The "Loose vs. Tight" Vagina Myth is Both Sexist & Totally Wrong
If you were born with a vagina, you’ve probably heard a lot about what your vagina “should” feel like. For example, maybe you were told that a “tight” vagina is a good thing, but a “loose” vagina is bad, based on the completely misguided idea that frequent sex can permanently reshape a vagina. Cue eye rolls so hard our eyes fall out.
This uninformed thinking isn’t limited to the U.S. Around the world, “tight” vaginas are associated with virginity; so much so that in some countries, like India, doctors use the “two-finger test” to determine whether someone with a vagina is a virgin.
The medical reality is that “vaginal laxity,” the technical term for how tense or relaxed the musculature in the vagina is, has literally nothing to do with whether or not someone is a virgin or how many people they’ve had sex with. Especially because making assumptions about someone’s sex life based on vaginal laxity assumes that the vagina owner is having penetrative sex. And we all know that there’s way more to sex than penetration.
So, why is the ‘tight vagina’ myth so powerful that it just won’t go away? The short answer: patriarchy and misogyny. But there's a lot to be gained from exploring the long answer — including a better understanding of your pelvic anatomy — so let’s get into it.
Where the “Tight vs. Loose” Concept Came From
We’ll start with an infuriating reality: Historically, and to a somewhat lesser extent currently, a primary way that patriarchal societies maintain power over people with vaginas is by controlling their sexual and reproductive behavior. (Limiting their ability to go to school, get jobs, and earn equal pay are others, but those are convos for another day.) And it all starts with placing a high value on virginity.
Of course, there’s no physical test that can prove someone with a vagina is a virgin. So all sorts of ridiculous ways to determine virginity were invented. For example, if a bride bled on their wedding night, it was a sure sign they’d been penetrated for the first time — except it’s not. Sometimes, doctors examined prospective partners to make sure their hymens were still intact, even though the hymen can be broken by myriad non-sexual activities. And it should be noted that there is no “normal” hymen to inspect anyway. Hymens come in all shapes and sizes, and they change and wear down naturally as we age — sometimes they surround the vaginal opening, sometimes they curve around only the bottom half of the vaginal entrance, sometimes they partially block the opening — and luckily by now, we know that your hymenal appearance is an inaccurate measure of sexual activity. And, of course, a “tight” vagina was also considered a sure sign of virginity. So, “tight” vaginas became valued over “loose” vaginas.
Additionally, the assertion that “tight” vaginas “feel better” to a penis-owner creates another unfounded and sexist reason to value “tight” vaginas. For one, what feels better is subjective — and one person’s experience isn’t more valid than another’s. Not to mention that a “tight” vagina can be a sign of muscle dysfunction that leads to painful penetration (more on that below).
All of these myths are based on false understandings of how the vagina functions and changes over time. Given the woeful lack of sexual education in this country, it’s no surprise that some people with penises as well as those with vaginas are still on the tighter-is-better bandwagon.
What You Should Have Learned About Your Vagina in Sex Ed
Your vagina is the fibromuscular tube that runs from your vulva up to your cervix. It is composed of three layers of tissue:
- a mucosal inside layer (the part of your vagina you can touch from the inside)
- a middle smooth muscle layer (smooth muscle is controlled by your autonomic nervous system meaning its function is involuntary)
- and an an outer layer that provides flexible structure known as the adventitia.
The vagina is very flexible and adaptable. It can stretch big enough for a baby to pass and collapse small enough to hold the slimmest tampon in place.
The vagina is influenced by hormones, your autonomic nervous system, and your age. Its structure changes during puberty, with each menstruation, and again during menopause. When estrogen levels are increased, the vaginal mucosal tissue is plumper and more flexible. When estrogen levels are low (like during menopause or when lactating) the vaginal mucosa becomes thinner and less flexible.
It adapts during sexual activity as well. During arousal, the vaginal smooth muscle relaxes, allowing the vagina to expand open (it becomes looser by actual design!) in what is known as vaginal tenting. When not aroused, the smooth muscle stays active with intermittent and automatic contractions to assist in expelling menstrual blood and discharge. Similar to how your heart has a unique resting heart rate, your vagina has intrinsic compliance.
