Half the world has them, so why do women ﬁnd it so hard to talk about them? Her World believes it’s time to break the silence – the next few pages are dedicated to understanding what women and men think about vadges, and how to keep ’em healthy and (wink) happy. Go ahead – love and pleasure that V!
ARE YOU BFFS WITH YOUR VAGINA?
"Why are women still so embarassed by their privates?" -TRACY LEE says it’s a shame we’re so ashamed.
I had initially planned to write this under a pseudonym, but I soon canned the idea. I mean, the point of this article is to encourage women not to be coy about our amazing, wonderful reproductive organs!
Surfing the Net, I stumbled upon a write-up promoting a female sexuality seminar organised by Australian non-profit group Awakening Within. It read in part: “... the vagina is often shrouded in a veil of secrecy and shame ... sexual education typically focuses on the ‘perils of sexuality’ and omits key facts about female genitals ... most women still do not have a clear understanding of the details of this part of their own anatomy or how it works...”
Which reminded me of how I was never properly introduced to my lady bits growing up. Truth be told, how many of us were?
A COMING OF AGE
My mum and two elder sisters never prepped me for the arrival of That Time Of The Month. What I knew I learned from a book on female puberty an aunt had given my eldest sister, which I had secretly borrowed. While it proved an invaluable source of reliable information, the diagrams of female insides were hard to figure out – I had always wondered how there’s still space for the uterus, given that the stomach, intestines, bladder and bowels are already crammed in there.
My first period came while I was home, and I recall running to my mum then, waving my panties in the air like a red flag and yelling: “It’s here!” Mum shoved me into the bathroom, handed me a pack of sanitary pads with no instructions whatsoever, then left, shutting the door behind her. It was the first time I had seen a pad, but I figured out how to use it. I commented that it was like a diaper, but smaller and for women. I think she laughed.
Then there were my secondary school sex ed classes. At that time, they were no-nonsense sessions that dealt with the biological facts in a perfunctory and cautionary fashion; we were shown diagrams of how a sperm penetrates an egg and how a foetus develops, and photos of diseased sexual organs – oh, how my classmates and I had squirmed in our seats.
The rich complexities tied to our budding sexuality and changing bodies were omitted: There was zero mention of falling in love (or lust), no mention of the clitoris as a hot-button issue, and if the teacher had said anything about the G-spot, we’d have thought she was referring to the bottled orange soda. It was all quite wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am. I think the lesson of the day was don’t be naughty, or your nether regions will erupt in pus-filled boils or fall oﬀ .
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
When I was in my 20s, I caught a local theatre production of award-winning American playwright Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, which was written in the ’90s.
Eve had been concerned about what women thought about vaginas, and worried that they didn’t think about them at all. So she interviewed 200 women, asking for their thoughts on the female genitals, which were then collated in The Vagina Monologues. “At first... they were a little shy. But once they got going, you couldn’t stop them,” she was quoted as saying.
I remember feeling self-conscious initially, but as the play progressed, I, along with the rest of the audience, lapped up the salty language, the sharp insights and the raw, honest emotions behind the words of women who were angry, lonely, afraid, ashamed, triumphant, playful, curious and more.
More recently, I came across a 2014 Youtube video made by user Davey Wavey that had attracted four million views. Featuring five women who see their vaginas for the first time, it had me smiling, seething and even tearing at times.
I smiled when one of the women explained that her stomach was covering her vagina and she didn’t “have eyes on the bottom of my stomach”. I was furious when one shared that the first guy who went down on her told her that her vagina was “hideous and disgusting, and he never wanted to see it ever again”. I felt the sting of tears when another said, ever so softly, that she had been raped, so she “just pushed it out of my mind”.
And when these women, standing in an open-top tent that shielded the lower body, inspected their undercarriage for the first time via a handheld mirror, I was touched by their reactions – “Awww (giggle)”; “I just saw [a] normal vagina ... I don’t know what I was freaking out about!”; “She looks really happy, I’m pleased.”.
It was all very heart-warming and drove home the point that the vagina is part of the body and it’s part of our identity as a female. We don’t have to be afraid or ashamed of it.
Feminist author Naomi Wolf noted in her 2012 book Vagina: A New Biographythat “... the way in which any given culture treats the vagina – whether with respect or disrespect, caringly or disparagingly – is a metaphor for how women in general in that time and place are treated.”
The vagina – as are women – in this day and age is still subject to strange double standards. Sociologist Zuleyka Zevallos, author of website The Other Sociologist (http://othersociologist.com), couldn’t have put it better when she wrote that the vagina is both a source of titillation and derision: “[It’s] sexy when [it’s] portrayed in pornos; [it’s] positioned as ugly when [we] menstruate; and [it’s] either scary or awe-inspiring during childbirth.”
To illustrate, Zuleyka brought up a scene in the comedy Superbad, where “Seth (played by Jonah Hill) notes that vaginas are ugly when they’re pictured alone, but they’re sexy when accompanied by a penis in a porno. Later, he is scared and excited that a woman rubs her pubic area over his leg during a dance but then freaks that she ‘perioded’ on him.”
It’s times like this that you wish the mythical vagina dentata – a vagina filled with sharp teeth in Western, Japanese and Maori folklore (with the implication that sexual intercourse might hurt, emasculate or castrate a man) – really existed!
THE PRETTIFIED V
In Tinseltown, celebs gleefully share what they do down there. Gwyneth Paltrow, it seems, steams hers regularly at a spa, while Shailene Woodley (of Divergent fame) suntans hers, as she believes that it helps keep yeast infections at bay. We’re also bombarded with products and services implying we need to look, smell, feel and perform better down there.
My take? Like it is when it comes to all your choices – choosing your clothes, makeup, career or partner – do it only if you want to and only if it makes you happy, not because someone else wants you to, or because of a need to conform.
What’s non-negotiable, to me, is taking care of your reproductive health. That means going for regular gynaecological check-ups – not making a doctor’s appointment only when something doesn’t feel right down there! – and always practising safe sex.
Better still, become BFFs with your vagina. In Eve’s words, “know [it] and touch [it] and be familiar with who we are and what we need... make [it] visible so [it] cannot be ravaged in the dark without great consequence, so that our [centre], our point, our motor, our dream, is no longer detached, mutilated, numb, broken, invisible, or ashamed.”
Bear in mind the words of The Golden Girls actress Betty White: “Why do people say ‘grow some balls’? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you want to be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.”
Shailene Woodley (of Divergent fame) suntans hers, as she believes that it helps keep yeast infections at bay.