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The labia majora refers to the two large outer folds which cover a woman’s labia minora. On the outside, they are generally covered with coarse hair, and on the inner folds they are made up of smooth skin that is usually pink or brown in color. The labia can range in size and shape from long and thin to short and thick. This typically varies from woman to woman, and many variations are considered normal.
The labia majora are composed primarily of fatty tissues with a larger percentage of fat in the front than in the back. They are considered to be the female equivalent to the male scrotum, as they are created from the same tissues during fetal development. In males, the tissues drop downward and cover the sexual organs, or testes. In females, they remain external to protect the opening which leads to the internal ovaries and uterus.
In theory, the hairs covering the genitals are there to help prevent germs and bacteria from entering the labia minora, vagina, and urethra. Modern humans, however, benefit very little from these protective hairs, which are thought to be remnants left by prehistoric ancestors. The labia itself, however, is a form of first line defense for the inner vulva.
Coloring of the labia majora may vary from woman to woman. The outer portion of the folds are generally the same pigment as the rest of a woman’s body, while the inner portion can be brown, pink, or even purple in color. Any of these are considered normal, although any variation from a woman’s normal coloring should be reported to a doctor; especially if accompanied by itching, vaginal discharge, or irritation.
Some vaginal infections may cause the outer labia to become inflamed, itchy, and irritated. This is generally less likely than symptoms being experienced in the labia minora but it can occur. Common infections that may cause discomfort include those caused by yeast, bacteria, and sexually transmitted diseases. This is also the primary area affected with crabs, or genital lice. Treatment should be given by a licensed physician.