By Corrie Pikul
This area is gorgeously complicated and full of surprises. Here are just a few.
1. During arousal, your lady parts act like his man parts. You know about the clitoris "joy button" becoming more, um, button-y, but you may not be aware that the labia minora also contain erectile tissue that gets slightly stiffer when things heat up. The reasons for this go back to when you were a fetus with androgynous parts. "We all start out with the same tissues in that area," says Shelly Holmstrom, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of South Florida at Tampa.
2. Even the most mild-mannered among us have something in common with sharks. Vaginal lubricant and shark liver oil both contain an organic compound called squalene. Squalene derived from sharks is sometimes added to moisturizers and skin creams, where it acts as an emollient.
3. Silicone lubricants may be right for you but not for your toys. Gynecologists like Chicago's Lauren Streicher, MD, recommend silicone-based lubricants over water-based ones because they feel more natural, last much longer and don't usually contain propylene glycol, which is a potential irritant. However, silicone lubricant can compromise the integrity of vibrators and other sex toys that also contain silicone, and can cause them to change shape or break down
4. Menstrual blood may be a lifesaver. For years, scientists have been trying to find a medically helpful use for menstrual blood, which contains stem cells that have the ability to regenerate. The latest, most exciting research: cells from this all-too-readily-available blood are currently being tested to see if they can help patients with heart failure.
5. Shaving and waxing the bikini area can cause micro-trauma -- even when it doesn't hurt. The process of hair removal causes tiny nicks and abrasions that can allow bacteria to get under the skin and cause infections, explains Susan Taylor, MD, a Philadelphia-based dermatologist and the author of Brown Skin. The micro-trauma caused by Brazilian waxes, especially, can boost the risk of a pox-like viral infection called molluscum contagiosum, suggests a small study published online in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections. Don't share razors—and consider holding off sexual contact until a day or two after a wax (longer if you have visible bumps or wounds).
6. Sex can also cause micro-trauma -- even when it feels great. A normal, enjoyable bout of sex can still result in small scrapes or tears to the internal tissue, says Holmstrom. "Unfortunately for us, that’s why women are so much more likely than straight men to get STIs," she says. Condoms are your best protection against STIs (besides abstinence, obviously), but as fans of the show Girls know, even they aren't foolproof against HPV and genital ulcers, which can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.
7. Sweating down there isn't only normal; it provides a necessary function. Just below the skin of the labia and clitoral hood are hundreds of tiny glands that secrete oil and sweat, says Holmstrom. This can protect your delicate areas from friction and overheating.
8. It's normal for premenopausal women to have daily discharge. The vagina can produce an average of a teaspoon of discharge a day, and it's often white or transparent and odorless. Just before the ovulation phase of your menstrual cycle, this discharge will probably be more watery and elastic, and there will seem to be much more of it. If it bothers you, try a sanitary pad (and if you notice anything unusual -- odor, discomfort, etc. -- talk to your doctor).
9. Hair down there really does tend to be the same color as hair up there, but it will never be as long. The growth phase of pubic hair is much shorter than that of hair on your head, says Taylor. "It's not programmed to grow that long," she says -- and even if it were, friction from undergarments and ordinary movement causes frequent breakage.
10. Just as petals range in size from buttercup to orchid ...the length of the inner labia, or labia minora, can be between 3/4 inch and 2 1/3 inch (a much broader range than most of us realize), according to a classic study published in the early 1900s in the journal American Gynecology, and every gynecologist we've ever talked to says there's no good medical, hygienic or aesthetic reason to be self-conscious of yours. Really.
As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.