Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva

Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva

Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva

Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva

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Many, if not most, people remain in the dark about the actual workings of the vagina and vulva. The primary purpose of Read My Lips is to educate women and men about the vulva and vagina in a manner that is smart, informative, and entertaining. Readers, both women and men alike, will come to think differently about women's genitals and become a little more curious and a lot more comfortable with them. They will learn more about the female body in terms of health, sex, pleasure, culture, and art. Though based on sound scientific and medical research, Read My Lips is accessible to the masses, so women and men who are curious about the clitoris, Brazilian waxing, labiaplasty, or whether the G-spot really exists, will find something of interest in these pages.

Chapters focus on sex and the vulva/vagina which, in spite of the many interesting cultural and historical aspects of vulva and vagina lore, remains of central interest to many people - as it should, given that women's genitals, and how they work, especially in regard to sex, remain a mystery to so many well-intentioned lovers. In keeping with the overall theme of celebration and education, the authors take a sex-positive, pleasure-focused perspective on women's genitals, pointing out the parts that can help women to enjoy sex and feel more comfortable in their own bodies. Tips on technique will also be shared alongside information on vaginal health.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781442208001
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date: 11/16/2011
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 312
Sales rank: 738,197
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Debby Herbenick, PhD, is Associate Director and Research Scientist at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion, Indiana University, the Sexual Health Educator for The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, and a widely read sex columnist for various newspapers and magazines. She is also the author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction. She has served as an expert on the vagina and vulva (and other sex topics) for The Tyra Banks Show and The Doctors and writes about sex for, Psychology Today, WebMD and Men's Health magazine. She is also a member of the International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease, the International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health, and the International Academy of Sex Research. As a widely cited sex expert, she has been quoted in more than 500 magazine and newspaper articles including those in The New York Times, Glamour, Marie Claire, The LA Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, Cosmo (US), Cosmo (UK), Women's Health, Men's Health and SELF.

Vanessa Schick, PhD, is a social psychologist at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion, Indiana University. She has conducted a variety of studies on the vulva that have been published in peer reviewed journals ranging from the changes in the portrayal of the vulva in sexually explicit magazines to understanding how women's concerns about their vulva appearance impacts them in the bedroom. She has presented her work to a variety of diverse audiences ranging from the Kinsey Institute to students in the classroom to sex researchers at European Federation of Sexology conference in Rome, Italy. She is also a member of the International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease and the International Academy of Sex Research.

Read an Excerpt

Read My Lips

A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva
By Debby Herbenick Vanessa Schick


Copyright © 2011 Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4422-0800-1

Chapter One

Meet the Vulva

Like love, the vulva is a many-splendored thing. In addition to quite literally serving as the window to a baby's world during vaginal birth, women's genitals are also often a source of pleasure, stimulation, and orgasmic release. Although women who look at, touch, and appreciate their vulvas and vaginas may be particularly well situated to experience genital pleasure, women who have never seen or touched their genitals can start exploring at any time (well, almost any time; it's wise and considerate of others to wait until you're alone or with a partner rather than try this at work, on public transportation, or at the grocery store).

That said, vulvas have a complicated history. There are reasons why some women may feel uncomfortable or unfamiliar with this part of their own bodies. Although some people in certain cultures have done or continue to do harmful things to women's genitals, the vulva has long been revered, adored, and even worshipped by many people and in many societies. We're here to tell you why, how, and in what interesting ways this has been done, including a story about the time we took to the famous Las Vegas Strip with Vanessa dressed in a self-made and way larger-than-life vulva costume while Debby conducted on-camera interviews with adult women and men of all ages about vulvas.

Vulva newbies will probably want to read this book two or three times, as their new knowledge about women's genitals soaks in. However, even the most seasoned, well-versed vulvalucionaries will find new facts about women's genitals in these pages as they're informed by the latest and greatest recent discoveries about women's vulvas and vaginas. And who doesn't need a new vulva craft project? (You'll find at least one craft project nestled in each chapter.) First, though, let's get acquainted with the vulva so that we can begin our adventure together with a shared sense of knowledge.


If you guessed a car, we understand why; this is a common misperception given how close "vulva" and "Volvo" sound. However, the term "vulva" actually refers to the parts of a woman's genitals that can be seen from the outside: the mons pubis, clitoral hood, clitoris, labia majora, labia minora, and the introitus, also called the vaginal opening (the gateway to the vagina). If you're not sure what all these parts are or what they do, don't worry—you'll soon find out. Many women lack familiarity with their vulva parts. We certainly didn't always know a lot about vulvas, but we're happy that we learned about them so that we can spread the word to other women and men. Case in point: years ago, when Debby was a graduate student at Indiana University (IU), she was tossing a Frisbee with her teammates from the Calamity Janes (IU's ultimate Frisbee club team) and talking about her sex-education work and what it was like to teach human sexuality classes to college students when one of her teammates asked her where the clitoris is located. Because Debby was standing in the middle of a grassy fi eld without a textbook, diagram, or chalkboard in sight to use as a visual aid, she was forced to improvise.

