they are distorted for an extended length of time. They are usually elastic and easy to stretch, because their internal structure is much like a sponge. If a girl or woman happens to masturbate by pulling on her inner labia she can cause them to become longer and thicker. A rare few actually desire larger inner labia, and pull on them regularly causing this result. Some have achieved this by piercing their inner labia and inserting jewelry of increasing size and weight over time, and possibly by hanging tiny weights from this jewelry.
Contrary to popular believe, most girls' and women's masturbation techniques and practices will not change the shape of their genitals, at least drastically. If she masturbates regularly she may develop slightly larger blood vessels and erectile tissues, which would result in slightly larger genital structures. This is an indication of health not disease. Having large genital structures is not an indication of masturbation as some claim. If it were, 90% of men would have a 12 inch (30 cm) penis.
"Number of "designer vagina" operations paid for by the British National Health Service Last Year: 2,000"
Percentage of women seeking the procedure who were deemed to have "normal" genitalia in a 2010 study: 100"
Harper's Magazine November 2011
In some cultures women with large inner labia were/are considered very attractive and desirable, and/or provide their partner with greater pleasure during sexual intercourse. This motivates girls and women to engage in the practice of intentionally making them larger. They may begin the habit as very young girls and continued it into adulthood. They sometimes employ ritualized stretching, sometimes mutual, in pairs and small groups. In the past, and possibly today, depending on the culture, use a handful of grass to allow for a better grip on their labia, wrap their labia around a piece of animal horn or a small stick, apply naturally occurring irritants to cause the labia to swell, and/or utilized symbolism by applying the ashes of burned bat wings to their labia. In these societies, labia minora four to six inches (10-15cm) in length were considered most desirable. These practices shocked the early European explorers, who were often representatives of European religions, and were quickly eradicated or driven underground. Today, these practices are still shrouded in mystery, which is perhaps the only thing that allows them to continue.
The labia minora are very sensitive to estrogen, and exposure to increased levels can result in their enlargement and increased sensitivity. This may occur during pregnancy, as the production of estrogen increases during this time, and the flow of blood through the pelvic organs is altered. This can become a very uncomfortable condition requiring a doctor's attention. Prescription drugs and creams may also cause these symptoms. The presence of large labia is most often the result of genetics, not environmental causes, as is sometimes claimed.
Dickinson reports having examined a woman's labia minora that measured 7.5 cm (3 inches) each, 15 cm (6 inches) tip to tip, when spread open, and achieved a length of almost 11.5 cm (4.5 inches), 23 cm (9 inches) tip to tip, when placed under moderate tension. He further reports 5 cases that measured between 5 and 7.5 cm (2-3 inches) when spread open. Please see his illustrations at the bottom of this article for examples of labia of different shapes and sizes.
|Size of the Labia Minora
Based on examinations of 2,981 women
|Length||Number of Women||Percentage|
|0 to 2cm||0 to 3/4in||2,613||87.7|
|4 to 5cm||1 1/2 to 2in||32||1.1|
|5 to 6cm||2 to 2 1/3in||20||0.7|
|As gathered by Bergh, and presented by Dickinson.|
It may shock many to learn that some normal and healthy genetic females have a penis, or at least a clitoris that looks very similar to a penis. Actually, all females have a penis, we just prefer to call their penis a clitoris. While some object to this analogy, it is accurate from a sexual and biological perspective. A penis and clitoris are made up of the same tissues and function the same, because they develop from the same fetal structure. In males the penis is usually exposed to increased levels of androgens, one of which is testosterone, in the womb. This results in males having a more visible penis, but not necessarily a larger one. During part of their time in the womb all females also have a very large clitoris, in proportion to the rest of their body, because of the sequence in which things develop. In the end having a penis is not the sole privilege of men and boys, in contrast to what society may dictate.
As a result of genetics or having been exposed to increased androgen levels in the womb, some infant girls are born with a clitoris that looks much like a "penis," often to the dismay and embarrassment of her parents and the medical personnel. It is important to keep in mind the fact that she is still a normal and healthy "girl." She is not deformed or imperfect. Instead of reassuring the girl's parents that she is perfectly normal, doctors often cut the girl's clitoris off or surgically reduce its size on the premise of correcting a mistake made by nature. This is expected to result in the girl growing up to be a normal and healthy adult woman, one who does not question her sexual identity. The truth is, even if her large clitoris is removed, she may still question her biological sex, as biological sex is the result of hormonal and genetic imprinting. If she is actually a he, cutting off her "penis" will not change her true sex. A person's physical appearance may have no bearing on their true sex or sexual orientation, as male and female are physically slightly different versions of the same thing. A girl or woman may question the gender or gender role assigned her by their family and society regardless of how their body looks. Parents should not consent to cosmetic surgery on, or frequent examinations of, the genitals of their children, of either sex. If there are no medical problems, there are no problems.
