The outside part of a female’s genitals is known as the vulva. It comprises two sets of lips that protect the internal organs of the female reproductive system. The outer lips are called labia majora, while the labia minora is the set found in the inner side of the vulva.
These features, just like facial features or body shape, are unique to each person. When the labia minora is much larger than the labia majora, the condition is called labia minora hypertrophy.
What Causes Labia Minora Hypertrophy?
The size, form, or complexion of the labia differs in every woman. These changes occur as you mature into womanhood. While there's no clear cause of labia minora hypertrophy, studies have found indirect evidence of a hormonal link with transient episodes of local inflammation either before birth or during puberty. Contrary to popular belief, the condition is not caused by masturbation or sexually transmitted infections. Possible causes include:
- Genetics. Some people may have genetic factors that cause them to have large or irregularly shaped labia.
- Hormonal reasons. It's unknown why the labia may change or develop abnormally during puberty.
- Aging. Over time, changes in the body may lead to the condition.
- Active cycling. Competitive bicycle riding may cause trauma to the area responsible for creating the protective layer of fat in the labia majora.
Problems Associated With Labia Minora Hypertrophy
The labia may not be symmetrical in size or shape. Instead, its size and shape may vary. As you mature, you may be tempted to compare yourself with friends or pictures from other sources. You may notice marked differences between these comparisons and yourself. You may also experience:
- Low self-esteem. These differences may cause physical or emotional problems.
- Infections. The folds in the labia may present hygiene problems which may lead to infections.
- Skin irritation. Sometimes, you may experience irritation caused by friction on the skin by your underwear.
- Discomfort. You may experience pain when you engage in physical activities that exert pressure on the vagina, like sex. Sports like cycling or horseback riding, for example, or other vigorous activities may also result in discomfort.
- A heightened sense of self-consciousness. You may feel more self-conscious about your appearance. For example, you may worry about having a visible outline if you wear fitting underwear.
How Is Labia Minora Hypertrophy Treated?
Most patients who are concerned about their labia minora have a normal labia. In such cases, treatment usually focuses on education, reassurance, and self-acceptance. Sharing images of the broad range of normal female anatomy is beneficial to patients.
There's no definitive test or exact measurements to ascertain if labial hypertrophy is present. The diagnosis is based on physical examination and your symptoms. Labial hypertrophy does not present a danger to your overall health.
But if labia minora hypertrophy disrupts your life and significantly impairs your ability to enjoy some activities, including sexual relations, you should consult your gynecologist.
Most of the treatments prescribed entail self-care tips. For instance, cleanliness to prevent infections and irritation. You should use hypoallergenic tissue paper and laundry detergent, avoid applying soap to the affected area, tenderly pat the area dry (no rubbing), use tampons rather than sanitary towels, wear cotton underwear, and avoid tight clothes. Use lubrication during sex when necessary. You may use a cool gel pack to relieve discomfort. Some ointments that contain coconut oil or vitamins A and D can help reduce friction.
Your gynecologist may recommend surgical intervention in very rare cases. This procedure is known as labiaplasty.
Labiaplasty is a surgical procedure involving shortening or reshaping of the labia minora. This can be done under general anesthesia or using a local anesthetic with a sedative. The surgeon removes excess tissue with a scalpel or laser. The stitches used eventually dissolve. The procedure takes about two hours and you may typically go home the same day as the surgery.
Swelling, discomfort, bruising, and tenderness are typical and can last a few weeks after the procedure. During recovery, you need to:
- Maintain cleanliness of the area and keep it dry to prevent infection.
- Avoid physical activity for six to 12 weeks.
- Avoid baths or swimming for two weeks.
- Avoid sexual activity for about four weeks.
- Use sanitary towels for a few weeks instead of tampons.
- Avoid wearing tight clothes.
- Use cotton underwear to prevent friction.
Note that labiaplasty has some associated risks. They include:
- Adverse reactions to anesthesia
- Development of blood clots in veins
- Scarring of tissue
- Chronic pain
- Reduced sensitivity of the genitals