"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

speak now #26: vulva love

Now Playing: Young & Beautiful by Lana Del Rey (Will you still love me when I'm no longer young and beautiful? Will you still love me when I've got nothing but my aching soul?)

So...I'm going to put it out there that, unless you're blind or extremely brainwashed by some crazy culty religion, most biomales have seen, and touched, their genitalia. They know what they look like, downstairs - most guys I know have a pretty good idea of how everything male works.

A lot of biofemales, however, haven't seen or touched their genitalia; I'd even say that a good number of biofemales regardless of sexual experience or exposure to sexual images have seen more penises than vulvas. And really...nobody knows what a vulva looks like, what it does, what is and isn't normal. And that is not a good thing, because I really don't think we should be adding 'irrational anxiety over labia' to the growing list of Shit Girls Must Care About.

I think this general ignorance of basic biofemale anatomy largely comes from the fact that most of the female genitalia is hard to see - for starters, the vagina is an internal muscular passage and you can only see the opening from outside of the body, and the vulva is not exactly positioned for easy viewing, unlike biomale anatomy. There is a highly dangerous stigma of women touching or even looking at their genitalia, which means that a lot of biofemales are too embarassed or uncomfortable to take a look.  

Anatomy Lesson. 

The bikini area, or the lower abdomen that is normally covered by underwear, is called the mons pubis. This is the part of the genitalia that you can see if someone is standing up and facing front on. At the bottom of the mons pubis there is the genital slit, which may or may not be visible on a person standing normally.

Below the mons pubis is the vulva, which is the labia, clitoris and clitoral hood, meatus, vaginal opening and perineum. The labia are two sets of lips around the meatus, which is the urethral opening from which urine passes, and the entrance to the vagina. Above the meatus is the clitoris and clitoral hood, which is the female equivalent to the head of the penis, and below the vaginal opening is the perineum and then the anus.

Pubic hair grows on the mons pubis, the labia majora and the perineum. It can also grow on the inner thighs and in a line from the mons pubis up to the navel. The texture, colour and thickness of pubic hair varies from person to person, between different ethnicities, and is also dependent on age and grooming habits.

The vulva is a very sensitive and delicate part of the anatomy, for obvious reasons, and it's also very different to any other part of the human body. The skin can be a different colour to other body parts - usually darker - and have a different texture. There is a huge diversity in the size, shape and colour of the vulva that is totally underepresented by porn and sexual images in the mainstream media.

The meatus in biofemales passes urine and, in some people, female ejaculate. The vagina passes menses, cervical mucus, and vaginal discharge.

...And babies, by the way.

What's a vulva?

The vulva is the correct term for the external female genitalia. It is sometimes incorrectly called the vagina, which really only refers to the internal muscular passage that is the birth canal.

I can almost guarantee you are fine. 

Unless something is painful, itchy or has an excessively unpleasant odour, whatever your parts look like is probably fine. We are not supposed to look the same, and we are definitely not all meant to look like porn stars. Porn stars don't even look like porn stars.

Vulvas and sex.

During sexual arousal the genital area becomes engorged with blood, so the vulva may swell and become darker in colour. The labia are made of erectile tissue and will also change shape and size during sexual arousal. Internally, the vagina lubricates itself and also becomes erect, although you can't really see that from the outside. The entire vulva is an erogenous zone but the clitoris - the only human organ solely for pleasure - has lots of nerve endings.  

Vulva care:  

1. Get accustomed to what you look like. 

Part of becoming comfortable and aware of your body is to look and touch every single inch of it. Get used to what things feel like and look like and how they respond to touch, and take note of any changes to tell your doctor. The first time you actually see your anatomy might weird you out a little bit, in the same way that elbows probably look bizarre if you'd never seen one before. If you are really insecure about your vulva, get it looked at by your doctor who will tell you if there is anything wrong or out of the ordinary.

2. If you don't have one, don't fucking judge.

There is this horrible sense of male entitlement in which a growing number of arrogant fuckwits expect women to shave, wax, bleach, or even cut bits off of themselves just to make a more appealing hole for them to stick their penis in. If that's your attitude...you're going to be going a long time with nothing to stick your penis in. When I first saw a picture of a penis when I was...probably too young...it was the scariest, grossest thing I'd ever seen. Human bodies aren't always the most aesthetically pleasing. Deal with it.

3. Hygiene. 

If you have a vulva the best way to maintain hygiene is to rinse the outside gently with warm water. Something that is marketed as purely a male thing - because it's perfectly fine for guys to have gross body secretions, but not girls - is that vulvas can collect smegma, which is a mixture of sebum and dead skin cells; it's important to wash that away before it can build up and cause an infection or irritation. Genital skin is very sensitive so don't use any soap or perfume of any kind.

Vaginas self-cleanse by passing discharge. You don't need to do anything to your vagina. Leave it alone.

