From perennially perky breasts to smooth, hairless legs, womanhood has been constantly sexualized and subjected to unrealistic standards.

Science has shown that these impractical ideals have damaging effects on women’s sense of self-worth. However, none have been as harmful, or as unexplored, as the expectation of having a tight vagina.

Tight vaginas are prized in almost every society and culture that has roots in patriarchy. They’re considered indications of virginity and chastity, stemmed from the belief that women are property, to remain untouched unless by their husbands.

But on a baser level, a tight vagina is also seen as a highly appealing characteristic for cis women to possess simply because it’s more pleasurable for cis men to penetrate. Vaginal rejuvenation surgery, getting the “husband stitch,” even seemingly benign Kegel exercises: All of these practices stem from the belief that tighter vaginas are better vaginas.

And this stereotype appears to heavily affect Asian women in particular.

Comedian Amy Schumer once tried to joke: “It doesn’t matter what you do, ladies, every guy is going to leave you for an Asian woman... And how do they bring it on home for the win? Oh, the smallest vaginas in the game.”

He told her that he thought Asian girls were the best because their vaginas were tighter.

Dr. Valinda Nwadike, MD and obstetrics and gynecology specialist in California, Maryland, can see how this stereotype exists, and whole heartedly disagrees with the premise. “Honestly don’t think [Asian women having small vaginas] is true. I would definitely disagree with this stereotype. We don’t make decisions about size — we don’t have Asian speculums. That in itself would negate the myth. It should be put to bed absolutely.”

So let's put the myth to bed

It’s unclear how this myth originated, but many suspect it’s rooted in colonialism. Patricia Park, for Bitch Media, traces this sexualization back to the Korean and Vietnam War, when the United States established a military presence.

Thousands of Asian women, including Thai and Filipina women, were trafficked and coerced into prostitution with white American soldiers. (The rippling effects are especially evident in Thailand, where mass sex tourism was developed to pay off debts.)

As a result, many white men’s first encounter with Asian women was in the context of military conquest and sexual domination.

In the Journal of the American Philosophical Association, Robin Zheng makes a point that this history has shaped the way people are exposed to Asian women today. Hollywood stereotypes mostly paint Asian women as sexual, from a submissive damsel-in-distress to China Doll and dragon lady, until they give birth and become tiger moms. (Ithaca College Library keeps an updated list of portrayals of Asians in films, showcasing how the roles are limited to sex props, gangsters, or entirely erased.)

But another newer avenue where most of these stereotypes continue to explicitly persist? Porn, a ground that’s rapidly becoming the primary source of sex education for teenagers.

One 27-year-old white man, who asked to remain anonymous, shares how this avenue was where he learned the idea that Asian women have tighter vaginas.

“Pornography contributes a lot to this idea,” he says. “There’s a lot of pornography, for example, that’ll pair together Asian women and black men, playing off those sexual stereotypes. So, I think that it’s inherently something that men have ingrained in their psyches.”

Most Asian women first encounter this stereotype when they start having sex with men.

However, this myth isn’t just circulated within male circles. Even women perpetuate this stereotype.

Jenny Snyder, a 27-year-old half-Asian woman also from Louisville, says that her white female friend asked her in high school if her vagina was sideways. “She literally asked me if my vagina was horizontal,” Snyder recalls. “She also thought that my butt crack was horizontal — like one butt cheek on top of another.”

Michelle Eigenheer, a half-Korean woman from Louisville, Kentucky, recalls an experience where her gynecologist — a white woman — switched to a speculum usually reserved for teenagers in the middle of the examination.

“It probably had more to do with the fact that I was tense rather than an actual biological difference,” Eigenheer says. “But it did make me wonder — is this a real thing?”

As a gynecologist expert, Dr. Nwadike has never encountered the need to switch speculums. “It’s possible they don’t interact with a lot of Asian people. It depends on who their population base it, maybe they don’t have the opportunity to see that dispelled,” she says, after asked why she thought this stereotype continued to persist, even in the medical field. “A lot of people think that Black men have certain features, and that’s not a fact, but the stereotype persists.”

Most Asian women first encounter this stereotype when they start having sex with men

Grace Que, a 19-year-old Chinese-American woman from Chicago, says she had heard the idea “tossed around by quite a few people and in pop culture.”

But she didn’t experience it herself until she started having sex. Her male partners would comment on her tightness by saying phrases along the lines of, “Oh my god, you’re so tight.”

Jennifer Osaki, a 23-year-old Japanese-American woman raised in Los Angeles, California, had a similar experience. She heard about the stereotype from male classmates in college, but didn’t experience it herself until she dated a white man sophomore year.

He told her that he thought Asian girls were the best because their vaginas were tighter.

“I laughed it off awkwardly because in the moment, I figured it was a good thing,” Osaki says.

And indeed, the label of having a tighter vagina is widely embraced and seen as a “good thing” by many Asian women as well.

“If a tight vagina is actually a thing, I seriously hope I have one,” Que says. “Obviously sex would be even more appreciated by the other person than it already is. A lot of my good guy friends always say tight is very, very, very good.”

As the antithesis of the prized tight vagina, the “loose” vagina is associated with “bad” women — women who have too many sexual partners.

