As a young teenager, and even into adulthood, I’ve always felt so much pressure and stigma around what my vagina looks like, smells like, and even tastes like. I feel like we’ve been given so much misinformation from men and movies and everywhere! So what is a healthy vagina really supposed to be like?

Curious Kitty

Dear Curious,

I have spoken to so many folks with vaginas who know very little about them from a practical standpoint! People with penises have an advantage in this area. Their genitals are all right there on the outside, which fosters a pretty thorough familiarity with the particulars of look, feel, and smell. Those of us with vulvas and vaginas have to go looking for our genitals, because they’re sort of hidden in a hard-to-reach place.

What does it look like? The vulva is the external genitalia, and it’s the part you can actually see. It has two sets of lips. In the text books, they’re called the labia majora (big lips) and labia minora (small lips). But I feel like that’s kind of misleading because some people have really small labia majora and much bigger labia minora, which is totally normal! I prefer to call them the outer labia (or lips), and the inner labia (or lips). The outer labia are close to the same color as your skin, and most likely have a covering of pubic hair. Depending on your skin tone, the inner labia can be any color from pale pink to dark purple red, from sand colored to russet to mahogany, and they typically do not have pubic hair. The vagina itself sits at the bottom of the vulva, and it doesn’t actually look like a hole. Visually, it’s more of a crease that expands when something enters it.

What does it smell like? Let’s start with what a healthy vagina shouldn’t smell like. It shouldn’t smell like roses, lotus blooms, vanilla beans, fresh linen or spring mornings. Honestly, it should just smell like you, and will likely change a little throughout your ovulation and menstrual cycles. Sometimes a stronger version of you, and sometimes a more mellow version. Right before your period, it might smell like a slightly bleach-y version of you. During your period, it might smell like you + rust. If your smell changes suddenly, especially if it seems like an unpleasant smell, you should probably get checked out. If you catch a whiff of a smell like buttered popcorn or baking bread, you could have a yeast infection.

What does it taste like? It’s probably going to taste a lot like the way you smell. Natural. Clean. Musky. Just like your smell can change throughout your cycle, the way you taste is likely to do the same. It doesn’t taste bad. In fact, there are a lot of people who think vulvas and vaginas taste very good.

When it comes to human anatomy, there’s a generally recognizable shape for each of our parts, and then a very wide range of normal in terms individual appearance. If you want to know more about your own vulva and vagina, get a mirror and check it out. Take a good long look. It’s yours, so it’s not rude to stare. Touch yourself and sniff your fingers. If you’re feeling really curious, you can taste your fingers, too. It’s not deviant, or even weird, to be as familiar with your genitals as you are any of your other body parts. To know her is to love her, as the old saying goes. The better acquainted you are with your parts, the less likely you are to feel shame or unease about your sexuality and pleasure. Additionally, the more you know about your vulva and vagina, the more likely you are to notice if there are any chances that might require attention from a healthcare provider.

Curious about cunnilingus? Anxious about anal? Do you have questions about queefs or problems with your prostate? Lucky Tomaszek is the education coordinator at The Tool Shed: An Erotic Boutique, Milwaukee’s only mission-driven, education-focused sex toy store. Send her an email at [email protected] and she’ll get back to you with an answer.

About The Author

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Lucky Tomaszek, LM, CPM, is the education coordinator at The Tool Shed: An Erotic Boutique, Milwaukee's only mission-driven, education-focused sex toy store. Most mornings you can find her balancing her cat and her keyboard in her lap, working to make the world a smarter, safer place for people of all genders and orientations.