Almost three months ago, I underwent a labiaplasty procedure intending to rid myself of the constant irritation my labia were causing me while riding my bike and in everyday life.
Before undergoing this procedure, (similar to others I’ve chatted with who are experiencing discomfort), I spent years contemplating the surgery. I read about it, and back in the day, I even watched an MTV documentary about a young woman who underwent the procedure. Most of the information I encountered revolved around people who were uncomfortable with the aesthetics of their vulva. Don’t get me wrong; I experienced a similar complex about the appearance of my labia for some time. Nevertheless, I always came back to the thought that there was nothing wrong with the look of my vulva. Assuredly, if there were, a physician would have told me.
Problems with Function
When it came to the function of my vulva, I knew it wasn’t ‘right’; pinching, grabbing, friction – to name a few. Then cycling happened. Long periods in the saddle caused swelling, burning with urination, and a sort of raw pain I cannot find words to describe. And then, finally, some cyclists who were having pain caused by their labia came forward publicly about their procedures. Hooray! People who were experiencing the same issues I was were finally talking about it.
Biking Is Not the Sole Cause for Issues
Reading some of these articles now, I think it’s peculiar that, in many instances, the rider indicates cycling caused the problem rather than their anatomy alone. I acknowledge that riding most certainly caused me more pain. Also, my physician believed it could have further elongated my labia and triggered a reaction of irritation to all sensation. However, my natural anatomy and shape alone caused many of my issues. My anatomy was normal, but my norm caused me pain for the particular activities I enjoy. I believe there is value in recognizing, cherishing, and owning one’s anatomy. There is no anatomy out there that is worthy of shame.
After my surgery, I spent vast amounts of time looking up articles on labiaplasty procedures, expectations for healing, and what was ‘normal’ for people’s appearance. Heck, I spent more time looking at my vulva in a mirror for healing and signs of infection than I ever have in my life. My friends and I even joked that I became the self-professed “Vulva Whisperer.” Throughout this process, these are the things I learned and the opinions I formed.
What is Normal?
- It’s not so out of this world to contemplate that many heterosexual, cisgender women do not know what the ‘norm’ is for vulvas. We likely haven’t seen many – it’s not quite as external as a penis. Also, and I say this with plenty of experience, one has to be a type of Cirque du Soleil contortionist armed with a mirror to inspect their own thoroughly. So no, we don’t know how many of them look (short of pornographic images where labia have likely already undergone labiaplasty procedures.) Thus, I’d guess many heterosexual, cis-women aren’t as aware of the wide range of labia appearance.
All Shapes and Sizes
- The labia we think is the most common – you know the one I’m talking about, where the outer labia envelop the inner labia – is the LEAST common. Yes! Can you believe it?! We are led to believe that the majority have that ‘perfect’ appearance. For years, I thought I was the anomaly amongst labia. At least I didn’t hear anyone else complaining. But I’m not. Here’s some more info about common shapes and sizes. Which are you?
Mo’ Shapes, Mo’ Problems
- Biking and pressure can cause problems and irritation with your labia – particularly, if like me, you have asymmetrical labia as well as inner labia that protrude from outer labia. Again, that shape is totally normal! You are merely one of the spectrums of the labia rainbow. Given that shape and dependent on size, (or “hypertrophy,” aka enlargement – which I had), you may find you have problems with intercourse, putting in tampons or menstrual cups, friction, problems with underwear fitting, grabbing, pulling, etc. And if you bike or do other forms of activity, it might be problematic. It doesn’t mean you need to do surgery or change anything, this is all a personal choice. For me, it was the best decision I could make for myself due to the pain I was experiencing.
Professional or Not, Pain Can Come
- Articles about labiaplasty usually involve professional cyclists. Yes, they spend significant amounts of time in the saddle and thus increase their likelihood of corresponding pain. That is, if their labia are of a shape and size that can cause issues, or if they have a terrible saddle fit. Here’s the catch, you don’t have to be a professional or endurance rider to experience difficulties. People, just like you and me, that bike for transit also experience problems. The amount of time you spend on a bicycle is not relevant; the shape of your anatomy may be what is causing more contact and pressure.
You Are Not Alone
- Know you aren’t alone. I assure you other people are having these same difficulties. I often felt very alone in my symptoms and didn’t know anyone else experiencing these pains. Upon writing my first post, which I deemed an exercise in vulnerability, others reached out with questions and some with their own experiences. To them, I want to say thank you. Thank you for your transparency. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for the laughter and commiseration of our shared experience.
- I wrote my post to be a resource for others. What I didn’t know at the time was that you would all help heal my heart more than I ever knew I needed. For the first time, I didn’t feel alone. I want this post to be a reassurance. There are so many varieties of labia out there. Some cause problems on a bike, some don’t. They are all normal. The more we talk about our personal experiences with our labia and cycling, or other activities, we all benefit. If you are out there and find yourself in a similar solitude, find comfort in knowing these struggles are not yours alone. Your family is out here support you.