Another thing to consider could be influencing how “tight” your vagina feels, is inflammation. Vaginal infections caused by STIs or yeast infections for example, may cause the mucosal lining of the vagina to become inflamed and less flexible. This could be perceived as tightness.
Just like bodies, vaginas come in all shapes and sizes. Some vaginas are naturally wider than others, and may not feel as tight as other vaginas. Some people naturally have more muscle tone throughout their body than others, including the muscles of the pelvic floor and vagina. This can make the vagina feel tighter. People with chronic illnesses that impact muscle tone may have naturally weak pelvic floor muscles, which can impact how tight or loose the vagina feels.
The point is, the sex you are (or are not) having, has very little to do with it.
Why The State of Your Pelvic Floor is the Real Issue
Vaginal tone and flexibility is further influenced by the pelvic floor muscles. The pelvic floor muscles run from the front of your pelvis all the way to the back of your pelvis like a hammock, supporting all of your pelvic organs. The deep pelvic floor muscles wrap around the lower portion vagina, and the superficial pelvic floor muscles wrap around the vaginal entrance (also known as the introitus). The pelvic floor muscles are foundational in supporting your bowel, bladder, and sexual function. Through normal, healthy muscle function, your pelvic floor muscles assist your vagina in sexual activity by boosting arousal.
Because the pelvic floor muscles wrap around the vagina, they provide some structure and support, and can impact how tight or flexible the vagina feels. Your pelvic floor muscles tense and relax depending on what’s going on in the rest of your body and your brain. When your muscles are more tense, or have increased tone, the vagina can “feel” more tight, and when the muscles are underactive or relaxed, the vagina can feel more lax.
The vaginal canal and pelvic floor muscles are, ideally, very flexible together. They’re supposed to stretch to accommodate penetration. Their elasticity and baseline resting tone also allow these muscles to return to normal after penetration. So, no amount of penetration, regardless of the size of the body part or object, “loosens” the muscles of the vaginal wall or pelvic floor muscles.
That said, some things can impact these muscles. For example, when the pelvic floor muscles or tissues of the vaginal are injured, it can impact the normal function of the tissues. Perineal tearing during a vaginal delivery is a common example of this. When the tear extends into the pelvic floor muscles, the trauma may leave the muscles injured and weak. (Some uninformed doctors may try to remedy this with a “husband stitch” – an extra stitch in the vaginal opening that's made to make the vagina “feel tighter” during penile insertion. Now considered a form of malpractice, It has no medical purpose for the person with a vagina and can lead to additional pain and discomfort.)
When the pelvic floor muscles are too tight, too weak, or both, due to an injury or an underlying health issue, it can change the way your vagina feels before, during, and after penetration. This is called pelvic floor dysfunction. If your pelvic floor muscles are weak, they can’t properly support your pelvic organs or squeeze the muscles of the vaginal wall very well. This can lead to a feeling of looseness in the vagina. If your pelvic floor muscles are constantly tense, the muscles can actually shorten and become less flexible. This can make the vagina feel overly tight and lead to pain during sexual arousal and penetrative sex — and when you feel pain during sex, it can lead to a vicious cycle of increased pelvic muscle tension, fear, and further pain during sex. Overly tight pelvic floor muscles can also become weak because they lose the flexibility required to contract properly from being tense all the time.
Pelvic floor dysfunction is actually pretty common for people with vaginas. When it goes undiagnosed and untreated, pelvic floor dysfunction can have a major impact on how your vagina functions, especially before, during, and after penetrative sex. Getting an assessment from a pelvic floor physical therapist is essential to diagnosing and treating pelvic floor dysfunction.
How The 'Tight vs. Loose' Myth Harms Your Pelvic & Sexual Health
Though society puts a lot of pressure on people with vaginas to be “tight” down there, having a tight vagina isn’t always a good thing. In fact, being too tight can cause serious physical and emotional pain.
