5 Insane Things You Experience With A Duplicate Vagina
Genitals tend to be a one-per-customer sort of affair. You're usually issued a penis or a vagina at birth, and without medical intervention, that's the only pelvic accessory you'll ever wear. And as with any human organs, there are some people out there whose genitals deviate from the mainstream. Some men have huge penises, some women have vaginas that squirt during orgasm for reasons scientists occasionally and uncomfortably try to explain.
But sometimes, our sex organs double up, and people end up with two thingies where there should be only one ... um, thingy. Cracked wanted to learn just how much weirder that makes the already-weird world of human sexuality, so we talked to two women with duplicated sex organs. Kelsey was born with two vaginas, and Carly was born with two uteri. They said ...
It's Surprisingly Hard To Detect (Which Makes For A Strange Surprise Later)
You might think that being born with multiple sets of genitalia would be an immediately obvious condition. You would also think that such an affliction would be commonly recognized, if for no other reason than the simple fact that no man with two functional penises would ever keep that information to himself (we assume there's a whole mountain somewhere out in Nepal where the bi-dicked men of the world gather to shout their diagnoses out from the crown of the earth). However, as Kelsey discovered, it doesn't work like that for a female:
"When I was 11, I was on a trip and I got my first period. I was having trouble ... I tried to buy tampons, but pads and tampons weren't working. So I asked my grandmother if maybe I had two vaginas, and she said, 'Oh, that's impossible. Don't worry about it.' I got insurance around age 19 and had my first physical. I asked the nurse that same question in confidence, and she said, 'Oh yeah, it's totally possible. I'll talk to the doctor.' They did the physical, and I do!"
So she lived for nearly two decades without realizing that she had a bonus vagina, and it turns out that's typical. We spoke with a gynecologist, -- pseudonym Virgil Ina, MD. -- and he told us that Vaginal septums often go undiagnosed, well, forever. "This is definitely one of those things that can fly right under the radar for someone's entire life. A lot of them aren't found until pregnancy, or until someone dies and gets an autopsy."
As he explained it, developing female fetuses have two ducts on either side of the body, "kind of like pool noodles." These ducts eventually fuse during development, but there's sometimes a failure to fuse, and that fetus winds up with duplicate parts. Dr. Ina sent us this helpful picture:
Kelsey's particular flavor of vaginal septum looks completely normal on the outside. She has a small flap of skin separating one vaginal opening from the other, sort of like a trick door in a magician's closet. Depending on which side of the flap you enter from, it felt like a Standard Issue Vagina, even to a doctor. "... you can do an exam on one side, see a perfectly normal vagina and uterus," says Dr. Ina. "And then another person pushes the tissue to another side, ends up in the left vagina and sees a perfectly normal cervix and vagina. It can be very discrete and hard to gauge."
But wouldn't the person, uh, eventually figure it out herself? As Kelsey says, "I masturbated. Who doesn't? But I've got short arms ... I couldn't reach all the way down there, so I had to wait until I had a doctor to find it. It doesn't change the outer structure -- outside is normal, the inside is doubled. So I only have one clitoris, unfortunately."
Kelsey's case is surprisingly common; about one in 200 women have some variation of this deformation. And believe it or not, it can get more complicated than having two vaginas ...
It Can Mean Two Pregnancies From Two Different Fathers
Once Kelsey tested positive for 200 percent of her lifetime-recommended allowance of vagina, the doctors had to see if any of her other parts had doubled up in the womb. "It turns out that I have one uterus, separated by a septum," she says. Essentially, her uterus is divided into two sections -- one per vagina. But there is a variation of her condition called "double uterus" or uterus didelphys. Our other source for this article, Carly, wound up pulling this card from the great Grab Bag of Bits that our genes occasionally prank us with.
She discovered her condition at age 17. "My gynecologist brought my mom in and said, 'I need to tell you something.' I was like 'Oh fuck, I'm pregnant' at first." But it turned out that she wasn't pregnant; she had two internal baby factories rather than the industry standard of one. Carly was distraught at first. "I asked my mom if she did coke when she was pregnant with me. She didn't find that funny." [Editorial Note: Carly would like us to add that her mom was definitely not on drugs during the pregnancy.]
The question on most of your minds right now is probably, "Can she get pregnant in both uteri at once, resulting in some sort of body-destroying, Alien-type birthing?" Well, we asked Dr. Ina most of that question. "... both [uteri] are viable. Both certainly can be viable and ovulate at the same time, and allegedly this can get very dramatic. You can get two pregnancies that aren't exactly timed together. And they can be from different fathers as well."
Unfortunately, having two ovens in which to cook buns can actually make the whole person-baking process even more difficult, even with one father ...
Sperm Get Confused About Where To Go
"[My doctor] told me I'm less likely to get pregnant because 'sperm are stupid,'" Carly says. "When they reach the septum [the flap separating one uterine opening from the other], they get confused and don't know what to do." In the sperm's defense, they weren't expecting to suddenly wind up on Let's Make A Deal. That said, confused sperm are only one part of the problem Carly will have to deal with if she wants to get pregnant. "I'll be a high-risk pregnancy ... When I decide to have kids, I will have to have a c-section. My cervix won't open far enough."
Dr. Ina went into more detail: "Because of that confined space, [there is an] increased risk of a uterine rupture, which is a profoundly painful complication. The upper portion of the uterus tears before the baby can exit." He also pointed out that those double uteri still share the space of one uterus. Carly isn't twice the size of a normal person, after all. "As a result of that, you can have miscarriages because there's not enough room in whatever side gets pregnant. You can have intrauterine growth restriction, so the baby is abnormally small. And because there's extra pressure ... the baby can be pushed to term before its ready."
