Am I normal?
It’s common to wonder if your bits are normal – a lot of porn images are digitally manipulated, and most women don’t talk about what their bodies look or smell like!
Basically, female genitals are NOT naturally symmetrical, hair free or odour free! It’s common for labia to be different sizes and irregular shapes, often the inner lips are longer than the outer, and clits come in lots of different sizes. There is huge variation in colour and hair growth too.
If you’re worried or curious, check out this site for images of real, un-Photoshopped bodies:-
If you want professional reassurance, GUM clinic staff will be happy to help! It’s not a silly request.
What about discharge?
It’s normal to have some vaginal discharge, which will vary in amount, colour and texture throughout the month. Normal discharge is the result of your vagina cleaning itself, so is nothing to be ashamed of!
It’s important to understand that washing inside the vagina is unnecessary and can actually cause MORE odour and discharge! Washing in the groin area with shower gel is fine, but it’s best to just use plain water or gentle soap/ soap substitute like aqueous cream around the vulval area. This won’t irritate the delicate skin or risk upsetting the balance of good vaginal bacteria.
These are signs that you might have an infection and should seek advice from a chemist, GP or sexual health clinic:-
* Pain during or after sex
* Pain in the lower abdomen
* Burning or stinging when you pee
* Unusually strong or offensive smelling discharge (might be fishy, yeasty or rotten smelling)
* Big difference in amount, colour or texture of discharge (i.e green/frothy/cottage cheese)
If you notice any bleeding after sex or in between your periods (this might be dark brown or pink discharge, or obvious bleeding), you should speak to your GP or sexual health clinic straight away. It could be a sign of infection or other conditions which should be investigated quickly.
Two very common and non-sexually transmitted vaginal infections are thrush and bacterial vaginosis (BV)
Thrush is caused when fungal spores inside the vagina grow under certain conditions. It can cause vulval itching and irritation/soreness, and increased (often thick yellow or greenish) discharge. If you think you have thrush you can try treating it with Canasten from the chemist, or see your GP/ GUM clinic (where treatment is free.) If home treatment doesn’t work within a week, definitely see a doctor. If you’re getting thrush more than 4 times a year, speak to a doctor as you can take preventative treatment and check there is no physical reason for such frequent infections.
BV is simply an imbalance in vaginal bacteria. It happens when your good/normal vaginal bacteria are wiped out for some reason, allowing the bad ones to take over! It causes increased fishy smelling discharge and is incredibly common. It can come and go on its own, but can be treated with antibiotics if it’s persisting for more than a few days, or is bothering you. There is no evidence that alternative/home remedies work, but some people think Balance Active gel from the chemist works for them.
Common causes of BV are:-
* Overwashing or using perfumed ‘feminine hygiene’ products!!!!! Stick to plain water, unperfumed gentle soap, or a soap substitute like aqueous cream, and only wash the outside, never inside the vagina. Definitely avoid anything antiseptic like tea tree oil or Dettol.
* Blood – some people find BV occurs around the time of their period, and can spontaneously go away again.
* Semen – unfortunately, some women report that BV is more frequent with some sexual partners than others. If this is the case, using condoms might help.
For more information head here:-
Lumps, bumps and rashes
It’s a good idea to get familiar with what your vulva looks and feels like, but it’s easy to be alarmed by normal lumps and bumps if you’re looking at it for the first time!
If you think you notice new lumps or bumps, you should have them checked by a GP if they don’t go away by themselves within a week or two. If you notice anything which becomes very swollen/hot/painful/oozing, you should see a doctor as soon as possible as you may need treatment!
These are a few common problems:-
Spots/boils – You can get these on your lady bits, just like anywhere else on your face or body! They are usually small, red and painful to touch, and might have a white head. They usually go on their own after a few days.
Inflamed hair follicles (shaving rash) – Usually appear after shaving/waxing/etc. You can often squeeze a hair out of the middle! It can help to exfoliate the skin before hair removal, and once a day afterwards. You might need to switch to using a bikini trimmer instead – this removes the hair just above the skin, so avoids the re-growing hair getting trapped under the skin and becoming inflamed.
Cysts – Solid lump under the skin caused by a blocked gland. These can come and go on their own, but should be diagnosed by a doctor/nurse, and can get infected.
Warts – Small rough or smooth bumps, or larger cauliflower-like lumps. Usually painless, but sometimes itchy. Sexually transmitted, best to be diagnosed by a GUM clinic and can be treated with freezing spray or creams.
Blisters/cuts – If you notice any blisters, scabs or cuts on the skin, you should see a doctor as they may be caused by the (very common!) cold-sore virus herpes. Treatment is most effective if started in the first day or two, so don’t wait to seek help!
