The vagina and the external structures of the vulva naturally range in shape, color, and size.
When it comes to anything related to bodies and sexual and reproductive health, most people wonder, “Am I normal?” The answer regarding the vagina is that there is a wide variety of healthy shapes, sizes, and colors.
This article describes different types of vagina. We also discuss when to see a doctor based on the appearance of the vagina and factors such as discharge.
Types of vagina
Most studies reveal that vaginas share a general shape, but that there are many variations in length and width.
A person’s vulva is unique to them, and there are many possible variations in appearance.
When people refer to the vagina, they usually mean the visible, external part of the genitals. The proper term for this area is the vulva.
The vulva includes many structures, such as the labia majora and labia minora, or inner and outer lips. These are folds of skin that surround the vaginal opening and the urethral opening.
Depending on the size and shape of the external structures, the appearance of the vulva can vary widely.
It is rare for any variation in this shape or size to be a cause for concern.
Taking this variety into account, some common characteristics of the vulva include:
The outer lips of the vulva, or the labia majora, are longer in some people. The lips may hang low, and the skin may seem thin, or they may be thick and puffy.
The outer lips are usually relatively smooth and do not fold as much as the inner lips.
Some people have outer lips that hide the inner lips and clitoris almost entirely. In others, the outer lips may curve and meet at the ends, exposing some of the inner lips above.
If the outer lips are short, they may not meet and may expose the inner lips more prominently.
It is typical for the inner lips, or labia minora, to be visible. They may dangle below the outer lips or otherwise be prominent.
One inner lip may be longer than the other. Asymmetry in the labia is not necessarily a cause for concern.
Some people may have short inner lips that the outer lips hide. In others, the outer and inner lips are of similar length.
If the outer and inner lips are small and close to the inner thighs, the clitoral hood, which hides the clitoris, may be visible.
These are some variations in shape, but healthy vulvas have many other shapes and sizes.
Inside the vagina
The inside of the vagina is like a long tube with folded areas that can expand and contract. Some doctors compare this characteristic to an accordion.
Imaging studies reveal that most vaginas are narrower toward the vaginal opening and wider toward the cervix. This usually forms a “V” shape, although the width at the widest point can vary.
Their vagina can seem wider or looser following childbirth. This is because the vaginal tissues expand to make room for a baby to pass down the birth canal. The vagina may resume its pre-pregnancy size, or it may remain slightly widened.
Factors that may affect the size of the vagina include height and age.
The vagina can change in size, or length, to accommodate a tampon, finger, or penis, for example. It does this by stretching and elongating. This also moves the cervix and uterus upward.
The length of the vagina varies, but the average length, when a person is not aroused, is just under 4 inches, according to an article in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
However, the length can range significantly from person to person, from about 2.5 inches to 5 inches or more.
In a study published in the International Urogynecology Journal, researchers used MRI to measure the length, width, and angles of participants’ vaginas.
They found that, in some cases, they could predict variations in length based on a participant’s height and age, but not necessarily their weight. For example, a taller person may have a longer vagina.
Skin colors naturally vary, including the skin of the vulva. Doctors report the following colors of the vulva:
The color can also vary, depending on blood flow. During arousal, the flow of blood increases, and the vulva may appear purplish.
Some people note color changes when they have certain medical conditions. A yeast infection, for example, may cause the vulva to appear purple or red.
The following factors can also influence the appearance or smell of the vulva, and they naturally vary from person to person:
Pubic hair may help protect the genitals from bacterial illnesses. Pubic hair may also be a natural signal of reproductive maturity.
The amount, color, and texture of pubic hair vary from person to person.
Pubic hair that develops early — before age 8 — and excessive amounts of pubic hair may point to an increased risk of polycystic ovary syndrome.
Pubic hair tends to thin as people age, due to hormone-related changes.
Vaginal discharge and secretions help keep the vaginal tissues healthy.
Some people use the color and consistency of their discharge to track their fertility. For example, very stretchy discharge can occur during ovulation.
Changes in vaginal discharge can indicate an infection, which requires medical attention. See a doctor if discharge is green, gray, or foul-smelling.
Learn more about the different types of vaginal discharge here.
The vagina provides an exit for menstrual blood. The amount of blood that a person loses can vary from period to period. Some people tend to only have mild spotting, while others have heavy bleeding.
A person can control their flow somewhat by taking hormonal medication, such as birth control pills.
Anyone whose menstrual flow routinely soaks pads or makes them feel dizzy or short of breath should see a doctor. They may have heavy menstrual flow, which can disrupt daily activities.
The vagina naturally contains bacteria and yeasts that can cause odors. The smell can vary from sweet to metallic.
A person’s menstrual cycle, their overall health, and the natural flora of the vagina can all affect vaginal odor.
Usually, variations in vaginal smell are no cause for concern. However, a foul smell can indicate infection.
When to see a doctor
Anyone who notices unusual changes in the appearance of their vulva should speak to a doctor.
Anyone who has concerns about their vagina or vulva should see a doctor. Some common concerns include:
- unusual discharge
- unusual smell
- a change in the color of the labial tissues
- heavy bleeding
- pain during sex
Some people have congenital anomalies that may require surgical treatment.
For example, some people have a wall — called a vertical vaginal septum — in the vagina. The wall essentially creates two vaginas.
A person may not notice this until they start menstruating or become sexually active.
From sexual pleasure to childbirth to menstrual flow, the vagina and vulva can play many roles.
Most variations in shape, size, and color are healthy. However, if a person has concerns about their vagina or vulva, they should consult a doctor.