Not everyone who has a vulva has as much intimate knowledge of it as they should. Certainly, people who don’t have one but whose sexual partners do don’t always know very much, either. Whether it’s figuring out the best vibrator to use for intense orgasm or understanding why it looks or feels a certain way, we all benefit when we know our bodies better.
If you were lucky enough to have sex education in school, it probably didn’t discuss everything you need to know — whether it’s for sex or for your physical health. The more you know, the better it is for everyone.
Here are six things you probably never knew and should know about vulvas and the people they’re attached to.
Vulva and Vagina Aren’t the Same Things
The vulva is the entire external and internal area of the genitals. This includes the labia (commonly referred to as the lips), clitoris, mons, urethral opening, and vagina. Basically, the vulva is everything, and the vagina is a very specific part. It’s the place where toys, fingers, hands, tongues, or penises go in and babies come out. Although it’s common for people to say “vagina” when they mean “vulva,” that’s not correct. It’s always ideal to use the correct term whenever possible, and it might give you the opportunity to educate someone who doesn’t know the difference.
Genitals Don’t Equal Gender
Many people who consider themselves women or female also have a vulva. But this isn’t always true for everyone. Some people are genderfluid, non-binary, or transgender. What it means to be a “woman” has nothing to do with your genitals. If you were born with a vulva and consider yourself a woman, you’re (likely) cisgender. But if you were born with a penis and happen to be a woman, then you’re (likely, but not always) a transgender woman. Regardless of your gender identity, which can be unique from person to person, your reproductive organs don’t determine gender.
Vulvas Don’t Stretch the Way You Think They Do
During childbirth and penetration, the vaginal opening stretches to accommodate the object going in or coming out. During any form of penetration, you need plenty of lubrication, time, patience, and (sometimes) arousal for it to feel comfortable. For childbirth, nature takes over but it’s not going to feel comfortable. But the idea that the more sex you have or the more kids you have, the more stretched out your vagina will be is completely false. The vaginal opening contracts back to it’s usual size after penetration and childbirth.
Everyone Enjoys Different Sensations
In terms of sexual pleasure, everyone — with or without a vulva — enjoys different sensations. Specific to vulvas, some people prefer clitoral stimulation with a vibrator. Others might want to be penetrated with a dildo or vibrator to hit their g-spot. Still, others want both g-spot and clitoral whether they use multiple toys, a rabbit vibrator, or a combination of hand and sex toy. If your partner has a vulva, don’t assume you know what they’ll like. Ask what gets them off or ask them to show you how they like to be touched.
Some Things are Completely Normal
Regardless of what porn shows you or erotica tells you, vulvas and vaginas don’t all look exactly the same. And, because the human body is a complicated and sometimes strange thing, “weird” stuff can be completely normal. Vaginal discharge, on its own, is usually normal. Menstruation is normal. So is pubic hair. Most importantly, there’s no single size or shape of someone’s labia. Large labia are just as normal as small labia.
Some Things Aren’t Normal
It’s all too easy for people with vulvas and their partners to overlook or even ignore things that aren’t supposed to happen. Sometimes this is because you don’t know better, and sometimes it’s because you don’t want to make a fuss. Pain or burning sensations during penetration aren’t “normal.” It may mean that you need to use lube or slow down before attempting penetration. But it might also mean there’s something medically wrong. If lube and time don’t fix the issue, talk to your doctor.
Many people treat vulvas and vaginas like they’re mysterious and unknowable. While a lack of comprehensive sex education is mostly to blame, you don’t have to remain lost and confused. When we talk about these things openly and without judgment, we realize just how normal and yet still unique we truly are. And when you understand your body (or your partner’s body) even more, you have better, more satisfying sexual experiences together.