What It Actually Means To Have A "Shallow" Vagina

Doctors answer if there is such a thing as a "shallow" vagina or uterus and clear up other myths about the female anatomy.

3 Women standing and sitting in vagina shaped pools illustration
Photo: Julian Birchman

Whether you read about them online or hear them through word of mouth, shameful beliefs and misconceptions (if not total falsehoods) about vaginas abound. Amid this long list of frustrating myths is the subject of vaginal depth. Google "shallow vagina," and you'll see what we mean. For example, Urban Dictionary's top-ranking definition for the term suggests that it's actually the result of a tampon being stuck in one's vagina — and primarily a barrier to male pleasure. Sounds legit, right?

Wrong. However, there is such a thing as a short vagina — but it isn't a joke, and it's not something that's easily defined. (And, for the record, you can't get a tampon "stuck" in there).

For starters, there is no hard and fast rule we can use to deem a vagina "shallow" (or "deep," for that matter). Rather, the length of a "normal" vaginal canal ranges from about three to six inches, Susan Loeb-Zeitlin, MD, FACOG, a gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian/ Weill Cornell Medicine, tells InStyle.

Similarly, there isn't one single explanation for why someone's vagina would fall short of this measurement range. Dr. Loeb-Zeitlin explains that some people are born without a vagina or with a vaginal septum — the latter occurs when the vagina doesn't develop properly and a barrier of tissue forms that shortens or even blocks it. Depending on their severity, these conditions may prevent someone from having comfortable penetrative sex, menstruating normally, or giving birth vaginally.

Other factors could also cause the length of your vagina to change later in life. Dr. Loeb-Zeitlin says that radiation treatments for cancer and menopause can affect vaginal depth or width. How, exactly? In cases where it's being used to treat endometrial or vaginal cancer, radiation can dry out the vagina's lining, forming scar tissue, which causes the canal to narrow or shorten. Additionally, the decline in hormone production that comes with menopause often leads to thinner, dryer, and shrunken vaginal tissue. These conditions also involve some pain or discomfort during penetrative sex (although, for the record, arousal can actually cause the vagina to elongate somewhat) and could make it difficult to insert a tampon.

Luckily, some treatments may aid in stretching a shallow vaginal canal. Namely, pelvic floor exercises can help in general, and if one's vagina has become shorter because of menopause, vaginal estrogen therapy may be an option. Meanwhile, a vaginal septum can usually be addressed with surgery.

If you think you may have a short vagina, talk to your doctor. They'll help identify your condition, determine how best to treat it, and, blessedly, alleviate any concerns that Urban Dictionary definition may have inspired, once and for all.

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