The genital anatomy of people with vulvas is amazing. It encompasses the clitoris with it’s 8000 nerve endings (in the tip alone), so much more than just a little nub, but including internal anatomy that is as large as a penis. There is the the g-spot, just inside the vaginal wall, which in reality is more of an area, than a single point. There are the other pleasure spots such as the anus, and the cervix. With so much orgasmic potential, what’s there not to love?
How To Love Your Vulva
However, despite the juicy bliss spots many vulva-owners, experience a lack of understanding of their genitals. A 2021 study found that the majority of people with vulvas struggle to name their anatomy. In the study participants were given a survey where they were asked to name seven structures of their genital anatomy. Just 46% identified that there were three holes while almost half didn’t label any at all. Only 9% correctly labelled the seven structures. Another study from 2014 by the Eve Appeal for raising awareness about gynecological cancers found that 65% of people felt uncomfortable using the terms vulva and vagina.
Take the Quiz: How Well Do You Know the Vulva?
Without accurate understanding of the names of our genital anatomy, how can we learn and grow in our sexual discovery? Without the ease to use the correct anatomical terms how can people express their sexual needs to a partner? Although we can all have our own pet names for our genitals or pleasure spots, the lack of knowledge and uncomfortableness surrounding language does suggest a disconnection between the genitals and their owners.
Growing up in a culture with so much silence surrounding sexuality, it’s no wonder that we experience shame, and embarrassment coupled with a lack of knowledge. This shame can leave us feeling insecure about our genitals. We may look at our vulvas and wonder if they’re normal, and how they are meant to appear. The problem can be exacerbated by porn, filling our minds of ideas of perfect, symmetrical labia. that we feel our own vulvas don’t meet up to.
However in reality vulvas and labias come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Acknowledging the beauty of difference can be the first step to loving our own vulvas.
Elizabeth Wood is a sex therapist and co-author with Dee Hartmann of The Pleasure Prescription: A Surprising Approach To Sexual Pain. In the book Wood describes part of her journey towards accepting her labia. She used to think that they were "too big" as they hang down lower than her outer labia. Then she signed up for a workshop in Quodushka, a form of Native American sacred sexuality. In Quodushka, labia are actually classified into different shapes, represented by different animals, with certain sexual characteristics.
For example Wood’s big inner labia were defined as a 'buffalo" woman and these inner labia can actually be a huge source of sexual pleasure. Other labia types include; the "sheep" woman, who have puffy rounded vulva, and are described as being sensitive with a need for heartfelt connection during sex and; the ‘"wolf" woman has an inner labia that look like butterfly wings and is reputed to have a rich fantasy life.
Quodushka teachings are a beautiful way to embrace the unique differences between vulvas rather than assuming there is ‘one’ way they are meant to look. (for a full list and description of the vulva types check out The Pleasure Prescription or The Sexual Practises of Quodoushka by Amara Charles.)
Another step on Elizabeth Wood’s journey to accepting her vulva was to ask her sisters if they could share what each other’s vulvas looked like.
"I began to wonder whether my sisters had labia that looked like mine. After all, even though we have the same mother and father, our noses, eyes and mouths don’t look alike. What about our vulvas? What we saw was fantastic. Our vulvas didn’t look at all alike! And each vulva was undoubtedly uniquely beautiful!"
You many not have the courage to ask a sister, or girlfriend for a vulva show and tell, but there are opportunities online to learn more about this organ in all it’s variety of shapes and sizes.
Check out the Labia Library, which shows a wide variety of vulvas and labia of all shapes and sizes. the site also has info about the names.
Laura Dodsworth is a photographer who photographed 100 vaginas for her book Womanhood: The Bare Reality. In an interview for the BBC she said,
"It’s so important for women to know what vulvas look like. It can help with body image anxiety. We really need to talk about them because many women haven’t looked at their own. They don’t know what’s down there.”
To start your own journey towards falling in love with your vulva you could take a hand mirror and have a look at yours. This may seem uncomfortable or even a little scary at first if you’ve never done it before. Treat this exercises as a meditative experience. Take a few deep breaths, and just observe, what you see and your thoughts and feelings. In Tantric philosophy it is believed that enlightenment can occur just from gazing at the yoni.
You might want to journal your reactions, and any thoughts and feelings that come up. You could try drawing and colouring your vulva, or even making a vulva plaster cast. Artist Gloria Dimmel created dozens of plaster casts of different vulvas and ended up photographing them and turning them into a game called Pussy Pairs. These exercises can be ways to honor and love your vulva, unique and perfect as it is. Perhaps we should vulvas as being like snowflakes. No two are exactly alike!
Kate Orson is a freelance writer, and author of Tears Heal: How to listen to our children. She writes, about self-help, parenting, and more recently, sex! She is currently working on a memoir; A Cut in The Brain, about her experience of having the LEEP procedure, and her recovery from side effects that doctors didn't warn her about.