People should learn what the vulva is. In the common mind, the vulva is called vagina. I spoke about this to an educated woman who was confused about the distinction between vulva and vagina. I had to get out an anatomy book to convince her. In another incident I had occasion to talk to a sex therapist. She admitted being guilty of referring to the vulva as vagina. The word vagina is now used freely. I heard Robin Williams on a TV show refer to 'vagina' meaning vulva. I must say, this makes me angry. It is denial in the guise of freedom to discuss sexuality in public. —Joy, 82, New York

"Imagine my face is a vulva," Debby said, dropping the Frisbee to the ground. Pointing to her mouth, she said, "My mouth would be the vagina and my lips would be the labia minora, which are the inner vaginal lips." Next, she pushed her cheeks closer to her lips and said, "My cheeks would be the labia majora, the outer vaginal lips. That would make my nose—just above the vagina but not inside of it—my clitoris."

Not only did Debby's Frisbee teammates learn about the vulva and clitoris that day, but Debby also invented a new way to use her face as an educational icebreaker at parties and a great get-to-know-eachother topic on first dates. Try it sometime (well—maybe not on "first" dates).

Watch a video of Debby showing how her face can become a vulva on our web site,

Fortunately, we have diagrams available to us here in this book, so there's no need to rely on Debby's face for our entire knowledge about women's vulvas. Check out our diagrams to see where the various vulva parts are located. Then, if you're a woman, find some time to check out your own vulva (if you're a man with a female sex partner, perhaps she will be kind enough to give you a guided tour of her vulva). In San Francisco, at the Center for Sexuality and Culture, gay men (mostly—but others are invited) have been able to sign up for and attend a class called "Cunts for Fags." This class teaches attendees everything they need to know about vulvas and vaginas so that they can effectively teach about women's genitals alongside a wide range of sexual health topics. Those who have never previously seen a woman's vulva or vagina before are invited to view and/or touch genitals for educational purposes. If you are interested in attending, find more information from the Center for Sex and Culture (see Resources). We highly recommend the class for everyone regardless of whether you choose to have sex with a vulva-equipped woman.

As you review the diagrams, notice that, if you're a woman, your genital parts probably look a little or a lot different than the images here in this book. This is to be expected. After all, there is no one "standard" vulva—a message that is worth repeating. Let's try that: There is no one "standard" vulva. This is a powerful message. It means that there is no need to compare the appearance of your genitals to the genitals of any other woman on the planet. Like a thumbprint, they are all a little different. Some women have a small glans clitoris (the part of the clitoris that can be seen from the outside), while other women have a glans clitoris that stretches out for an inch or two or more. Most of us are somewhere in between. The size, color, and shape of the clitoral hood can vary, too.

Only a handful of researchers have measured women's genital parts, but those that have done so have found that vulva parts come in all sorts of shapes and sizes (see sidebar). The labia minora (inner vaginal lips) are particularly variable in size. Author, sex educator, and activist Betty Dodson used the name of famous architectural designs (e.g., baroque, classical) to emphasize the different, yet beautiful, variations in women's inner labia. She, along with other sex educators and artists, has also likened the shape of women's labia to the appearance of hearts, angel wings, sea shells, or flowers (particularly orchids). Before we get too excited about the labia, though (and believe us, we definitely get going talking about labia in chapter 4), let's back up and go part by part through the vulva. Even if you think you know all your vulva parts, read on, as you may learn something new. Research scientists are learning new things about vulvas and vaginas all the time. Has there ever been a better time in the history of the world to have, or be curious about, a vulva?


The mons pubis (a.k.a. "the mons") is a term that refers to the triangular area between a woman's legs and is the genital part that women have most frequently seen on other women, such as while changing in the locker room. Other terms for this area include the mound of Venus and the pubic mound. Most women, if they let nature take its course, will have pubic hair growing on their mons and down the outer edges of their labia majora, which are women's outer vaginal lips, as well as a little or a lot of pubic hair on the inner thighs. For women who choose to keep some or all of their pubic hair, it can feel sensuous to gently tug on one's pubic hair during masturbation or sex with a partner.

The outer labia encase the inner parts of the vulva, such as the clitoris, clitoral hood, and the vaginal entrance. However, there is some variability in terms of the size, shape, and color of women's outer and inner labia. The labia minora, which are also sometimes called the inner vaginal lips, are sometimes smaller than the labia majora (or outer vaginal lips) and sometimes longer than the labia majora. Not a lot of women and men know this because, as Vanessa discovered in a research study that she and her colleagues at George Washington University in Washington, DC, conducted, inner labia that hang down lower than the outer labia are often missing from sexually explicit magazines such as Playboy—probably thanks to digital editing or airbrushing techniques. If the famous fictional detective Nancy Drew were more progressive and took on vulva-related cases, there would perhaps be a story called The Case of the Missing Labia.

