Before deepfakes and alternative facts, the online world was already telling us fibs. In our series Lies the Internet Told Me, we call ’em all out.
When I was a teenager, I’d wait until my parents were out of the house before slinking off to the study to fire up our family computer and ask Google questions about what I’d heard at school that day.
Does too much sex make your vagina loose? Can too much masturbation stretch your vagina? How can you tell if your vagina is loose? Ways to tighten your vagina. These are just a few things I’d type with abandon into the search engine.
Once I’d hit my limit for fear-mongering and medically inaccurate information, I’d wipe clean the search history and watch TV with my brother. My eyes would be fixed on the show, but my mind was busy elsewhere, turning over the morsels of inaccurate information I’d just consumed as fact.
It took me many years to realise that the after-school internet searches that fed me dangerous lies about sexual health had a lasting influence on how I felt about my vagina, my sexual behaviour, and my self-worth.
My adolescence coincided with the birth and mass adoption of search engines, and I often found myself getting lost in the novelty of these newfangled portals to boundless sources of information. Coupled with the fact that the sex education I received at school amounted to being shown photos of STI-riddled genitalia and not much else, my insatiable curiosity and unregulated search engine usage were a hazardous combination.
At school, I’d hear terms like: “bucket fanny” to describe a loose vagina. “It was like throwing a hot dog into a cave,” was one particularly coarse description that has unfortunately stuck with me. “Loose mitt,” “wizard’s sleeve,” and “clown’s pocket” are a few other choice expressions. These phrases elicited loud guffaws from the teenage boys at my school, but when I heard them, I burned with shame.
The message to my teenage self was loud and clear: Loose vaginas aren’t just undesirable, they’re a source of mirth and scorn. Later, in my twenties, worries about my vagina would enter my mind often — too often for my own good. If I was in a new relationship with a man, I’d fret over whether my vagina felt tight enough during sex. These worries would heighten when friends of mine would repeat things said to them by men after sex. A friend once told me her boyfriend used to always say “your pussy feels so tight” after they had sex, which prompted me to go home and stare at the wall while my brain spiralled out of control.
I’m not alone. Vaginal tightness is still a major source of worry for youth and adults, said Amber Newman-Clark, education and wellbeing specialist at sexual health charity Brook, which works with those under 25. That’s partially because of the free-flow of misinformation about sex online as well as poor sex ed in schools. E-commerce marketers manipulating women’s fears to sell shady vaginal tightening products on sites like Amazon don’t help either.
Can a vagina actually stretch out of shape?
The tight vagina is nothing more than mythology.
Image: Getty Images / iStockphoto
Vaginas don’t stretch out of shape due to lots of sex. Bianca Palmisano, founder of , a sexual health training organization, explained that the vagina is an organ made of smooth muscle tissue. “It expands when stretched and then goes right back to its resting state, just like your stomach after a big meal,” she said.
The vagina’s smooth muscle and rugae allow it to “stretch for penetration or for a vaginal delivery” as well as collapse at rest with its walls touching to prevent air getting inside, wrote Jennifer Gunter, a gynaecologist, in her book (publishing Aug. 27). “Everyone (okay, the patriarchy) seems very impressed with the ability of a penis to grow, but the few centimetres of change that a penis can muster up pales in comparison with the vagina’s ability to stretch.”
It’s the muscles surrounding the vagina, not the vagina itself, which can loose tone if they’re traumatically stretched during a difficult or extended childbirth. In those instances, physical therapy is required to restrengthen the muscles that hold the uterus in place and circle around the bladder.
This cultural obsession with vaginal tightness — and its lack of foundation in science or medicine — is a hangover from a bygone era when a woman’s value was measured by her virginity and childbearing potential. Beneath the persistent veneration of virginal women lies a desire to control women’s sexual behaviour. And it works. If women become scared that their vagina is loosening, they often “self-limit the number of partners they have” in order to be more accommodating to men’s sexual desires, Palmisano said.
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Andrea Barrica, founder of online sex ed platform O.school, echoed that sentiment. “This whole concept likely stems from cultural shame around people, especially women, having many sexual partners, not the medical and wellness community,” she said.
Vagina snake oil
If you Google “how to make your vagina tighter,” scores of tightening sprays, gels, and electrical “wands” will appear at the top of your search results. The first product that appeared for me in Google’s search results is an “Amazon’s Choice” product called “Intelligent Tightening Spray 15ml, for Women to Become a Virgin Again.” Amazon even has a dedicated category page titled “vagina tightening products” containing over 5,000 items.
Mashable flagged several worrying products to Amazon, which the retailer reviewed and removed from the site. “All selling partners must follow our selling guidelines and those who do not will be subject to action, including withholding of funds and potential removal of their account. The products in question are no longer available,” an Amazon spokesperson told Mashable. Per Amazon, the dedicated category page is automatically populated based on people’s search terms.
Gunter warned in her book that these tightening products risk killing the healthy bacteria in your vagina, damaging the mucus, or even causing microtrauma due to vaginal tissue irritation.
“It’s scary because a lot of these products and methods are actively dangerous, and they’re being sold to vulnerable people.”
Ellen Scott — lifestyle editor at Metro.co.uk who regularly reports on medically unsafe products marketed to women as vaginal tighteners — thinks Etsy, Pinterest, and Instagram are particularly troubling because “ideas of ‘wellness’ go unchecked.”
“If you look around Etsy you’ll find so many vagina tightening products,” said Scott. “It’s scary because a lot of these products and methods are actively dangerous, and they’re being sold to vulnerable people who have been taught to hate their vaginas or that something’s wrong with them.”
Or that they’re having too much sex.
“Sex is a normal, healthy part of life and as long as you are happy with it, it’s consensual and you don’t feel it’s getting in the way of your everyday life, then there isn’t such a thing as ‘too much’ sex,” said Barrica.
And for those still worried about their vaginas’ size, Palmisano has some useful advice:
“Take some time to read some literature that affirms your worth as a person beyond how satisfying your vagina is to your future partner. If you’re not in pain, then you’re perfect. Look for narratives that speak this truth about your body.
I wish I’d been told this when I was growing up. I could’ve used accurate, positive, and science-based information about my own anatomy during those formative years.
All I can do now, though, is reaffirm that my value doesn’t lie in the way my vagina feels to someone other than myself.