What Does It Mean to Have a Shallow Vagina?
The subject of vaginal anatomy—like many other aspects of women's health—is chock-full of misinformation and/or a lack of adequate information. Vaginal depth, for instance, has been largely under-researched. Of the limited existing literature, a study published in 2005 in BJOG, an obstetrics and gynecology journal, revealed that the vaginal canal has an average length of about 3.77 inches. Another study, published in Gynecologic and Obstetric Investigation, measured the length as 2.7 to 5.8 inches.
According to Hana Patel, M.B.B.S., a general practitioner and mindset coach in South London specializing in women's health and mental health, the depth from the vaginal opening to the tip of the cervix is 3 to 4 inches when you are not sexually aroused, although this is just a general range.
"Usually, it ranges from 5 to 8 centimeters in length. However, this is dependent on the study which has carried out the measurements; some studies even reported up to 10 centimeters in length," she said.
The depth varies with each person and may be dependent on various factors such as height and build.
However, many women on the social platform Reddit have raised concerns about having a shallow vagina, which can cause pain during penetration or when inserting a tampon.
While these sentiments have been echoed multiple times, experiencing pain during these activities is rarely related to vaginal length, according to Kevin Alten, M.D., an OB-GYN and associate professor at Marietta College in Ohio. However, factors such as some types of surgery, congenital or other underlying conditions, radiation and even menopause can all lead to a shortened vaginal canal.
Here's how these factors can make your vagina shallower:
Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome is a congenital condition that causes an underdeveloped or absent uterus and/or vagina. There are two types of MRKH syndrome. With type 1, your ovaries and fallopian tubes are normally functioning but you may have a blocked or missing upper vagina, uterus and cervix. No other organs are affected by this type. Women with type 2 may have a blocked or missing upper vagina, cervix and uterus, as well as issues with their fallopian tubes, ovaries, kidneys, spine or other organs.
MRKH syndrome is estimated to affect 1 in 4,000 to 5,000 women in the general population.
If you have MRKH syndrome, your vaginal canal is shorter, narrower and thinner. As a result, vaginal intercourse may be painful or even impossible.
Vaginal stenosis is defined as a condition in which the vagina or birth canal becomes narrower and shorter. The lining of the vagina may also be thinner and drier. There may also be scar tissue in the vaginal canal. Vaginal stenosis is often caused by radiation therapy to the pelvis or some types of surgery.
Just like MRKH, it may cause pain during penetration (or during a pelvic exam).
The vaginal length may become shorter after menopause, according to Narendra Pisal, M.B.B.S., consultant gynecologist at London Gynaecology.
"This is due to atrophic changes caused by lack of estrogen hormone," he said.
A 2006 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found menopause is associated with a shortening of total vaginal length by 0.17 centimeters, although not all menopausal women experience this circumstance.
After menopause, the tissues of the vulva and the lining of the vagina may become thinner, drier and less elastic or flexible (also known as vulvovaginal atrophy).
When a woman doesn't have intercourse or other vaginal sexual activity on a regular basis following menopause, her vagina may also become shorter and narrower, according to the North American Menopause Society.
"Having regular vaginal sexual activity can help to maintain the vagina's length and width, and reduces dryness," Patel advised.
Other factors that can affect the length of your vagina
Sexual intercourse and childbirth can also affect the length of your vaginal canal. When you are sexually aroused, your vaginal canal lengthens to accommodate penetration.
"Your vaginal length can increase to 4.25 inches to 4.75 inches or more when you're having sex," Alten said.
During delivery, the length of your vagina changes to accommodate the baby. The vaginal canal usually stretches and elongates to allow natural birth. After delivery, it goes back to its prepregnancy state.
When to see a doctor
For some women, having a shorter vagina is a completely normal anatomical variation. However, if you experience pain during penetration, discomfort or difficulty inserting or retaining a tampon, or fullness down below, then it's best to consult a healthcare professional.
"Sometimes these symptoms may also be associated with incomplete emptying of bladder/bowel or constipation," Pisal explained.
Usually, the treatment is dependent on the cause of the condition. Your doctor won't treat a "shallow vagina" per se but can deal with the underlying cause and symptoms. In most cases, Alten explained, vaginal dilators and vaginal estrogen treatment are the mainstay approaches.