08/25/2015 05:14 EDT | Updated 08/25/2016 05:59 EDT

All You Need to Know About Your Vulva and Vagina

woman looking with a magnifying glass in her panties
VladimirFLoyd via Getty Images
woman looking with a magnifying glass in her panties

We all grew up absorbing messages through jokes, comments and "feminine hygiene" ads that suggest women's vulvas (the outer genitals) and vaginas (the inner parts) are dirty, smelly, ugly and taste bad -- usually with a reference to salty fish.

Sometimes these messages are overt and direct, yet others are rather subtle and indirect. And even though you may not entirely believe those ideas, they often seep into our subconscious affecting our emotions, thoughts and behaviours surrounding our vulvas and vaginas and our comfort around sharing them with a partner.

It is high time that we debunk some of those myths to help us all -- those of us of all genders -- to better understand and celebrate the healthy truth about our intimate body parts!


A self-cleaning ecosystem, vaginas are cleaner than mouths.

Yes, it is true. And all you need to do to maintain its cleanliness is to rinse the outside and all of the labia folds with water. If you want to use soap, use a pH balanced one (slightly acidic) that will not throw off its natural balance (oddly enough, semen and menstrual blood are alkaline and disrupt the naturally acidic balance in the vagina!).

Never clean on the inside of the vagina. It cleans itself. When people put douches and other "cleaning" products inside, they get rid of both the good and bad bacteria. And guess which one comes back first? Yes, the bad bacteria return more quickly and multiply while your natural healthy bacteria are absent. (And by the way, our bodies have over 10,000 types of bacteria naturally all over, so the vagina is by far not the only place we have them). So if you are ok with someone kissing your mouth, then remember that your vulva/ vagina are much cleaner (rather than dirtier) options for accepting kisses!

But what about that discharge you ask? This is a part of the self-cleaning. It is a sign of health, not illness or uncleanliness. Everyone's discharge is a little different but generally it is more abundant prior to ovulation (generally half way through your cycle) and less so prior to menstruation, when breastfeeding and in menopause. It is usually relatively clear but as the fluid in the cervix changes, a whiter thicker discharge comes out twice during a cycle: once just prior to ovulation and once just prior to bleeding.

And the blood? Well if it is dirty, then we all have dirt coursing though our veins and we all grew in a dirty environment for the first nine months. On the contrary, blood is a healthy substance. It is a natural part of all of our bodies. Those who get their periods just happen to shed it regularly.

If you use tampons or pads the colour usually looks less bright than the bright red sheen because it discolours and changes over time. So the longer the blood has been inside -- either flowing slowly at the end of the cycle or sitting on a tampon for several hours- the darker and more odorous it will be. But the natural colour is generally similar to what you would see on a cut.

And imagine for a moment what would be different if penises spewed blood monthly. Surely this effluent would be considered sacred and desirable as a source of power, wealth and/or fertility! It would likely be bottled and sold for a high premium!


Our bodies have natural odours all over. Our natural genital smells are considered pheromones: sexy smells to attract a partner (try dabbing a little on the inside of your wrists as you would perfume and see what results you get!). A shower takes away stale, stronger smells and leave us with our more fresh natural scents, especially in places where there are folds of skin, namely genitals and armpits. Freshly washed genitals of all varieties smell similarly, so vulvas are not more odorous than penises. If however there is still a strong odour post-shower (i.e. being able to smell it from across the room), it is usually a sign of infection and warrants a visit to your doctor.


The palate for oral sex is considered an acquired one. Most do not appreciate the flavour of alcohol, caviar or blue cheese the first few times they try them either. Often, this is the case with sexual juices as well. While it is not really a sweet flavour, most oral sex aficionados would maintain that it is a sexy and decadent one. Try it on yourself. After a shower, insert a finger and taste your own natural juices. It is good to have a benchmark as to what you taste like so that you can tell if your balance is off. And if you taste yourself periodically you might feel more comfortable knowing what the taste is that you are offering your partner during your oral escapades.


Even those who are comfortable walking around naked in the change room, still don't really understand the diversity of vulvas and what they really look like. Unlike penises that hang out for all to see, vulvas are quite private until we spread our legs. Using porn as a benchmark for what vulvas "normally" look like, offers a one-dimensional narrow version of beauty, similar to the limited representation of women's bodies in the media in general.

"I'll Show You Mine" is an awesome (Canadian!) book that showcases the diversity of our vulvas in all of their glory. Large or small labia, prominent or hidden clitoris, variations in colour and size are all what make us unique in our beauty.

Take out your own mirror to appreciate and admire what you really look like. You will likely be much more comfortable having a partner up-close and personal with your private bits if you have a better sense of what they are looking at! So go ahead, make friends with your vulva and vagina. They have been much maligned for too many years. Have a good look and appreciation for all that it can bring: pleasure, babies, and beauty.

Counteract the negative messages out there with positives -- especially if you have young women and girls in your life. It is time for women to reclaim the power and beauty of our whole body and feel great about our sexual parts as well!

About The Author: Carlyle Jansen is the founder of Good For Her, Toronto's premiere sexuality shop and workshop centre, and producer of the annual Feminist Porn Awards. She is a regular contributor to Her Magazine. Read more of Carlyle's articles here.

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