Why are we so scared of vaginas?

This morning I’m checking out some books that I borrowed from the library – doing some research to see what’s already out there in the way of sexual health education for kiddos.

I picked up these two books designed for middle-schoolers. One for girls, one for boys. They’re from the same series and designed for the same audience, so I am comparing apples to apples here.

I started with the girl one, it’s about dating and dealing with boys. At least that’s what the cover claims. But the whole first half is about being a girl and stereotypes. And while it sort of calls them out, the way it was written mostly reinforces them.

Like the section on sex. It opens with, “Vagina. Okay? You can take a deep breath now or have a laugh. The word will NOT be used again in this book. Phew!”

vagina costume

Surprise, it’s a vagina!

Because, you know, in a book about girls and puberty and dating and sex… vagina is an irrelevant word? Or a bad word? Or a scary word?

Meanwhile, in the boy book the word penis is dropped into a regular sentence, no big deal. We haven’t even gotten to sex, we’re still in puberty and we find, “Your penis is getting larger and your testes are producing sperm, just in case you haven’t checked lately.”

male puberty

Natural growth

No warning, no giggles, no promises to never mention that body part again.

I’ve wondered about this for a long time – this weirdness around women’s vulvas and vaginas. Is it just because they’re less obvious that we don’t talk about them? They’re sort of secret and hidden away visually, so… we just decide to pull the curtain all the way down around them?

vulva curtain

Closing the curtains

I mean the girl book never once mentions that women’s vulvas and vaginas also change during puberty. There’s a whole page about breasts and bras (complete with the assumption that ALL girls will be wearing bras, because – nipples!) But no mention that the vulva tends to grow as well, that the labia change during puberty, becoming more full and larger. That they, in fact, change throughout the menstrual cycle.

vulva project

Vulvas come in many shapes and sizes

It talks about periods and menstruation, without ever mentioning that the blood comes out our vagina. Or that that’s where the tampon goes if you choose to use one.

Nothing – just one use of the word vagina that reinforces how awkward we should all feel about it. The word isn’t in any context, it’s just thrown in our face and then we are reassured that we won’t have to talk about that yucky thing again. Phew!

Back to the boy book, on the page following the first introduction of the word penis, which you’ll remember was used in a helpful and informational context, not for shock value – We find a section on size.

“Every guy who goes through puberty becomes self-conscious about his body, and probably the number one body part he worries about is his penis.”

We get a mini-discussion of erections, wet dreams, reassurance about size and shape.

“The truth is that just like the other parts of your body, your penis goes through changes during puberty.”

Next we come to myths about masturbation like, “If you masturbate your penis will fall off.” This myth is promptly debunked.

For girls masturbation only comes up once, in a quiz.

Masturbation is…
a. a natural way of exploring your own body
b. illegal in some states
c. something that girls do if they don’t have a boyfriend
d. none of the above

The answer the book gives is a. Exploration.
You’ll notice that arousal isn’t mentioned. Women just masturbate to, you know, explore their body. Not for arousal (EW!), not for pleasure, not because it feels good – but just to ya know, get an idea of what’s “down there.” (Which is NOT a vagina, because we don’t use THAT word.)

In fact in the entire book on girls, puberty, dating and sex – female arousal is mentioned exactly ZERO times! (Can you feel my rage!?!)

Then again, we’re not allowed to say that girls who masturbate often touch their vulva, clitoris and vagina, because we aren’t allowed to use those words.

So here we have a book, claiming that it is trying to get girls ready for the world – and specifically ready for the world of dating and sex and yet the word vagina is used exactly once – with no context, as a disembodied *EW!* body part. It’s thrown in our face purely for shock value.

gross vagina

This is NOT helpful.

Meanwhile in the boy book the word penis is used 4 times, in context, with useful information about the changes it is going through, the concerns many boys have about it, the questions they are asking and the myths that are being spread.

This is not a fluke.

Vagina is a hard word to say in our culture. Penis – well, I mean, that body part hangs out, guys have to touch it a few times a day just to urinate. Penises are normal, they aren’t scary or mysterious.

The book on girls had a section called, “Mirror Mirror” and I’ll give you one guess what it DIDN’T invite girls to look at.

vagina dress

Maybe if they were just more visible we wouldn’t be so squeamish?

If you snapped a crotch shot of every boy in a class and tacked them up to the wall, I’d put money on every boy being able to correctly identify his in a matter of seconds.

Girls and their vulvas… Not so much.

Actual vulvas were photographed in the making of this cover.

Actual vulvas were photographed in the making of this cover.

They’re “down there”, hidden between our legs. The only way to really get a look is to squat over a mirror, or hold a mirror between our legs. And outside of a few hippy circles, we’re not exactly encouraged to do that.

From tampon and maxi-pad ads that use blue liquid to simulate menstrual blood – we’re taught that what goes on “down there” is kinda gross and that we don’t really want to explore too deep. We’re sold scented douche products to get rid of our natural odor. Scented pads too.

flower merkin

It’s not supposed to smell like flowers. It’s supposed to smell like PUSSY!

We wipe with toilet paper, wash with a cloth, use tampons with applicators and often masturbate with vibrators or other toys that make it so we never actually have to touch ourselves.

Many women and girls I talk to have said they would never ask a man to give them oral sex, “Because, you know, it’s just so icky down there.” But they assume that it is their job to give their dude a blow job.