As a result of inner labia that are mostly missing or airbrushed out of porn and other sexual images, many people don't know how creative nature has been with women's genitals and what a wide range of labia exist in the wild—and by "the wild" we mean in women's bedrooms, apartments, tents, and mud huts around the world. Vulvas are incredibly diverse—just like faces. No wonder so many artists have portrayed women's genitals with such beauty and reverence.


The inner labia (labia minora) are perhaps the most diverse part of women's genitals. The color of women's inner labia may vary greatly from one woman to the next. They may be a shade of pink, red, brown, gray, black, or slightly purple (particularly as women become sexually aroused and blood flow increases to the genitals, as the inner labia are filled with blood vessels; inner labia also sometimes darken in color while a woman is pregnant). The outer ridges of the inner labia are often darker than the rest of the labia. Similarly, in one study, forty-one of fifty women (92 percent) had genitals that were darker than the skin around their genitals.

Like a woman's eyes, ears, and breasts, women's inner labia are usually not symmetrical. One labium (the singular version of labia) may be longer, differently shaped, or differently "textured" compared to the other one. It is critical to understand that this is a normal part of development. Because the inner labia don't have fat in them (unlike with outer labia, which contain fat that acts like padding to keep the genitals safe and comfortable), the inner labia are thinner and may lay in ways that give them the appearance of assorted shapes. In fact, the inner labia can take on a variety of shapes depending on how one holds them up or down or to the sides. If you have a full-length mirror, you might find it interesting to sit in front of it (make sure the room is well lit), spread your legs open enough so that you can view your genitals, and then see how the way you touch or hold your labia can make them look symmetrical one way, asymmetrical another way, like a heart or flower, or as if your vulva has angel wings.

I wish there was more information on how women's genitals actually look. All you see in a health class is STD-infected genitals and it is gross to look at them. I would have liked to [have seen] some pictures of healthy genitals and maybe some starting not so close up (with a partner perhaps) and then closer up to ease you in. They also NEVER show you a picture of how genitals look when they are together (sex), because they consider that porn. I would have loved to see how genitals move and stretch when people are having sex and how the vulva looks different in various sexual activities (masturbation, oral sex, vaginal sex). —Kelly, 28, New York

Some women worry that something is wrong with them if one labium is bigger than the other one, but we're here to tell you that that's not the case. "Even if nothing's wrong," some women have said to us, "I still wish they were the same size." Fair enough. But consider for a moment that some people look for each other's quirks, eccentricities, or special unique aspects of appearance to love. You might think of a past or current lover whose freckles form a constellation or come together to look like a paw print and how that special way you re-imagined your partner's body made you glow with love or attraction. If you feel self-conscious about your genitals, try to imagine how someone else might look upon them with love or adoration. What you view as quirky or unusual, another person may view as special and unique. For example, a friend of ours once mentioned that his wife told him that she felt self-conscious about the dark edges of her inner labia. She had considered surgery to get rid of the darker edges. This surprised our friend because he had always thought that the dark edges of her inner labia were particularly sexy and appealing. Until they talked about this, he didn't know that she didn't like her inner labia, and she didn't know that he thought they were beautiful just as they are. (This is also an example of how communicating with one's partner about his or her body and about sexuality can help a couple's sex life and relationship.) A woman we know had a boyfriend who had a birthmark on his penis, which he felt self-conscious about. However, she couldn't imagine his penis any other way and loved that he had this special, unique part of his body that she knew about but the rest of the world did not; it made her feel special.

People have all sorts of individual aspects to their genitals. Some people—like the man we just told you about—have a birthmark (an area of darker pigmented skin) on their genitals. Many men find that their penis, when erect, bends upward or downward or to the side. Like vulva variations, the degree and direction of "bend" can be a normal and common difference among men and is nothing that needs to cause feelings of embarrassment or shame.

I just remembered that I have a freckle just outside my labia. I really like it. —Kara, 20, Tonga

Many women, if they look closely at their inner labia, might notice that their left labium is larger or longer than their right—a trait that is common to many men, too, who often find that their left testes hang lower than their right. For some women, it may be the right labium that is larger or that hangs down lower than the left. People are diverse!

When Your Labia Hurt

There are times when women may have inner labia that cause them discomfort or pain. In rare instances, a woman may find that the length or thickness of her inner labia gets in the way of masturbation or vaginal intercourse, or that her inner labia get uncomfortably pushed up inside the vagina during vaginal penetration. Although some women wonder if surgery to make the labia smaller will help, this is not always the case. Even women with very tiny inner labia—smaller than one centimeter of length—can experience this "pushing inside" effect during sex.


Excerpted from Read My Lips by Debby Herbenick Vanessa Schick Copyright © 2011 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION CHAPTER 1: Meet the Vulva CHAPTER 2: A Healthy, Happy Vulva: Taking Care Down There CHAPTER 3: Vulvalicious: Vulvas and Vaginas in Bed CHAPTER 4: How Do I Look? How We Come to Think & Feel the Way We do about Our Vulvas CHAPTER 5: Spraying, Dyeing, and Douching...Oh My! CHAPTER 6: The Hair Down There CHAPTER 7: Evulvalution: Vulva Culture RESOURCES
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