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January 18, 2023

Body confidence – what is a normal body?

Thinking your body is different, abnormal or even weird is an experience many people have – young and old.

In a world of social media, beautiful celebrities and biology text books, anything other than perfect can seem wrong.

But bodies come in all shapes, sizes, colours and conditions – each one as natural and normal as the other. Intimate areas – breasts, bums, penis and vagina’s – are just as varied.

So, let’s have a look at what’s really normal and why being different is something we all have in common:

All humans are different

If you compare people to almost any other single species of bird or animal, humans vary a lot! Every part of the human body comes in many different shapes and sizes.

Big noses, small noses. Long arms, short arms. Large bums, flat bums. Straight legs, curved legs. Brown eyes, green eyes. Thick lips, thin lips. The list is endless…

And so, saying what is normal becomes quite a challenge.

Take a look at the people you pass in an average supermarket. Different sexual identities, different ages, different ethnicity, some with disabilities and all with very different bodies.

The reality is that each person is as normal as the next.

No two penises or vaginas are the same

That’s right. No two genitals are the same!

Your penis or vagina is different to almost everyone you meet. So much so, that a future or former partner could likely identify it in a police style line-up!

But with over 7 billion people on the planet, your genitals aren’t that unique either! Whether it is your lop-side labia (vagina lips) or crooked penis, there are millions of people looking down and thinking the same about their sexual organs.

Nothing is unique. Everything is normal.

Pornography isn’t normal

Erotic films and pornography are often the first time we get to see other people’s bodies and genitals in use!

Pornography aims to turn people on and only the most classically ideal people are used. Naturally, they want to put on a good show!

The actors or models in pornography are typically young. They often have perfect skin, straight teeth, trim tummies, luscious hair and slender legs. They often have large penises, neat vaginas, perky breasts and peachy bums. They have often had cosmetic surgery to enhance or improve some of these features!

If you look around you in any crowd, you’ll realise they probably represent less than 1% of our beautifully varied population.

Just as the sex we see in pornography is carefully staged and not particularly representative of sex in the real world – the bodies, bums, boobs, penises and vaginas we see are all carefully selected.  

Pornography is not a particularly healthy or accurate representation of normal body image.

So, if you don’t feel you measure up, neither do the vast majority of your fellow human beings!

Text books aren’t normal either

Many of us have giggled over the images of intimate body parts in a biology text book at school or college!

Though physically correct, they are often quite simply or sympathetically drawn or photographed – a penis or vagina we might all be keen to possess!

Again, few ‘real-world’ penises, vaginas, boobs or bums will like the ones in a text book.

Just because yours is bigger, smaller, a different shape or a different shade, it’s just as normal and probably much more like your friends’ or the average persons’.

Common concerns

The list of concerns which people have about their bodies is as long as the list of ways our bodies and genitals can differs.

Being concerned about your height or weight are common. Most people suffer similar anxieties at some point, whether they are tall, short, large or thin – or somewhere in the middle.

Due to decades of the sexualisation of women, they are often set unrealistic ideals.

Normal breasts come in all shapes and sizes. They can be small, large, pert or droopy. Nipples can be many different shades, large, small, sticky-out or even inverse. Very few women have breasts which are entirely symmetrical either.

Vaginas are no less varied. Labia (the outer lips) in particular can be large, small and many different shades.

Inside, a vagina can appear wide, narrow, shallow or deep. Everything is normal and the vagina has evolved to be great at being able to mould to an equally diverse range of penises.

For men, penis size and attractiveness are common concerns.

Pornography is full of images of large penises. And it’s fine to have a large penis.  However, many people have an average or even smaller penis, so that’s fine too.

Penises can be straight or often have a curve. The glans (head) can be bigger than the shaft or smaller. Again, it’s all normal.

The foreskin typically rolls back when men have an erection, but some more than others. Again, unless it is getting in the way, this is entirely normal.

And testicles and scrotums (ball bags) can be small and taut or big and hang down. That’s normal.

You body and your partner

It’s natural to feel nervous being naked – particularly for the first time or with a new partner.

Whatever insecurity you may have about your body or intimate areas, your partner likely feels the same about some area of their body.

Sex is as emotional as it is physical. Whilst you may be concerned by the size of your breasts or penis, your partner is more likely caught up in enjoying the moment – or worry about their own body image!

It’s perfectly normal to lack body confidence sometimes. If you’re concerned, you may find it useful to slow down and remove your clothing gradually. You can make it part of your foreplay.

Likewise, be aware that your partner may have concerns about their body. Never pressure them into revealing themselves until they are ready.

The best solution is often communication. If you’re concerned about any area of your body – intimate or otherwise – discuss it with your partner. Explain your concerns and how it makes you feel.

Often your partner will be able to put your mind at rest or have similar concerns about themselves. Remember, they find you attractive because of who you are.

What isn’t normal?

Though vaginas and penises are as varied as height and looks, there are a few things we all need to look out for, just in case they are a sign of infection:

  • Lumps or swellings
  • Rashes or itchy areas
  • Discharge or funny smell
  • Pain or discomfort

If you have any of the above, the best way to be sure is to take a STI test, available through our website. It’s easy and discrete with the results texted to you in just a few days. If you do have an infection, we can help you quickly access the treatment you need. Visit www.essexsexualhealthservice.org.uk/self-test/ for more details.

Remember, condoms are the best protection against STIs and unwanted pregnancy.

Hopefully we’ve helped show that it’s normal for our bodies to be different to the images we often see in pornography and social media. The human body is beautifully varied.

Enjoy your body – and that of your partner(s) – and if you have concerns, take things slowly and consider sharing how you feel.

Almost everyone has insecurities and concerns about their bodies and intimate areas at some time – that’s normal!

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