By Zahra Barnes– Self
If you’re insecure about anything having to do with your vagina, chances are you don’t feel like you can work through those feelings with many people in your life. Although some friendships and relationships come with the freedom to discuss all things vagina-related, unfortunately, many don’t—and sometimes it can feel strange even bringing up your concerns with your ob/gyn. But that’s precisely what your doctor is there for: to either reassure you that things are fine, or come up with a treatment plan if they’re not.
Here, ob/gyns discuss some of the most common vagina-related worries patients have that are actually nothing to worry about.
- Having “long” labia or labia that seem uneven
Worries about labia minora are one of the most common concerns ob/gyns encounter. The labia minora are the smaller, “inner” lips of the vulva, or the collection of parts making up the external female genitalia.
“I blame all this on the fact that women started waxing and [using other hair-removal methods],” Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale Medical School, tells SELF, explaining that people with vaginas can get “all discombobulated” when they realize their labia don’t quite look the same as other people’s. Porn also comes into play with “vagina insecurity,” Sherry Ross, M.D., ob/gyn and women’s health expert in Santa Monica, California, and author of She-ology, tells SELF.
“You can equate it with your ears and breasts—no two of anything on your body are ever the exact same, just like no two snowflakes are the same,” Ross says.
Labia minora are typically between one and two inches long, Minkin says, adding that some people have labia minora smaller or bigger than that, which is also normal. The only sign that your labia may actually be too long is if they stick out of underwear and bathing suits, cause swelling and pain when biking, swimming, running, or otherwise being active, or even get dragged into the vagina during sex. “When the labia become disruptive and painful, that’s when we talk about surgically fixing them,” Ross says.
This situation is pretty rare. “I’ve been doing gynecology for 40 years—I’ve seen a lot of vulvas in my life, and I don’t think I’ve seen anybody I would recommend labia surgery for,” Minkin says.
- Or labia that are a different color than the rest of your vulva
Your vulva doesn’t have to be the same color as the rest of you—and certain parts of your vulva, like your labia, might even be different colors than other parts. It’s all normal and fine, Minkin says—although sudden redness or inflammation can point to some sort of irritation or infection, in which case you should see your doctor.
- Discharge that changes throughout the month
“It’s good to have a little moisture in the vagina,” Minkin says. Discharge helps keep your vagina clean, plus it can be part of the natural lubrication that makes sex feel better than it would otherwise.
Throughout the month, your discharge might change from an egg-white consistency to a slightly thicker output, Ross explains. This is based on a variety of factors, like where you are in your cycle, your birth control, sexual activity, and diet.
Chances are your discharge is nothing to worry about unless it takes on a form you’ve never experienced before. Discharge that suddenly seems cottage cheese-like can point to a yeast infection, while discharge that turns green or yellow with a strange odor can hint at something like bacterial vaginosis or an STD like chlamydia.
These signs are especially worth noting when accompanied by irritation, itching, or burning, Minkin says. If you’re experiencing any of that, get to a doctor, stat.
- Getting random lumps and bumps that are actually NBD
Don’t automatically freak out if you get a bump down below. Various glands, like sweat glands and Bartholin’s glands, are located around your vagina, and sometimes they can get blocked, causing cysts that may or may not be painful. There are also other benign causes like razor burn, which you can get on the labia majora if you shave there, and ingrown hairs, which can crop up in the folds between your legs and vaginal area and on the mons pubis, that mound of skin above the clitoris.
“They come and they go, and it’s not unusual,” Ross says. “The vagina is so similar to the face in that you can get ‘acne,’ but it tends to go away and is nothing to worry about.” Of course, some kind of genital bumps are a sign of conditions like herpes or HPV—here’s more information on how to spot the difference. If the bumps hurt, appear in clusters, blister, or are worrying you for any other reason, see your doctor.
- Having a vagina that doesn’t smell like a bed of roses
Repeat after us: Vaginas are supposed to smell like vaginas, not like you’re traipsing through an English garden. Your personal scent is individual, Minkin says, but as long as it’s not reminiscent of anything rotting, fishy, or otherwise foul (all potential signs of something like bacterial vaginosis or an STD), you’re good.
“Most of the time, things tend to be much more normal than abnormal,” Minkin says. “In Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, their motto is ‘don’t panic,’ and that’s my mantra, too.”
Minkin and Ross both recommend against douching or using products designed to make your vagina smell different—they can be irritating and throw off the pH of your vagina, potentially leading to infection. If you think something’s up down there, see your doctor for advice.
- Seeing…stuff in your period blood
As it turns out, seeing clots in your period blood is completely normal, just like the rest of the stuff on this list. These clots basically happen when blood is coming out more quickly than your body’s anticoagulants, or anti-clotting substances, can keep up with. This is more likely to happen when your period is heavy, Minkin explains.
While clotting during your period is normal, what’s not normal is dealing with a period so heavy that you’re soaking through a pad or tampon (or more) each hour. “I would say that’s excessive bleeding,” Minkin says, adding that if this is your experience, it’s definitely time to seek medical attention.
- Needing or wanting lube during sex
Thanks to a series of incredibly cool biological mechanisms, your vagina will typically make its own natural lubrication when you’re turned on. But sometimes you need a little help, whether because you’re not as lubricated as you like, because you’re about to have a quickie and really do not have the time for your vagina to get with the program, because your vagina is undergoing age-related changes that can induce dryness, or because you just like really slippery sex. In any case, go for the lube without shame, Minkin says. But to avoid any irritation, if you have a sensitive vagina, you might want to avoid these six lube ingredients in the interest of keeping your privates as happy as possible.