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 vaginas, how they can vary, and when to see a doctor.

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Overall, most people’s vaginas have a similar shape, but vaginas can also vary widely in terms of:

  • length and width
  • shape of the labia, or lips
  • amount of pubic hair
  • color
  • discharge and odor

When people refer to the vagina, they usually mean the visible, external part of the genitals. The anatomical 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 and urethral openings.

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:

Outer lips

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.

Inner lips

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 possible 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 descriptions 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.

The hymen

The hymen is a thin membrane that, in most females, partly covers the opening to the vagina. The labia protect the hymen, which some people compare with a hair scrunchy, as it can expand and contract.

Hymens vary greatly in shape and elasticity, and they can also change with age or during pregnancy.

In some cases, the hymen may fully cover the vagina. This can lead to complications, as it may prevent menstrual blood from leaving the body.

Some people say a hymen can indicate whether a person is a virgin or not, but this is untrue. The first time a person has sex, they may bleed, but this is not true for everyone. One reason for this may be tears in the hymen.

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 is just under 4 inches, according to a 2016 study. In this study, researchers sometimes used MRI scans to measure the length, width, and angles of participants’ vaginas.

However, some people’s vaginas measure up to 7 inches.

To measure the length of a vagina, researchers consider the average length of the anterior (near the bladder) and posterior (near the rectum) vaginal walls. However, the length can vary significantly.

Skin colors naturally vary, including the skin of the vulva.

The color of the vulva may be:

  • burgundy
  • pink
  • red
  • wine

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.

Pubic hair may help protect the genitals from bacterial illnesses. It can also indicate sexual maturity, as it usually develops during puberty.

The amount, color, and texture of pubic hair vary from person to person.

In children, the development of pubic hair before age 8 and excessive amounts of pubic hair may point to an increased risk of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), according to research published in 2015.

Pubic hair tends to thin as people age due to hormone-related changes.

Why do people have pubic hair?

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, an increase in discharge usually occurs a few days before ovulation.

Changes in vaginal discharge can indicate an infection that needs medical attention. A person should see a doctor if they have green, gray, or foul-smelling discharge.

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.

Anyone whose menstrual flow routinely soaks pads or makes them feel dizzy or short of breath should see a doctor. A heavy menstrual flow can disrupt daily activities and may result in anemia. It can also be a sign of a health condition that may need treatment.

In some cases, a doctor may prescribe birth control pills to help manage heavy menstrual bleeding.

The vagina naturally contains bacteria and yeasts that can cause odors. The smell can vary from sweet to metallic.

A person’s menstrual cycle, 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, an unpleasant smell can indicate an infection such as bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis.

Here learn about different types of vaginal odors.

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
  • pelvic pain
  • menstruation not starting around the age of puberty

Some people have congenital anomalies that may require surgical treatment.

For example, some people have a wall — called a vaginal septum — either across or down the vagina. The wall divides the vagina into two sections. It can affect menstruation and may cause problems during sex. Surgery can resolve this.

Other unusual features a person may be born with are:

  • vaginal agenesis, when the vagina stops developing before birth, so that the vagina will be shorter than usual, or there may be no vagina
  • an imperforate hymen, when the hymen blocks the opening to the vagina, preventing menstrual blood from leaving the body
  • a septate hymen, when a band of extra tissue in the hymen dividies the vaginal opening in two, making it difficult to insert a tampon
  • a microperforate hymen, where the hymen almost covers the vagina, which can make it difficult to remove a tampon

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.

Read the article in Spanish.