Carly isn't planning to have kids yet, but she admits that she's worried her condition will make it impossible. Some of that is made more difficult by the rareness of her condition. For example, while she lived in New Jersey, Carly says that her gynecologist was "absolutely brilliant" and helped her understand a lot about what was going on inside her dual baby chambers. But today Carly lives in rural Colorado. "The doctors here tried to tell me I only have one uterus ... they've never seen it before."
Unfortunately, Carly and Kelsey get painfully regular reminders of their conditions, because ...
Double Parts = Double Periods
Yes, twice as many vaginas or uteri can mean living through two periods at once. Remember that that's how Carly first found out about her condition. The gynecologist visit that led to the discovery happened because her mother insisted that Carly got "crazy" during her period and wanted her checked out. But Carly had a good reason for said craziness:
"I was getting two periods in a month's span. That was pretty shitty. But the worst thing was trying to use a tampon. My mom was like, 'Just put it in!' and it hurt so much, because I kept hitting the septum. Eventually I figured out how to slide it into one side or the other. But how do you explain that to everyone?"
Kelsey isn't spared this particularly shitty side effect, either:
"I actually get two menstrual cycles. So they either happen in shifts [where] I have one, wait a week, and then have another, [or] one period will happen and it'll be months before I have another ... the longest time I didn't have one was six months. I was so scared I was going to end up on that 'I didn't know I was pregnant' show. The unpredictability is the worst part. There'll be a really long one, no period for almost a year, and then two right back to back. This one time, I had a period and it got me really badly sick -- lots of blood in the other uterus. It was not a fun time."
Dr. Ina was a little more colorful with his description. "If [a woman has] two uteri and their vagina is split ... it's a double-barreled shotgun, basically. They need to use two tampons for adequate protection." That's right: A medical doctor described twin menstruating vaginas as a double-barreled shotgun.
To be clear, being adequately protected doesn't mean being secure from pain. Carly's lonely single vagina has to deal with two menstruating uteri, and no amount of tampons can prevent her nightmarish cramps. "I have the most intense cramps ... two [uteri] contracting at once. The pain [is so bad] that nothing, not one thing except for my medical marijuana, has helped me with that. It's literally the only thing that helps. I've tried Advil, prescription-strength Ibuprofen, Aleve, Motrin ... Ponstel just made me cry every day. It was awful."
Unfortunately, Carly and Kelsey also have to deal with some awkward social problems, which no amount of marijuana -- medicinal or otherwise -- can alleviate ...
It Makes For A Problematic Love Life, And Lots Of Awkward Conversations
First of all, as thunderously unreliable as it is, the rhythm method is the only real form of contraception Kelsey can use outside of condoms. "I can't take birth control [pills] for other reasons, and because of my bi-gina, I can't have an IUD. It'd have to be specially made for my body type."
As you can imagine, this leads to some awkward moments on dates. The effect it can have on contraception and fertility is worth bringing up before sex happens, but the responses some men have to that revelation can kill the mood fast. "One person asked me 'Is it like having a threesome with one person?' I'm like, dude, you just ruined any chance you ever had of me having sex with you."
Kelsey noted that it can also cause problems with the kind of men who don't "get" foreplay. So on the upside, it's a decent way of screening your partners for sexual competence. However, the downside is that it can be a painful screening process. "If you get it in the wrong [vagina], it hurts [because] one is kind of malformed. You can penetrate it, but it hurts really bad." This causes problem even in long-term relationships: "My partner and I were drunk once, and the ... logistics weren't helpful then, either. It went in the wrong one, and I was like 'WRONG HOLE,' and he thought I meant in my ass. So I had to be like, 'No, the other wrong hole!'"
Carly is married now, so she hopefully never has to explain herself again. But both of them still have to deal with the dumb questions of well-meaning people. "I've had people ask me so many weird questions, and too many of them tend to be creepy," Kelsey says. "When you tell guys, there's like this ... dull moment of incomprehension, and then a really strange mood takes over. Not just guys I'm dating, either. I had a platonic friend who told me out of the blue, 'I bet you could fit like, ten dicks in you.' I don't know if maybe [he thought] that was flirting? It didn't work. Another common question was, 'If we had a threesome, could you get pregnant from both of us?' And I'm like, 'Why would I want to have a threesome? Especially with you?'" She added that, "Men can't help but be creepy, because they always try to do it in some seductive way."
And yet women ask questions that are even worse. "A lot of women ask if they could touch it," says Kelsey. "Like my best friend, when I told her, she was like 'I WANT TO TOUCH IT' and I'm like 'OK, I'm cool with that. But why?' It was just something she'd never felt before, and she wanted to know what it was like." To be fair, if a guy you know confided that he had two fully-formed penises, you would immediately ask if you could A) see them, and B) if he were able to gyrate his hips in such a way to spin his twin genitals like dual helicopter blades. However, asking to touch your friend's abnormal private parts definitely crosses come kind of line.
In Carly's case, the questions got even more uncomfortably personal. "The weirdest question I get is, 'Did you eat your twin?' That one blows my mind. At least three people have asked me that in my life." If you're wondering this (And if so, WHY?) Dr. Ina assures us that neither vaginal septum nor uterus didelphys is caused by intrauterine cannibalism. Considering that this is the same medical mind which coined the phrase "double-barreled shotgun vagina," we feel confident in his conclusion.
Robert Evans runs the Personal Experience section of Cracked, and he has a Twitter.
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