Note: To learn more about this subject, please read about intersexuality.
The only actual difference between a clitoris and penis is the average size of the portion we can see with our naked eyes. Three fourths of the clitoris is hidden from view within a woman's body. The average clitoris is about four inches in length, the same as a flaccid penis. Illustrations in the Anatomy area reveal the true size of the clitoris. The only other difference between the two is that the urethra of the clitoris does not extend all the way to the tip of the glans, as is the case with some penises!
An article published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in July 1992 states that the examination of "200 consecutive normal women at routine gynecological examination" revealed the average crosswise width of the clitoral glans to be 3.4 mm (0.13 inches) with a range of 2.4 to 4.4 mm (0.09 - 0.17 inches) and the lengthwise width was 5.1 mm (0.20 inches) with a range of 3.7 to 6.5 mm (0.15 - 0.26 inches). This means the average clitoral glans is smaller than a pencil eraser. The average total clitoral length including the glans and body was 16.0 mm (0.63 inches) with a range of 11.7 to 20.3 mm (0.46 - 0.80 inches). The clitoral index (CI), the product of the clitoral glans lengthwise and crosswise widths, was 18.5 mm2 (0.03 inches2). There was NO correlation between age, height, weight or use of oral contraceptives and clitoral size, but women who had given birth had "significantly larger measurements."
Dr. Robert Latou Dickinson states in his book Atlas of Human Sex Anatomy, published in 1949, that "normal" clitorises had a crosswise width of 3 to 4 mm. (0.12 - 0.16 inches) and a lengthwise width of 4 to 5 mm (0.16 - 0.20 inches). Based on one hundred examinations, he found five percent of women had a clitoral glans that measured 0 to 2.5 mm (0 - 0.10 inches), seventy-five percent measured between 2.5 and 6.5 mm (0.10 - 0.26 inches) and twenty percent measured between 6.5 and 15 mm (0.26 - 0.59 inches). He mentions others who had given lengthwise measurements of 5.6, 6.7, and 8.0 mm (0.22, 0.26 and 0.31 inches). He attributes the variation in measurements to whether intersexed individuals were included in the sample data, which would account for a larger average size. The determination of "normal" is often arbitrary. An article published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in November 1979 states that clitoromegaly is defined as when there is a CI of greater than 35 mm2 (0.05 inches2), which is almost twice the size given above for an "average" sized clitoral glans, but is still relatively small, as a clitoris equal in size to a pencil eraser meets this definition.
The clitoris normally increases significantly in size during puberty, and life. One of my medical references states that between the ages of 7 and 11 the clitoral glans typically increases in size by 20%, and further increases in size by 26% between the ages of 11 and 14. This means that during puberty the clitoral glans becomes 1.5 times larger than it was at the onset of puberty. Between the ages of 14 and 19 the clitoral glans further increases in size and becomes 1.8 times larger than it was at the age of 14. By the age of 32, the clitoris will likely be almost 4 times larger than it was at the onset of puberty. After menopause the clitoris could be nearly 7 times larger than it was at birth, and 2.5 times larger than it was at the age of 19. If the clitoral glans increases in size, the entire clitoris likely increased proportionately in size.
An article published in the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology & Metabolism in Israel compared the clitoral size of newborn girls of two ethnic groups, Jews and Bedouins. They found a "significant difference in clitoral length (12.6%) between the Jewish group (5.87 +/- 1.48 mm) [0.23 +/-0.06 inches] and the Bedouin group (6.61 +/- 1.72 mm) [0.26 +/- 0.07 inches]". While statistically there is a significant size difference, 0.74 mm (0.02 inches) doesn't seem like much to me. It should be noted that at birth the clitoris is proportionally larger than it will be later in life, as a result of having been exposed to the maternal hormone levels, that is the clitoris will decrease in size soon after birth, as the affects of those maternal hormones diminish. I am not aware of comparisons for other ethnic groups.