There isn’t scope to discuss genital herpes in depth here, but head to http://www.herpes.org.uk for reassuring, common sense advice.
That feeling of burning or stinging while you pee, and feeling like you have to go again straight away! You might also feel feverish and shivery, and generally run down.
Over the counter treatments might help with the symptoms but most UTIs need antibiotics. Cranberry juice won’t help get rid of it. Many GPs are happy to leave a prescription out for you if you phone them and describe the problem, but if you don’t feel better after finishing the antibiotics you should see the GP in person or visit a GUM clinic. Some sexual infections can feel a bit like a UTI, but need different treatment!
UTIs are caused by bacteria (usually from your own back passage) getting into the urethra, often during sex.
How can you reduce the risk of it happening?
Peeing directly after sex is vital! Using lube with condoms can also help, as can washing before sex. Drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry supplements daily is thought to help prevent UTIs.
If you suffer from UTIs frequently (more than a few times a year), you can ask your GP about keeping a supply of antibiotics at home to take when you feel one coming on OR one tablet after you have sex to prevent it happening in the first place. They may recommend you have other investigations beforehand, to make sure there aren’t any physical reasons for repeated infections.
General Sexual Health Advice
The best way to protect yourself against STIs is using a male or female condom every time you have vaginal or anal sex. Toys and dildos should also be covered with a new condom or washed before sharing between partners. Infections can be present in pre-cum, so having a male partner pull out before ejaculation is no protection against infection. Oral sex is lower risk, but if you want to be 100% safe, use a flavoured condom.
Even if you don’t experience any of the symptoms mentioned previously, it’s a good idea to get checked for STIs regularly if you are not in a monogamous, long-term relationship. Under 24’s and those who change partners frequently are advised to have Chlamydia testing every 6 months. This is usually just a cotton bud swab from the vagina which you can do yourself!
As a general rule, get tested:-
* If you’ve had unprotected sex with a new partner recently (Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea testing can be accurately done 2 weeks after unprotected sex, HIV testing 4 weeks after, and Syphilis testing 3 months.)
* If you or a sexual partner have sex with other people without using a condom
* A sexual partner has any symptoms
* You are planning a pregnancy and may have been at risk of infection
For information about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including where and how to get tested, head here:-
There’s not enough room to go through the different types in depth, so head here for advice:- http://www.fpa.org.uk/help-and-advice/contraception-help
There are two types of pill, and a coil that can be used up to 5 days after unprotected sex or a condom breakage if you don’t want to get pregnant. They all work best if used within the first 24 hours, so don’t delay! Emergency pills can be obtained from most pharmacies, and pills and coils are available from most sexual health and family planning clinics.
More information can be found here:- http://www.fpa.org.uk/contraception-help/emergency-contraception
Unplanned pregnancy and abortion
Find out where you can go for help and advice if you are pregnant and are not sure you want a baby:- www.fpa.org.uk/help-and-advice/unplanned-pregnancy-abortion
For pregnancy and pre/post-abortion support you can call the Care Confidential helpline on 0300 4000 999
If you are in immediate danger, or need urgent police assistance call 999.
Other support and resources:-
National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247
This is a 24hr, free national service for women experiencing domestic violence, their family, friends, colleagues and others calling on their behalf.
The Helpline can give support, help and information over the telephone, wherever the caller might be in the country. The Helpline is staffed 24 hours a day by fully trained female helpline support workers and volunteers. All calls are completely confidential. Translation facilities for callers whose first language is not English, and a service for callers who are deaf or hard of hearing are available.
More information can be found here:-
Sexual Assault and Abuse
If you are immediate danger or need urgent police assistance, call 999.
London based specialist centres providing practical, emotional and physical support for anyone who has been sexually assaulted, whether they want to report it to the police or not.
Urgent support available, but you MUST phone first. The police can also take you here in an emergency if you dial 999.
Camberwell – 020 3299 1599/ (out of hours 020 3299 9000)
Paddington – 020 3312 1101/ (out of hours 020 3312 6666)
Whitechapel – 020 7247 4787
The Survivors Trust
“Empowering survivors of rape, sexual violence or childhood sexual abuse to work through and beyond their experiences.”
Website includes details of national helplines and other websites, Independent Sexual Violence Adviser services, and Sexual Assault Referral centres such as Havens.
Rape Crisis UK
Feminist organisation providing support for those who have experienced any kind of sexual violence. Provides direction to women only services including face-to-face counselling.
National Rape and Abuse Helpline:- 080 8802 9999
Go here for details of women-only London services:-www.rapecrisis.org.uk/centres_show.php
Info and support for men and boys who have been raped or sexually abused. Webchat available.
0845 122 1201