What Is the Purpose of the Labia?

Reviewed on 12/11/2020

The labia are two folds of the skin that meet above the vaginal opening. The inner fold (inner lip of the vagina) is known as labia minora, and the outer fold (outer lip of the vagina) is known as labia majora.

The labia serve the purpose of covering and protecting the urinary openings, vaginal openings, and clitoris from external trauma

What does a normal labia look like?

There are large variations in the natural size and color of the labia among women. They can be long or short, dark or light. A study found that the size of the labia minora ranged from 20 to 100 mm. The size does not vary because of the woman’s age, the number of deliveries she had, her ethnic background, hormonal use, and how many times she had sex.

It is normal for one side of the labia to be shorter or longer than its other side. Additionally, the labia size may change over time and depends on factors such as pubertal age and sports activities the woman does.

What are the symptoms of labial hypertrophy?

Labial hypertrophy or enlargement of the labia is when your labia is growing or grown. There is no consensus among the doctors regarding how much enlargement can be considered labial hypertrophy.

Labial hypertrophy usually affects the labia minora more than the labia majora. When the labia minora protrudes outside of the labia majora, it can be very irritating.

Labial hypertrophy can affect one or both sides of the labia. Most women do not develop any symptoms of labial hypertrophy. However, in some women, labial hypertrophy can cause the following:

  • Discomfort
  • Irritation 
  • Pain during sex
  • Difficulty in performing sports
  • Problems in maintaining personal hygiene (during periods)
  • Difficulty walking in jeans or yoga pants

What causes labial hypertrophy?

Doctors do not know the clear cause of labial hypertrophy. Some women have large labia by birth (genetic), whereas some develop later in life. Causes may include:

If you notice swelling in your labia or have symptoms that are causing discomfort, speak to a doctor.

How do doctors diagnose labial hypertrophy?

There is no laboratory test or imaging test such as an X-ray that doctors use to diagnose labial hypertrophy. They can tell you if you have labial hypertrophy by doing an examination of the vaginal region and asking you if about the symptoms.

What is the treatment of labial hypertrophy?

Most often, labial hypertrophy does not need any treatment. A simple measure can help you reduce the discomfort. Here is what you can do:

  • Avoid all synthetic and tight panties and switch over to cotton, loose-fitting ones 
  • Avoid wearing tight jeans and choose loose-fitting pants
  • Use a mild soap (scent-free, chemical-free) while bathing

If the symptoms do not resolve with lifestyle changes, your doctor may suggest a simple surgical procedure known as labiaplasty. You can opt for labiaplasty for purely cosmetic reasons as well. 

Labiaplasty involves reducing the enlarged size of the labia and reshaping it by surgical cutting the extra section. Your doctor will counsel you well before you give a nod to the surgery.

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References
Gulia C, et al. Labia minora hypertrophy: causes, impact on women’s health, and treatment options. International urogynecology journal. 2017 Oct 1;28(10):1453-61.

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