4. Hair removal.

There is this huge pressure on people, especially women, to get rid of their pubic hair; which doesn't make a lot of sense, as pubic hair protects the genitalia from bacteria, harbours pheremones and isn't bad or unclean if one maintains basic hygiene; there is really nothing wrong with leaving hair as is. Hair removal can irritate the sensitive skin, and cuts and ingrown hairs are very common. Whatever you choose to do with your pubic hair, it is entirely up to you; don't let anyone pressure you into doing anything about any part of your body.


There is a disturbing increase in the number of 'labiaplasty', 'vaginal rejuvination' and 'anal bleaching' and it is...freaking the shit out of me, to be honest. All of these surgeries are purely cosmetic and only serve to fuel insecurities, increase the pressure on biofemales to look like porn stars, and to make normal human anatomy seem somehow gross or undesirable. I'm always very saddened to hear of stories of women so insecure about their bodies that they mutilate themselves for no legitimate medical reason; but I don't blame them. I know what it's like to feel shit about how you look, even about a body part that most people don't see and, if they do see it...they shouldn't make you feel like shit about yourself.

Vulvas and porn 

The reality of vulvas is that that they are bumpy, wrinkly, hairy, imperfect, and each vulva is totally unique. I really think that people are more accepting of the diversity of penises than the diversity of vulva, when in all honesty we should get over this obsession over what our genitals should and shouldn't look like. Seriously.

The vulvas in porn are almost always totally devoid of pubic hair and can look very different to your vulva or the vulvas of normal biofemales that you have seen. Under Australian obscenity law vulvas must be altered to be 'healed to a single crease' - and whilst some vulvas are like that most are digitally or surgically altered. In reality the labia are different shapes and sizes - one side might be larger, or the labia minora can peek out underneath the labia majora - and there is nothing medically wrong with that at all. As a sex positive feminist I really have no problem with porn, but I do have a problem with the way in which porn is produced and regulated. Porn should be a healthy outlet and expression of human sexuality, which is by definition diverse and beautiful in its diversity. Instead, porn perpetuates highly unrealistic bodies that are only achievable through surgery and the miracle of Photoshop.

Vulva shame.

There are a lot of rumours that vulvas look different if you've had sex or you haven't, or if you've had lots of sex, or that they have to look a certain way. This kind of shame is not really associated with penises...aside from insecurities over size you don't see the kind of obsession over male genitalia. I know a lot of biofemales who are terrified of their anatomy - scared that someone will shame them for what they look like, or smell like, or whatever. This problem is exacerbated when nobody ever sees a normal vulva and only see the vulvas in porn, and then male entitlement puts this idea in some people's heads that they are entitled to a tiny, surgically-altered, depilated vulva and that everything else is 'gross'. Internalized vulva shame is just caused by everyone having this ridiculous idea of what vulvas should look like and then being mortified when you don't look like a freaking Barbie doll down there. If you only see your vulva once or twice of course it's going to look pretty darn freaky; anything unfamiliar looks freaky, and it's ridiculous that we're so body negative that we're not even allowed to take a good look at our own body parts.

I think the only way to get over this ridiculous obsession with uniform vulvas is to put the mysteriously alien vulva into the context of the human body - everyone looks different. Some people are tall, some people are short. Some people are hairy, some people have removed some or all of that hair. Some people have full lips, some people have thin lips, some people are dark, some people are fair, some people are big-boned, some people are slender. THE SAME WITH VULVAS.

Vulva shamers. 

When I was younger body shamers made me feel really insecure about what I looked like, and it wasn't until I had met people who...weren't assholes that I began to really feel more confident about my body. The trick to feeling confident about all of your body, including your genitalia, is to avoid people who live in this la la land of porn bodies and have this massive douchebag sense of entitelement to expect bodies that have been through invasive, painful procedures. The kinds of people to avoid are:

- Obsessive body police. Someone who constantly comments on what people look like or how they dress, especially if they do this to strangers, aren't likely to be sympathetic if your vulva doesn't look like a fleshlight.

- People who can't handle a sensible, mature discussion of menstruation, contraception, pregnancy, or can't say 'boobs' or 'vaginas' without hyena laughing

- Someone who tells you you should dress a different way, or change the way you do your hair, are more likely to pressure you into altering your pubic hair or genitalia

The problem is really with other people, not with you - it's not your responsibility to alter your body to please everybody, it's their responsibility to decide for themselves what they do or do not like, and realize that the world does not revolve around them or their masturbatory fantasies. I figured this out when I was younger and people, mostly girls, were constantly pointing out that one of my breasts is larger than the other - as if I didn't know what my own fucking breasts look like. This was just one of the many things that made me feel crap about my body and I was really insecure about something that most people didn't notice, or if they did notice didn't really care or point it out. It was only later when I had met people who were so stoked that I even had breasts that I realized that my boobs are awesome, my body is awesome, and you can either listen to the haters and feel crap about your body or find people to appreciate who you are and what you look like.

I'm having surgery this week and will be taking some time off from the speak now project to rest and prepare for next semester of uni. I will be back soon :)


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