There are billions of women and people who menstruate around the world, which means there are billions of vulvas out there. BILLIONS. And yet, there is still so much stigma surrounding vulvas. From what they look like to what they do to how people interact with them.
It’s disappointing and sad that in 2022, our anatomy is still being stigmatized, overlooked, and misunderstood. After reviewing results from a survey of 6,000 participants, we decided it was time to talk about vulvas to help promote and encourage positivity and confidence.
First things first: what is the vulva?
Good news: 86% of those surveyed said they know what a vulva is - phew! But just in case anyone needs a refresher, the vulva is the outer parts of female genitals, including the opening of the vagina, the outer vaginal lips (labia majora), inner vaginal lips (labia minora), and the clitoris.
What is its purpose?
Plain and simple: to give you pleasure and protection. The vulva is filled with highly sensitive nerves that, when properly stimulated, provide pleasure for women. It also protects the internal reproductive system. So, the vulva is kind of a big deal and a total badass, yet many worry that it doesn’t look “normal”, leaving them with feelings of anxiety and insecurity.
59% of people surveyed said they thought their vulva might not look normal
64% experienced negative feelings or anxiety about their vulva
54% said their perception of their vulva affected their desire to receive oral sex
That’s a lot of negativity surrounding such positive parts of our bodies. But why?
Sex education is lacking
It is no surprise that many of us are self conscious about our vulvas when we are taught to feel ashamed of our bodies from a young age. Instead of exploring our parts and what they do, we’re told to cover up and cross our legs. Instead of learning about safe sex and developing sex-positive mindsets, we’re taught shame, fed exaggerated facts, and scared into believing sexual pleasure is “dirty” or somehow “bad.”
This is because there is really no comprehensive, dedicated curriculum for sex education, so we’re pretty much at the mercy of educators who are often not equipped with scientific, medical, and factual information without bias, opinions, or agenda.
If we were actually taught how essential the vulva is to enjoyable sexual experiences, how it protects the vagina, and that they are all different but equally awesome, we may not be facing such obstacles embracing our vulvas today.
Society prioritizes male pleasure
When learning about sex, we often learn the ins and out of the penis. We learn where it’s most sensitive, how ejaculation works, heck, we’re even given enough information to determine how to make men ejaculate, building upon the idea that good sex is determined by male orgasm. BUT, what about us?
81.6% of women don’t orgasm from vaginal sex without added clitoral stimulation, while 18.4% state that sex alone isn’t enough for them to have an orgasm. This is because we are often taught that sexual pleasure comes from vaginal sex. We’ve learned that men get off from this method, so we are engrained to believe that we should too.
But without clit stimulation, aka, paying attention to the vulva during sex, much of our pleasure center is ignored, thus leaving our gateway to orgasm ajar at best. Enjoyable sex for most of us means that the vulva must be stimulated and engaged during sex through toys, like vibrators, hands—whatever you fancy.
When it comes down to sex ed, beyond learning about our menstrual cycles and how babies are made, are we taught where our pleasure centers are? Nope. Are we taught about how sex is for men and women, to be enjoyed by both? Nah. Are we given information about women’s sexual organs—beyond pregnancy—and how they work for sex to actually be enjoyable? LOL.
So it’s no wonder so many of us feel so vulnerable about our vulvas—we’ve never been taught to give them much thought (or love)!
Social media & porn are partly to blame
65% of people polled said social media, like TikTok and Instagram, contribute to the stigmatization of vulvas.
Following social media as truth and doctrine is a fast way to be misled about the world—including vulvas. It is easy to make life look perfect through a few photos and snappy phrases. It’s also easy to make bodies look and feel as though they should be uniform.
All vulvas are different. Some are bigger, some are smaller, some have longer lips, some shorter. None are better than others and none are more or less beautiful or purposeful. Just like we all have different colored eyes that serve the same purpose, we all have different vulvas that serve the same purpose.
The problem with some social media is that it can be produced by people who have been fed misinformation about vulvas their whole lives or fueled by people who have been taught to stigmatize the varying appearances of vulvas. However, we encourage you to take a moment and search “vulva” on Instagram—you may be surprised to find supportive messaging, inclusive illustrations, and loud and proud discussions.
89% feel porn contributes to unrealistic standards of what vulvas look like.
Another obstacle that renders many feeling self conscious about their vulvas is porn. Generally speaking, most porn is made for men, directed by men, for the fantasies of men. The vulvas we see in porn are often picked to represent what certain men believe to be attractive, desirable, or “normal.” Spoiler: whatever YOUR vulva looks like, that is what’s normal.
Much of porn is created to be a fantastical, and sometimes, harmful, representation of sex and bodies. So if you’re feeling like your vulva doesn’t look like someone’s in porn—that is TOTALLY fine. It’s not supposed to.
Porn is built on fantasy, it’s not usually built on realism. So take what you see with a proverbial grain of salt, shake it off, and go back to being thankful and proud of your vulva for everything it is and does.
Get to know your vulva
77% of surveyors said they’ve taken the time to look at their own vulva.
We 100% encourage you to do the same! Get to know what it looks like, where all the parts of your vulva are, what they feel like, what feels good, and what doesn’t. After spending some time together, we bet you will learn to adore your vulva for the incredible part of you it is.
At The Pill Club, our goal is to provide the most up-to-date, objective, and research-based information to help readers make informed decisions. Articles are written by experienced contributors; they are grounded in research and evidence-based practices. All information has been fact-checked and extensively reviewed by our team of experts to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards. Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.