'Pretty kitty' sensory overload causing vulvar insecurity

All Woman

POPULAR female dancehall artiste Spice, in her 2014 song Back Bend, celebrated the appearance of her vulva — which she says is prettiest when viewed from behind. The line got even more attention when Member of Parliament Lisa Hanna made reference to it at a panel discussion in 2016. But more than that, Spice's declaration caused a lot of Jamaican women to question whether their genitalia were pleasing to the eye.

Many women don't have examples of what their vulva should look like, except for diagrams in biology textbooks and doctors' offices, and the seemingly perfect ones flaunted in adult films. And because unlike men, when we look down we can't see what we're working with, a woman's confidence in the appearance of her vulva — what she views as a 'pretty kitty' — is sometimes heavily dependent on what she feels and glimpses from an awkward angle in a mirror, and reviews by sexual partners.

“I think the lips are a bit long, but otherwise it looks OK,” one of five women we spoke to said.

Another: “It looks plummy in tight panties, but I guess gravity kinds of does its thing when I'm naked.”

A third woman said that she never contorted herself to actually have a look at it, but what she feels when bathing feels normal enough.

“I don't have a problem with it, but my boyfriend says it looks like a burger with lettuce hanging out. I'm not sure if that's a nice description,” the fourth woman shared.

The fifth woman said she thought maybe there was too much extra skin over her clitoris, that made it look ugly, but she didn't mind it.

Consultant obstetrician-gynaecologist Dr Kimberly Martin has worked extensively with women's bodies, and has seen numerous vulvas. She told All Woman that, “There is no such thing as an ugly vulva.”

“The vulva is the external genitalia of the female which consists collectively of the mons pubis, labia majora, minora, clitoris and the vestibule of the vagina and bartholins glands,” she said, in mapping out the area.

She said from the responses, it seems that the labia minora are what most women have an issue with.

“The labia minora are a pair of thin, cutaneous folds that form part of the vulva, found just [inside of] the labia majora. They are hairless and have very little fatty tissue when compared to the labia majora, which are predominantly made of fatty tissue. There is considerable variation among women in the length, shape, width and pigmentation,” Dr Martin reassured.

She explained that this outer region carries out two main functions.

“One is protecting the internal genital organs, and the other is assisting or enhancing sexual pleasure.”

Dr Martin pointed out, however, that sometimes one or both of these 'inner lips' can appear enlarged, a condition called labial hypertrophy.

“It is a very subjective condition,” she said. “And the reality is some women may become conscious of the appearance of their external genitalia, which may affect their confidence during sexual activity, leading to emotional or psychological distress.”

She was quick to add that beyond this, most women have no additional symptoms.

“Occasionally, because the labia are sensitive, if they are longer or larger than usual they may have added friction in the area when undertaking physical activity such as sitting, walking or even during intercourse, causing irritation,” she added.

Irritated labia might occasionally result in pain, the doctor said, and it might make it a little difficult to clean the area.

But unless there is pain or other undesirable symptoms, Dr Martin reassures women that each vulva is unique, and there are numerous variations in the appearance of the external genitalia.

When a patient presents with labial hypertrophy, the first course of action for Dr Martin is counselling, and providing information on self-care and vulvar hygiene.

“Lifestyle changes should be considered,” she added. “Patients may have some relief in discomfort if loose-fitting clothing is worn to prevent unnecessary friction, and practising good hygiene to avoid recurrent irritation and infection.”

She mentioned that surgery is also an option.

“The procedure is called labioplasty, where the excess tissue is surgically resected and symmetrically reduced labia is created. Other modalities exist in the form of laser therapy as well,” she noted.

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