Zoe Peyronnin, a 21-year-old Asian-American woman raised in New York, echoes this sentiment. While she raises concerns this stereotype might have the potential to further sexualize Asian women, she ultimately concludes, “Personally, the idea of having a tight vagina is favorable, at least sexually.”

Other Asian women, however, find the stereotype more problematic and unsettling.

“If you have tight muscles down there, that’s awesome,” says Phi Anh Nguyen, an Asian-American woman from San Francisco, California. “I guess that’s something to be proud of. However, tying this trait to Asian women to make them more sexually desirable isn’t a healthy thing. It objectifies us.”

Eigenheer says she feels deeply uncomfortable when men on Tinder use it as their opening line, or otherwise treat her differently based on a preconceived notion about her vaginal tightness.

“They just want some novelty hookup,” she says. “But actually, they’re feeding into a system that’s really cruel to women. This stereotype is rooted in so many racist stereotypes that women suffer from.”

The desire to have a tight vagina is still exceedingly prevalent across the country — and arguably, the world — affecting women everywhere.

“There is this perspective of wanting a tight vagina,” says Dr. Nwadike. Although she hasn’t had Asian patients making health decisions based on this stereotype, she has encountered other races make a request based on the myth of a tight vagina. “I’ve had Middle Eastern women come in wanting to make their vaginas tighter, wanting cosmetic surgery because their husband requested it.”

Compare the stereotype of the tight Asian vagina to the stereotype of the loose vagina. As the antithesis of the prized tight vagina, the “loose” vagina is associated with “bad” women — women who have too many sexual partners.

“No woman wants to be too tight,” Eigenheer says. “It’s painful! The whole novelty of the ‘tight vagina’ is in a woman’s pain — a man’s pleasure at the expense of a woman’s discomfort.”

This notion is often used to slut-shame, such as when a Christian woman compared Taylor Swift’s vagina to a ham sandwich to imply she was promiscuous. And the derogatory expression “throwing a hot dog down a hallway” also suggests that women’s vaginas get stretched out after excessive sexual intercourse.

The problem, however, is that this vaginal myth, along with most other vaginal myths, is simply not grounded in science.

Science shows time and time again that vaginal looseness has no correlation whatsoever with promiscuity. There also hasn’t been any study comparing vaginas of Asian people to other ethnicities.

Many people I spoke to also say there doesn’t seem to be any scientific basis for this stereotype. “Women come in all shapes and sizes,” Nguyen points out.

However, since this myth is largely based on personal experience, which is highly subjective, there’ll be some, like the anonymous 27-year-old white man, who insist that the stereotype is “definitely a fact.”

“In my experience, I’ve found it proven true time and time again that Asian women have snug vaginas,” he says. “I would say they are tighter than women of other races.”

On the other hand, Eigenheer has personal experiences that suggest the opposite.

“In my experience, this is not true,” she says. “No man has ever told me that my vagina was different from any other person’s. And talking to other Asian women, I think they’d say the same thing.”

Irene Kim, a 23-year-old Korean-American woman from New Jersey, agrees, rejecting the stereotype. She says it’s impossible to be true across the board for all Asian women.

“You can’t brand an entire demographic with a defining trait like that,” Kim says. “If it’s not true for every single Asian woman, then it shouldn’t be talked about as if it were.”

Aside from not being based in scientific fact, this sexual stereotype is also harmful because it emphasizes the importance of male pleasure at the expense of female pain.

“No woman wants to be too tight,” Eigenheer says. “It’s painful! The whole novelty of the ‘tight vagina’ is in a woman’s pain — a man’s pleasure at the expense of a woman’s discomfort.”

Thus, it’s no surprise the myth that Asian women have tighter vaginas has troubling implications for women outside the Asian community as well. Studies are increasingly showing that cis women experience pain (about 30 percent in the United States) when they have penetrative sex.

Interestingly, there are some Asian-American women — particularly those around 18 to 21 years old living in large coastal cities — who have never even heard about this myth.

“Is this a thing?” asks Ashlyn Drake, a 21-year-old half-Chinese woman from New York. “I’ve never heard of this before.”

But a dying myth doesn’t mean the effects disappear along with it

A quick google search of “tight vagina race” also brings up several threads debunking this myth. Unfortunately, rather than throwing out the idea entirely, these threads — from 2016 — use small and incomplete studies (ones that focus on only three races and urinary incontinence) to refocus the lens on black women instead.

There is no reason for a large study about ethnicities and vaginas to ever be done. “Why would anybody study that and what purpose would it serve anyway?” says Dr. Nwadike. She mentions how there are many other indicators of pelvic size beyond race, such as body type, age, and childbirth. “There’s too many variables to make a statement that broad. If you look at size, that’s only one metric. I evaluate the person not the stereotype.”

The question, therefore, isn’t whether it’s true Asian women actually have tighter vaginas than women of other races.

Having a “which race” conversation is fundamentally disturbing and further reduces women’s worth as human beings to the sexual satisfaction they can provide to men (often at the expense of their own comfort and enjoyment).

Especially when there are still studies and reports of women who are purposely having dry sex to please men.

Instead — when the myth currently has more power to hurt than help — the question we should be asking is, why does vaginal “tightness” even matter?


Nian Hu is a writer who has written for Business Insider, Babe, Feministing, and We Stand Up. You can find her on Twitter.