In this personal piece, Fumble section editor and writer Morven Loh bares her complicated relationship with her inner labia
I am a feminist and I have a confession.
I hate my inner labia.
But I am embracing them. Every day I touch them and tell them I love them. Because they are a part of me, and they are beautiful and hopefully one day I will believe this.
Are my labia normal?
I remember the very first time I thought “my labia aren’t normal”. I was 12. I started puberty when I was around 10/11 and my body was changing. I was excruciatingly self-aware and I had never seen another vulva before. It wasn’t the done thing.
We kept our ‘naughty’ bits hidden away. Like billions of others who grew up with a vulva, I remember thinking it was a thing of shame. Something to never be talked about, looked at, touched or loved.
I was curious though. One night when I was 12, I was in the bathroom and for the first time I consciously decided to explore my vulva. With a little compact mirror in one hand and using my other hand I dared to touch the part of me that I hated. As I parted my inner labia (unaware that they were called inner labia) I realised that one was longer than the other.
I was embarrassed. But I didn’t have another point of reference. I didn’t know how to bring this up with my parents, my friends or any one in my life. So, I turned to the one place which I should have avoided at all costs – I turned to porn.
It was 2005. The Internet didn’t have the resources that it has now. But, of course, it did have porn. I was inundated with images of sculpted vulvas, pubeless vulvas, vulva’s with tiny inner and outer labia. Labia that was neat and symmetrical.
As I grew up my labia changed and developed. My inner labia got plumper, they grew longer, they hung outside of my outer labia, the skin grew darker and I hated them and myself.
I thought my labia and my vulva was disgusting and ugly.
These thoughts were reaffirmed to me at school by the way my male friends would talk about vulvas.
Beef curtains was the one that stuck. Is that what they would say about me? When I got home and I would look at myself and cry.
I was brought up in a world that tells young people that their vulva’s are objects of shame, the butt of the joke and purely for male consumption. I assumed that because my vulva didn’t look like a porn star’s that it was wrong, not normal and didn’t deserve pleasure or love.
No one had told me that many porn stars have had labiaplasties (where they surgically remove parts of the labia to create this small and neat “perfect” vulva).
When I was 22, I was in a loving relationship with a wonderful person. I didn’t let him perform oral sex on me for 5 months. I would get a shiver of anxiety every time I thought that he would see my vulva. I was so ashamed of the way I looked.
Things HAVE to change
It was at that time that I realised how deeply this had affected me. It shocked me how much I had let sexist, oppressive and dangerous attitudes towards women and vulvas affect my self-worth, as well as the ability to let myself enjoy sexual pleasure, and love my body.
I was 23; it was 2016 and things had changed since I was 12. The Internet had evolved, people were speaking out and I was hungry for information.
When I first saw a picture of a vulva that looked like mine, with long, luscious labia I cried. I cried for the little girl inside me who had told herself for the past 14 years that she wasn’t worthy because her vulva was wrong.
Choosing to love my labia
I made a decision. I would consciously choose to love my vulva, to embrace everything I had and everything I was, because I was perfect and society was wrong.
Now, when I masturbate I actively enjoy it. I am finally getting to know my vulva.
I still feel that pang of shame, however, because that is what I grew up with. It’s deeply ingrained, but it doesn’t mean I can’t unlearn it. I acknowledge that pang and say “you’re wrong” and instead of pushing it away, I confront it.
I’m still on a journey – with my inner labia – today though. I am practicing self-love and it’s hard. Loving my labia is a defiant act and I am choosing to love it EVERY day.