The visible portion of the clitoris of some girls and women is reported to measure up to about 2 1/2 inches (6.3cm) in length and nearly 1 inch (2.5cm) in diameter. When they are of this size, they look very similar to a penis. The only difference being a groove along the bottom side of the clitoris where the urethra would be located on a penis. While urine may not travel out the tip of these large clitorises, they do look similar to and function like a penis. These women, as well as women in general, are capable of experiencing erections, the sensation of having a "hard-on," producing ejaculate in their prostate gland, and even ejaculating.
The structure of the clitoris does not lend itself to change easily, as the result of mechanical forces. The masturbation habits of most women are not likely to affect the size of their clitoris, other than perhaps causing a slight increase in its size do to better blood circulation, if they masturbate on a regular basis. Again, a sign of health not disease. Using untypical methods, such as drawing increased amounts of blood into the clitoris with a vacuum pump or clitoral pump on a frequent basis can result in an increase in size, as the vascular structures are slowly stretched and enlarged to accommodate the additional blood. There probably are not many women who do this, but with increased access to the Internet this may change. In 2000 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a clit pump, the Eros Clitoral Therapy Device (EROS-CTD) for the treatment of female sexual dysfunction.
There are some references that indicate a large clitoris was and is possibly still considered attractive among some cultures, so again girls and women engaged in practices that enlarged their clitoris. The validity of these claims is somewhat in doubt, but seem likely. It is not known whether the clitoris was actually enlarged by these practices or if the clitoris only became more prominently visible, as a result of increased mobility caused by the stretching of the connective tissues. The clitoris of these women may have been more visible rather than larger.
The clitoris is very sensitive to androgens like testosterone. Prescription and non-prescription steroidal drugs can cause a woman's clitoris to increase in size, sometime significantly. Some clitorises are said to achieve a maximum length of about 2 1/2 inches (6.3cm), if steroids are administered for an extended period of time, and depending on the age of the woman. Female athletes who take steroids to increase muscles mass and strength often experience this side affect, as do female to male transsexuals. Sometimes steroids are prescribed to treat medical conditions, like lack of libido, causing this result, but usually to a lesser degree. The vast majorities of large clitorises are the result of genetics, not drugs as some presume, believing a large clitoris cannot be natural.
While there is no evidence to support the claim that a bigger clitoris performs better, a few women do have a form of penis envy. As an increasing number of women are learning that their clitoris is much like a small penis, and capable of being much larger, some are expressing a desire to enlarge it. Perhaps in hopes that if it were larger it would function better and be easier for their partner and themselves to find and stimulate. A few women may even desire a small penis of their own, even if they are happy being a feminine woman. Perhaps they simply would like to have something to hold on to or to stroke when they masturbate. At this time, I am not aware of a safe and proven way of making the clitoris larger that does not expose a woman to potentially undesired side affects.
If a woman feels better about the size of her clitoris she is likely to be more sexual and sexually responsive, regardless of whether her clitoris is made larger or smaller than it was originally. Our brains after all are our largest sexual organ. It is important to keep in mind the fact that the brain plays a larger role in female sexual pleasure than does the clitoris, regardless of size.
Women and Their Clitoris: Personal Discovery,
Signification, and Use (PDF)
Quote from article: "Under continued, broad, and pervasive conditions of symbolic clitoridectomy..."
Thank you for the honest information about labial sizes & the photos on your site. I went on the web looking for something like this. I have always been acutely self-conscious about my labia minora, as they are about 3 cm [1.25 in] long & as far as I had ever seen, no other woman I knew of looked like this. I thought I was ugly and was very embarrassed. In high school I hated showering where anyone could see me, and felt a lot of anxiety about this whole area of my body. Even as a married woman I have repeatedly asked my husband if I am ugly, if he thinks it is disgusting etc.
When I asked my doctor about it, she dismissed my interest and just said it looks normal. But as you say on the site, all the books with diagrams etc. look nothing like me, so I couldn't see how I could be normal.
My daughter is now six and I have noticed that her labia seem to be developing similar to my own. I thought "oh no!" Then I realized I should get some facts. I wanted information to share with her so she would understand her body and why it is built the way it is. I didn't want her to go through the same anxieties I did. I am thrilled to find your site. Thank you for putting this info out there.
Labial Size and Shape
The illustrations on this page are just a small sampling of those in the book Atlas of Human Sex Anatomy by Robert Latou Dickinson M.D., F.A.C.S. Copyright 1949 The Williams & Wilkins Company. Reprinted by the Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company. It appears to be the only book of its kind in existence, a book documenting the vast diversity of human sexual anatomy.
This article was first published between October 17, 1998 and October 12, 1999