illustrated mid-stomach to thigh view of a person who has an "outie" vagina, or inner labia that extend outside of the outer labia, closed outer labia, thin pubic hair, stretch marks on the hips and thighs, and a soft stomachShare on Pinterest
Illustrations by Brittany England

We aren’t talking about bellybuttons — we’re talking about netherbits.

But before we get into it, let the record show that, as Dr. Angela Jones, ASTROGLIDE’s resident OB-GYN says, “Take it from me, I see over a hundred vulvas and vaginas every single week: Every vulva is unique. And every vulva is normal!”

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about one vulvar shape that’s colloquially known as the “outie.”

Let’s start with a quick anatomy lesson. While the terms “vagina” and “vulva” are often used interchangeably, the two aren’t synonymous.

The vulva is the outer bits of your genitals: the pubic mouth, inner labia, outer labia, the love-to-be-rubbed clit, and the urethra.

The vagina is just one part of the genitals: the muscular canal where babies come out of and penises/dildos/fingers/tampons go into.

So know that the term “outie vagina” is actually anatomically inaccurate.

“An actual outie vagina would be a medical emergency,” says Dr. Jill McDevitt, CalExotics‘ resident sexologist.

“It would be the vagina equivalent of your throat hanging outside your mouth like a bloody hollow tube.” Yikes!

The term “outie vagina” is used to describe a vulva that features inner lips that hang outside of the outer labia.

Basically, any vulva where you can see the inner lips without physically spreading the outer lips with your fingers.

A more anatomically accurate descriptor would be “outie vulva.”

“Vulvas are unique to our DNA, just like faces and any other body part, and therefore every single person has a different looking vulva,” says Dr. McDevitt. So no two outies are the same.

Some people with outies have curved horseshoe-shaped outer lips that leave the inner labia exposed in the middle.

Some have inner labia that are longer than the outer labia, and peek out from the outer lips.

Some people have inner labia that dangle down an inch or two lower than the outer labia.

Some people have inner labia that are the exact same length as the outer labia.

There can also be differences in the width, length, symmetry, color, smell, and hair patterns on the lips of folks with outies that make them look different.

Yep! According to Dr. McDevitt, more than 50 percent of vulva-owners have an outie.

“Innie” is used to classify vulvas where the outer labia are longer than the inner labia and other vulvar parts.

While less than 50 percent of vulva-owners have innies — Dr. McDevitt says about 44 percent do — this is the type of vulva most commonly seen in adult entertainment.

So if you’ve ever turned on mainstream porn, chances are you’ve seen an innie!

Just as no two outies look alike, no two innies are the exact same, either. There can be variations in labia width, length, and color.

Some people with innies have small, closed outer lips that conceal and contain the inner lips completely, while others have outer lips that are long, dangling down past the inner lips and sometimes outside of their underwear.

Raise your hand if you learned about how many variations of normal labia there are in sex ed. Chances are your hand is down.

Dr. Jones hypothesizes that the lack of education around what “counts” as a normal and healthy vulva is the main issue here.

“If it was normalized for vulva-owners to compare their bits at a young age in the locker room the way it is for people with penises, vulva-owners would know that vulvas come in an array of shapes and sizes, and that variation is nothing to be ashamed about,” she says.

Problem is, vulva-owners don’t know that vulvas are as varied as earlobes or snowflakes. And, in many cases, only see one kind of vulva — innies — in porn and other NSFW images.

“This can cause vulva owners, especially those who don’t have vulvas that look like the vulvas in porn, to feel anxious about their labia, vulvas, and vaginas,” she says.

If you don’t love your labia, that’s okay.

“You don’t have to love everything about your body at every moment in time,” says Dr. Jess O’Reilly, PhD, resident sexologist for ASTROGLIDE.

Luckily, there are things you can do to boost #labialove.

Masturbate

The best way to fight feelings of shame around the #lewk of your labia, according to Dr. Jones, is to engage in some solo loving!

“Spending time feeling, touching, and appreciating your labia is an important first step,” she says.

In fact, research has shown that vulva-owners who masturbate are more confident than those who don’t.

Look at other people’s vulvas

Seriously! You can do that thanks to places like The Labia Library and The Great Wall of Vagina.

Talk to a doctor

“In most cases, your vulva and labia are normal to begin with,” says Dr. Jones. “Speaking to someone who knows what vulvas are ‘supposed to look like,’ like an OB-GYN, can help reiterate and define what is and is not normal is a start.”

Sex therapy

“If you don’t like your labia, it can be useful to consider where your negative feelings are coming from, and where the messages you’ve received that you shouldn’t like the way your labia look are coming from,” says Dr. O’Reilly.

A certified sex therapist can help you unpack these messages and your shame, and help you reframe the negative netherbit narrative you’ve been taught.

Labiaplasty

Labiaplasty is a type of plastic surgery that involves altering the length of the inner labia. Dr. O’Reilly explains that it’s an option in cases where the length of your inner labia is causing physical pain.

“I know one woman who found that her labia got in the way of comfortable intercourse and she found many clothes uncomfortable. She opted to have labiaplasty to reduce the length of her lips and is happy with the results,” she says.

But she and Dr. McDevitt say that, oftentimes, labiaplasty isn’t the way to go.

That’s because labiaplasty can result in scarring, there’s the risk the surgeon removes more tissue than necessary, and there’s no research on the long-term consequences of the procedure.

Watch more porn featuring outies!

Considering innies are more abundant in porn than outies, porn can contribute to someone’s discomfort with their bodies. But there’s been a push in the porn industry to feature more outies, so watching porn can be part of the solution.

In 2019, PornHub fans voted to award Elsa Jean — who has an outie — as the nicest pussy of the year award. So you might check out her videos.

Another option: Check out feminist porn sites like The Crash Pad and Lust Cinemas, which are known for showing a wider variety of body types.

Dr. McDevitt’s got two words for you: “Dump them!”

And if you’re dating someone and have a problem with their vulva? “Consider how you’re feeling about your own body, and then think about how you can work on your self-esteem,” says Dr. O’Reilly.

“Oftentimes when we’re critical of others it’s because we’re avoiding confronting our own self-criticism.” Counseling and sex therapy can help.

Whether your vulva is an innie, outie, or somewhere in between, it’s normal and worthy of celebration and pleasure.

If you’re still learning to love your labia, that’s okay. But know that it’s worthy of love.

Of course, if your labia are causing you pain or discomfort, or are suddenly a different color, itchy, or bumpy, talk to a doctor or other healthcare provider.


Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tried the Whole30 challenge, and eaten, drunk, brushed with, scrubbed with, and bathed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.