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The labia are anatomical structures that are part of the female genitalia; they are the major externally visible portions of the vulva. In humans, there are two pairs of labia: the outer labia, or labia majora are larger and fattier, while the labia minora are folds of skin often concealed within the outer labia. The labia surround and protect the clitoris and the openings of the vagina and urethra.
Labium (plural labia) is a Latin-derived term meaning "Lip". Labium and its derivatives (including labial, labrum) are used to describe any lip-like structure, but in the English language, labium often specifically refers to parts of the vulva.
When standing or with the legs together, they usually entirely or partially cover the other parts of the vulva. Protection is the main function. The labia majora are homologous to the scrotum in males.
The labia minora (obsolete: nymphae) are two soft folds of skin between the labia majora and to either side of the opening of the vagina. The clitoris is anterior to the vulva where the labia minora meet superiorly. The visible tip of the clitoris, the clitoral glans, is entirely or partially covered by a "hood" of tissue (the clitoral hood).
The coloration, size and general appearance of the labia can vary extensively from woman to woman. In some women the labia minora are almost non-existent, and in others they can be fleshy and protuberant. Usually, but not always, they are symmetrical. Some differences are purely personal, while others may be genetically linked; a striking example of the latter is the elongated labia minora of the Khoisan peoples, whose "khoikhoi aprons" can hang down up to 10 cm (four inches) past their labia majora when they are standing.
In many cultures and locations all over the world, the labia, as part of the genitalia, are considered private, or intimate parts, whose exposure (especially in public) is governed by fairly strict socio-cultural mores. In many cases, public exposure is limited, and often prohibited by law.
In some cultures, any of several areas of the female genitals are surgically altered or removed for religious, cultural, perceived hygienic or aesthetic purposes. Terms for these types of procedures include female circumcision, Pharaonic circumcision, intubation, infibulation, and female genital mutilation or cutting.[dead link] In many parts of the world the practice is believed to have ancient origins, but even in countries where it has been widespread in the past, it is now mostly illegal.
Labiaplasty is a controversial plastic surgery procedure that involves the creation or reshaping of the labia. The clinical procedure of labiaplasty alters the appearance of the labia, for cosmetic or medical reasons.
Labia piercing is a cosmetic piercing, usually with a special needle under sterile conditions, of either the inner labia (labia minora) or the outer labia (labia majora). Jewelry is worn in the resulting opening.
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