Enforcing bullshit standards on women’s bodies has been done to death. When it comes to drawing the line between the “haves” and “have-nots”, a lot of men and women point fingers at the unsightly bulges, rolls, and abnormalities of the female body. Whether it is the chest, the butt, the stomach, or facial features, all parts of a woman’s body are up for discussion.
The vagina is not safe from society’s critical eye either. From my experience working at Lioness, the question of whether a tighter vagina is better, or valuing a tighter squeeze, comes up often enough that I wanted to see an article out there dive into how we developed this belief, why/why not is this a problem, and whether a tighter vagina really is better. So, here’s our first dive into what I am sure will be an ongoing discussion as we learn more.
Google suggested these alternatives to my search “is tighter better”, and it looks like a vagina’s tightness is on a lot of people’s minds. Especially the severely misinformed person on the right…
What does a loose vag look like?
How to tighten my vagina fast
What does a tight vagina feel like?
Am I tight or loose quiz
Why does my girlfriend feel loose sometimes?
My girlfriend feels loose is she cheating
Apart from search inquiries, there are enough magazines and internet threads to shake a stick at that discuss the advantages of having sex with a tight vagina, how men love a nice tight squeeze and abhor the old “hot dog down a hallway”. A neatly packed vagina is akin to winning the genetic lottery, and any girl should be proud to be an owner of such a “pleasure-giving vagina”.
What does being tight really mean?
When most people talk about tightness, they envision that the narrower the passageway, the more friction there would be between the vaginal walls and penis during sex. The friction/squeeze would subsequently offer more pleasure.
Two things are wrong with this notion.
First, the intensity of the squeeze one feels during sex is not based on the width of the vagina, but the motion of the pelvic floor muscles surrounding the vagina (see below). Notice that I did not say strong—focusing on only strengthening your pelvic floor muscles with kegels can be counterproductive in some cases. As Rachel Gelman, Pelvic Floor Therapist at the Pelvic Health and Rehabilitation Center has told us in the past:
The problem I tend to see is that people do kegels all the time, and are so focused on tightening that they forget to relax. You wouldn’t walk around all day flexing your biceps without letting your arm rest at your side. If you did eventually your arm would probably start to hurt, and you might have a hard time carrying objects or typing at your computer. The same thing can happen with the pelvic floor. If you only focus on tightening it, you can develop pelvic floor dysfunction which can present as pain with intercourse, urinary urgency, constipation or even urinary incontinence!”
Healthy pelvic floor muscles can also improve blood flow, which, like an erection, engorges the vagina when aroused. That’s right, the vagina expands and shrinks. It’s elastic so it generally retains its shape and does not “deform” or “loosen up” from a lot of sex. The idea that a “loose” vagina or a prominent vulva is indicative of promiscuity is a myth that really, really, really needs to be put to pasture for so many reasons
Second, is the assumption that squeezing is directly correlated with pleasure. Countless magazines and sex tip articles will tell you that doing kegels will give you better orgasms and better pleasure for your partners. We all wish it was that easy, but there’s more to sexual pleasure than friction or squeezing. Sex is equally emotional as it is physical.
A study conducted by sex researchers Lori Brotto and Meredith Chivers et al found that being more mindful could improve sexual arousal. If you’re not in the right mindset (worrying too much about whether your vagina is tight enough, for example), then you’re not going into be in the mental space of having fun and being in the moment. Also, not being well lubricated enough could be mistaken for “tightness”, which honestly causes more pain than pleasure. Bringing me to my next point…
Yes, there is such a thing as being too tight.
If you and your partner are experiencing pain or discomfort during sex, you (or they) may be too tight. Everybody’s body is different.
There could be a number of reasons including not enough lubrication/arousal (see above), chronic dryness, or vaginismus, which is a painful condition in which the pelvic floor muscles involuntarily constricts or even clamps up during penetration (sex, tampons, anything).
Discomfort isn’t just applicable to vaginal discomfort. It’s also possible to have penile discomfort from their partner being too tight. We’ve heard reports (primarily from men) who’ve reported that their female partner was so tight during intercourse/orgasm that it was became unbearable and more difficult to orgasm themselves. We haven’t found much information on this yet besides anecdotal/self-report, but it’s a conversation we hope to see more of in the future.
Does a vagina’s tightness change over time?
Like any other part of your body, your vagina is subject to changes from various elements and events, especially hormonal fluctuations.
As you move closer to ovulation, your estrogen levels skyrocket, which leads to your vagina feeling more elastic and lubricated. This may make intercourse easier, but it may also leave the impression that you are looser. Adversely, if you have just finished your cycle, your hormone levels will drop which will make you feel like you’re tighter.
