Thanks to an infamous episode of New Girl, as well as continued Internet
obsession coverage, the American public is now aware that micro-penises exist. Which begs the question: Is there such a thing as a micro-vagina?
First, a refresher on the male condition: A micro-penis is defined as a penis that, when stretched, measures 2.5 standard deviations smaller than the mean human penis size—which usually means it's less than 2.75 inches long. Studies have found that this condition can be caused by several factors, including genetic mutations of the SRD5A2 gene, which codes for an enzyme that helps process testosterone.
However, men aren't alone in experiencing size issues down there. Female genitalia is so complex, we were able to identify three conditions that manifest in comparable ways in women. Come explore.
Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome—called MRKH, for short—is a congenital disorder that affects about 1 in 5,000 women. MRKH causes both the vagina and uterus to be underdeveloped or absent.
What does this look like, exactly? Well, let's remember that the vagina is actually just a fibromuscular duct, like a tube, that stretches from the vulva to the uterus. MRKH results in an undeveloped (read: tighter, shorter) duct—and in some cases, it's non-existent, making sexual intercourse very difficult.
On the other hand, the external genitalia—the vulva, labia, clitoris, and even pubic hair—all look normal. As a result, many young women find out they have MRKH when they fail to get their period as a teen. At this time, doctors will conduct an exam to see how small the vaginal opening is (it may be so small they can only use a Q-tip to check it), then an ultrasound or MRI will be used to confirm the condition.
Luckily, dilation and surgical procedures are available to women with MRKH, which expand the vagina enough to make sex possible. It's still unclear what causes MRKH in the first place.
Vaginismus manifests as involuntary tightening of the vagina, which causes the vaginal opening to constrict or close off completely—again, making sex really, really difficult. Women who suffer from vaginismus also have trouble using tampons or getting pelvic exams, for obvious reasons.
The vaginal tightness is caused by involuntary tightening of the pelvic floor muscles—these are the muscles, ligaments, connective tissues, and nerves that support the bladder, uterus, vagina and rectum. When these muscles constrict too much, it can make penetration very painful (if not impossible).
Some women develop vaginismus very early (primary vaginismus), while for other women, it occurs later in life (secondary vaginismus), sometimes due to a traumatic event, childbirth, or surgery. Around 5 to 17 percent of women have suffered some form of vaginismus.
Luckily, the condition is very treatable, namely by learning to control the muscles that cause it through special exercises that include Kegels. The cause of vaginismus, when not related to an external event, remains unclear.
Last but not least, women can suffer from vaginal stenosis, which is the narrowing of the vagina due to a build-up of scar tissue. This condition usually occurs after radiation therapy (radiotherapy) or genital surgery. Women diagnosed with some cancers of the bladder, rectum, cervix, or uterus may use radiation therapy to kill off cancerous cells. Unfortunately, this can cause scar tissue to build up within the vagina, causing it to narrow and tighten. It also can cause a reduction in vaginal lubrication.
To prevent vaginal stenosis from happening, some patients are given vaginal dilators or instructed to do special exercises to increase circulation within the vaginal area. Estrogen creams are sometimes used as well.
Since vaginal stenosis is caused by an external event—usually cancer—it's important for women to discuss treatment and prevention with their doctor. In very rare cases, vaginal stenosis is congenital.
Remember: Every vagina is different
While penis size seems to make the news weekly, discussion around vagina size is nearly non-existent, leading many women to wonder if their vagina looks "normal." While conditions like the ones described above do affect women—and you should talk to your doctor if you're concerned you might be suffering from one of them—remember that, just like penises, vaginas come in a variety of shapes and sizes. From the labia to the clitoris to the vaginal opening, no two vaginas are the same.
Want proof? Just check out The Great Wall of Vagina, which British artist Jamie McCartney modeled from real-life women, where every vagina is its own beautiful snowflake.
Fusion health reporter Isha Aran contributed to this story.
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.