This week, two viral Reddit threads highlighted an enduring truth: Nobody actually knows anything about the female labia. In a TwoXChromosomes subreddit, user okcookies wrote in to fume about an overheard conversation between two coworkers, in which both men sincerely stated their belief that "the darker the vag the more dudes she's been pounded by."
In another archived thread making the rounds this week, another user wrote of her frustration that "a lot of people seem to be under the impression that a female's anatomy changes drastically with every sexual experience she has. This includes but is not limited to the length and color of her labia."
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Unlike its well-publicized but evasive cousin, the G-spot, the labia does not attract glowing write-ups in women's magazines or testimonials from happy customers. If this were a PR contest, the labia would be in last place. The labia is the Ringo Starr of female genitalia: underappreciated. This may explain why people actually believe that "dark color is caused by friction" or say out loud, within actual hearing distance of other living human beings, "Oh, long lips… Her pussy is beat up."
While most of us have long since disassociated vaginal tightness from being pounded on the regular, the same can't be said of labia shape or coloring. On Reddit, numerous users attempted to dispel this myth with convoluted arguments about porn ("pornstars get railed more often than most people on Earth, but many of them have small labia") or dubious racial stereotyping ("by that logic, dark skinned people have the most sex").
Horror stories about 'whores with sleeping bags for vaginas' are just that—stories.
But, to paraphrase an old adage, on the Internet, nobody knows if you're a medical expert or a 13-year-old with a "Female Body Inspector" t-shirt. To settle the debate once and for all, I spoke to a few professionals to see if the labia can indeed turn many colors, not unlike Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
"There is no evidence that the labia undergoes any permanent changes as a result of having sex," says Dr. Toli Onon, a spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the UK. "During orgasm, the labia will become engorged with blood, which will make them appear larger and darker, but this is not long-lasting."
"Scientifically, there isn't [any evidence]," agrees Pradnya Pisal, a consultant gynecologist at the London Gynecology clinic. She says that there are only a few times in life when the appearance of the labia may change: during puberty, weight gain ("if you put on fat, you put on fat everywhere else as well, and that will change the way the vulva and labia appear"), and most crucially, pregnancy.
"Pregnancy hormones certainly affect all the tissues [in the body], so there is deposition of fat and sometimes there is a lot of retention of fluid," Pisal explains. "The color [of the labia] changes from pregnancy, with some increase in deposition of melanin in certain cells of the body. We see the appearance of the linea nigra [the vertical line that appears going down the belly during pregnancy], which becomes dark; we see the same changes around the areolae as well. Not everything will fade with time, but there will be some improvement."
Horror stories about "whores with sleeping bags for vaginas" are just that—stories. In fact, there is an enormous amount of natural variation in the color and shape of labia. We just never really noticed it before. "I think in years gone by, when things like Hollywood [waxes] weren't in fashion, people didn't notice their labia so much because a lot of hair grows there," says Amanda Tozer, a consultant gynecologist at the London Clinic.
"In some ways, it's much more exposed when people are waxing. There's been a misguided focus on the labia because I think people are far more aware of it once they've had a wax. It's just normal skin and color variation. It's like how some people get slightly darker skin on their inner thighs."
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"Labias are as individual as women themselves and vary in appearance and color," confirms Dr. Onin. "Any woman worried about her labia or who is worried about any changes should seek advice from her GP."
In the 24 years that Tozer has worked in gynecology, she says that she has never once seen a labia that might have necessitated immediate surgical intervention (labiaplasty), sex-related or otherwise. "I've treated lots of patients to reduce the size of their labia, but that's purely their personal choice," she says. "There's never been a medical need to do it. And believe me, I've seen thousands and thousands of labia! And never, ever, ever have I seen one that needed surgery." There you go, Reddit.