There’s a huge misconception that the vagina is stretched out and remains loose after childbirth. This is not true. To prepare for a birth the vagina will dilate and widen, but after some time it will return to more or less its former shape. The notion of looseness may be more because the pelvic floor muscles are fatigued or injured after childbirth. Injuries during childbirth are more common than you might think—two years ago, Cosmopolitan came out with a story documenting the frequency that new mothers experienced injuries in the form of pelvic pain, pain during sex, pelvic floor prolapse, incontinence, and more. A lot of these pains are overlooked and even can be experienced years after giving birth. Heck, even passing a bowel movement or lifting can strain your pelvic floor muscles if you’re not careful.
With depleting levels of estrogen, the female body goes through a slew of dramatic changes during menopause and a lot of women find themselves in what feels like an entirely different body. Inevitable muscle atrophy and incontinence may seem to some as signs of “looseness” but on the flip side, the loss of elasticity to vulvovaginal tissues, the thinning of the vaginal wall, and chronic dryness can give way to feelings of tightness and even severe pain during sex. Again, it is possible to be too tight. Dyspareunia is a common condition among post-menopausal women and can start a vicious cycle of pain, performance anxiety, and more pain.
Can you get tighter? How?
From purely cosmetic to functional to honestly a little horrific, these are some of the ways “loose” vaginas can get tighter (outside of hormones).
Kegels are essentially exercises you can do to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. From jade eggs to kegel balls, the market is opening its arms to kegels.
Tread (or squeeze) with caution, however.
In a previous article, we talked to pelvic floor therapist Rachel Gelman about why the hype around kegels is dangerous and why you probably should not do kegels. Unless you have a problem and a professional opinion, you don’t NEED to do kegels. It may do more harm than good to do kegels everyday, especially if you don’t know whether you’re using the right muscles. I highly recommend hearing what Rachel has to say on this.
Designer Vaginas and Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery (FGCS)
The popularity of surgical intervention is rising. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, labiaplasty procedures saw a 39% increase in 2016.
So what is FGCS? FGCS includes several procedures aimed at modifying female genital appearance with the upselling point of improving sexual function and making your genitalia look better, although there are some who go through procedures because of discomfort as well. This includes labiaplasty, vulvar liposculpturing, re-virgination , G-spot amplification, and vaginal rejuvenation.
Vaginal rejuvenation is most closely tied with improving tightness. The procedure basically tightens the pelvic floor muscles, cuts away excess tissue, and reduces the diameter of the vaginal canal and opening, making the passageway narrower.
While some small studies (interviewing 52 patients) showed an increase in sexual satisfaction, there still isn’t enough significant evidence to prove that FGCS is actually effective. Most professionals would advise against it. To me, it really comes down to what you think you really need to feel like yourself, and being fully educated before making a decision is super important.
The Husband Stitch
My face for the whole day when I first heard about this practice from this really well-written article on Healthline: 😱.
The “Husband Stitch” is an extra stitch medical professionals may add to the repair process after a vaginal birth. It’s supposed to tighten the vagina for increased pleasure for the male partner. Sometimes it’s applied without the mother’s consent or knowledge, to terrible repercussions like excruciating pain and infections. The “Husband Stitch” and episiotomies (a cut made between the vagina and anus to hasten the birth and avoid widening the vagina) were horrible practices that I had no idea existed, and now you do too.
Should we be worrying about being tight enough? Rethinking Pleasure
Credit: Jamie McCartne
So we dug pretty deep into the social concept of tightness. Why women desire it, why men desire it…. All of that feeds into misinformation about what exactly makes the vagina feel tight.
So when we talk about pleasure, should we be focusing on tightness? Especially considering that the impression of tightness may be connected to not being lubricated or aroused enough. At least with FSCG, increased tightness hasn’t been completely proven to be a surefire way to improve sexual function and pleasure.
Moreover, for a body part that already suffers from ambiguity, subjectivity can be dangerous. There’s nothing worse than chasing an ideal, especially one so intangible.
Maybe being tight is not a good thing. Maybe it should not be a thing at all. If we are concerned about tightness, we should consider why, not how. Who are you trying to please? Will being tighter really achieve what you want, or are there other venues out there to explore that might create better pleasure without causing you pain… or putting unreachable/intangible standards on yourself?
Let’s rethink what pleasure is and how to go about getting it. If there’s anything we’ve learned over the past few years working in sex tech, it’s that sexual pleasure individual and nuanced. The only way to discover what works is to learn about yourself, that is to experiment…and that goes beyond how hard you can squeeze or how narrow your vagina is.
Liz Co-founder and CEO at Lioness.