When the muscles of the pelvic floor and vaginal walls are overly tight for an extended period of time, it can cause pain during sexual intercourse, also known as dyspareunia. Some people with dyspareunia experience pain at the opening of the vagina while others have pain only during penetration. Still others only experience pain during deep penetration. For some, the pain can last for hours after penetration as well.
Some people develop a severe form of dyspareunia called vaginismus. Vaginismus is a complex condition with both physical and psychological causes and it’s characterized by involuntary, painful contractions of the pelvic floor muscles during attempted, or in anticipation of vaginal penetration. In addition to making sex miserable, vaginismus can lead to difficulties with tampon insertion, and even prevent you from being able to have routine gynecologic assessments. For some muscle tension can be so significant that penetration is literally impossible.
The vaginismus pain cycle isn’t just a learned physical reaction to pain though. It’s also driven by people’s feelings and beliefs about sex and penetration. Severe anxiety or fear around sex, especially penetrative sex — like worry over whether or not your vagina is tight enough — can cause the painful pelvic floor muscle contractions associated with vaginismus.
Additionally, because the brain signals the muscles to contract when this anxiety or fear around sex arises, people who’ve experienced sexual trauma of any kind can develop pelvic floor dysfunction and/or vaginismus without any underlying physical condition.
But the impact is so much more than just pain. Dyspareunia and vaginismus are highly correlated with major depression and anxiety disorders. Many people struggling with dyspareunia or vaginismus talk about experiencing intense shame because they feel like their bodies are broken or don’t work right. This shame impacts self-esteem, self-love, and self-worth. Vaginismus and dyspareunia can also create major relationship issues, especially if the symptoms are so severe that penetrative sex isn’t possible.
Luckily, both conditions are very treatable. Through a combination of pelvic floor physical therapy, vaginal dilator therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and mindfulness techniques, many people can have penetrative sex without pain.
Your Vagina Does Not Need to Change!
The societal obsession with “tight” vaginas has created an entire industry of so-called treatments to “tighten” your vagina. TikTok has been a major driver of this industry, spreading a tiny bit of good information and a lot of misinformation about how to make your vagina tighter. Some influencers sell their own blends of creams and gels that they claim tighten the vaginal muscles, while others sell devices like wands and laser devices that you insert into your vagina to somehow make it tighter. There’s also a massive collection of vaginal tightening products on Amazon.
Unsurprisingly, many of these trending treatments don’t work at all. There are some gynecologist-approved treatments, like laser and radio frequency tightening. These procedures, which should only be done by a trained professional, claim to use heat to encourage collagen production and improve the sensation of a tight vagina, but there j
You can, however, improve the health of your pelvic floor muscles with pelvic physical therapy. Depending on what your pelvic floor muscles need, this could involve a variety of treatment techniques. For example, the only tried and true way to improve the muscle strength and tone of the pelvic floor is by doing pelvic floor and deep core strengthening exercises that often include kegels. Kegels involve tensing and releasing the muscles of the pelvic floor. However, it’s extremely important to get an assessment of your pelvic floor before you start doing any sort of kegel regimen, especially one you saw on TikTok.
Depending on the current state of your pelvic floor, kegels can actually make things worse. If you have a tight pelvic floor, kegels can make the muscles even more tense, eventually leading to the shortening of the muscles. If you have a weak pelvic floor, kegels might be helpful, but you need the input of a pelvic floor physical therapist so you know how to do them correctly and don’t overdo it.
When it comes down to it, unless the state of your vagina is contributing to problems with your sex life – like you’re not getting as much pleasure from penetration as you used to – there’s no reason to tighten your vagina. Your vagina doesn’t need to be rejuvenated or transformed. This trend is a marketing scheme, preying on the insecurities of people with vaginas created by patriarchy and misogyny. If there’s nothing wrong, don’t let them sell you a solution.
If you do feel like something down there has changed over time or you’re having trouble experiencing sexual pleasure after childbirth or as you age, there are solutions! Please don’t look for them on TikTok, Instagram, or Amazon though. Schedule a consultation with one of our pelvic floor specialists and we’ll walk you through solutions that focus on you, not society’s expectations for your vagina.