Can we talk about “fromunda cheese” for a minute? Or spunk? I mean seriously, any person who has ever given a coffee drinker who smokes a blow job can tell you about some serious funk! But, penises are normal. Male ejaculate is normal. We see it splattered across the chests and faces of porn stars all the time.

Female cum? Female orgasms for that matter… We hardly ever see those. What does an aroused vulva look like? How many of you know that the labia of an aroused woman become engorged similar to the way a penis becomes engorged? How many of you know what a vagina looks like in the throws of orgasm?

We have to start talking about vaginas. And vulvas. And clitorises. And female arousal. We have to start normalizing these body parts, the changes they experience, the fact that they feel pleasure too.

Half the world population has them.

Maybe if we talked about them a little more we wouldn’t be so scared of them. Maybe we wouldn’t think they were icky and gross. Maybe we’d have a little more respect for what they can do and the people who have them.

vulva love

There’s so much to love!

Hey, a woman can dream, right?


Filed under Kids, Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant, Things that work

23 responses to “Why are we so scared of vaginas?

  1. omtatjuan

    Wow… I am left speechless:)

  2. It’s no coincidence that movies showing female sexual pleasure get stricter ratings than movies showing male sexual pleasure. Part of the same problem.

  3. merannicuill

    Just a couple things: throes of passion (not throws) and why oh why does most everyone nowadays refer to their vulva as a vagina? Vagina is the innermost part, can’t be seen without a speculum, light and of course, a mirror. ๐Ÿ˜€

    Bad part done now.

    I’m so glad you talk about these things! I hope that many teenaged girls read you, as well as parents of girls.

    The old double standard, despite efforts and education, still remains.

    I think I found my vulva type in one of your pictures. And I never knew there were so many different kinds! I’ve seen a few, but they didn’t seem different from mine. All the photos were very interesting.

    Keep up the good work! ๐Ÿ˜€

    • You might find the documentary “The Perfect Vagina” interesting. http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/perfect-vagina/

      The variety in vulvas is explored quite a bit in the film.

      And I’ll add that it’s important to use the proper terms for female sexual organs with our sons as well. My sons are at an age where they ask why Mommy doesn’t have a penis; answering honestly that (cis) women have vulvas and vaginas is important, not just the negative ‘no penis’.

      • merannicuill

        I very much agree to that comment.

        I’m so socially inept, that I’ve never said I don’t have one… I say what I DO have.
        One of my earliest memories is of a 4 yr old boy showing me his and him wanting me to show him mine. (I was 4) Mom found us before that happened. I WAS uncomfortable, a bit, at the exposure.

        Now, I had two brothers who thought running around naked was great fun. AND I changed their diapers, so I knew what was part of their bodies. In fact, our entire nest of kids (5 of us) bathed at the same time. We didn’t get any opinions about parts, anymore than someone would talk about how different their arms were ๐Ÿ˜‰

        It’s important that we don’t go over the top ~with the kids… they pick up on emotions and could get the wrong emotion attached to the parts, you know? ๐Ÿ˜€

  4. I’m so glad that the different messages in the books make your blood boil. Thanks for seeing the contrast and pointing to it. This is just more proof that there is plenty of room in the market for better books…which you can write/publish.

  5. Lesley

    Dear Banned.
    When does your girls’ sex ed. book come out?
    You’re writing one, right?
    It sounds like there’s a serious need.
    Good luck!

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  9. matt

    Personally I’m scared of vaginas because the majority of the ones I’ve encountered were ugly, unkempt, putrid smelling things. I’ve only encountered like 8 I really wanted to see again of the 50 or women I’ve slept with. A vagina can be a beautiful thing on a woman that takes care of it, and her body properly. But things can go south very fast if it’s not properly maintained. I’ve smelled a few that had me considering the gay life style.

    Luckily there are some beautiful women who don’t let that shit get out of hand, and I thank the gods for them and their impeccable hygiene practices and diet. (yes diet has a strong effect on your vaginas smell, if you eat anything fried it’s going to smell like dead animals)

    As for the “it’s not supposed to smell like flowers” caption, yes you’re right, but it’s also not supposed to smell like rotten tuna fish.

    The best smelling vaginas I’ve encountered have had sort of a subtle grapefruit smell to them. And sort of tasted like a werther’s original, or a mix between a creamsicle and grapefruit. Sometimes I’ve noticed an after taste sort of like ocean air, not fishy at all, just crisp and clean light. These were girls that ate lots of vegetables and fruits, worked out often kept in shape with yoga. Maintaining a healthy attractive vagina is about having a healthy life.

    Please girls be kind to your vag. Just as we make sure out breath is clean before we kiss you, keep your vag healthy and free of bacteria and yeast. Shaving helps to reduce excessive order too. I can’t tell you how many girls I’ve had to run away from because of swamp pussy syndrome (SPS).

    • Thanks so much for mansplaining how to take care of my vagina for your enjoyment.
      Allow me to point out that one of the things that can ruin a perfectly good vagina faster than almost anything else is a dirty or diseased penis. So, while you’re harping on the 42 women you know with unsatisfactory vaginas (who you none the less slept with, which sort of tells us women folk that it doesn’t really matter how clean we are so long as we’ll spread for you…) don’t forget to take your own advice and keep your package in tip-top shape!
      I was always taught that SPS stood for Swamp Penis Syndrome!
      Also, I am learning, this is why women don’t want to talk about their “lady bits” in public, because then we have to hear about how we should maintain them for others, rather than keeping them healthy for ourselves.

      • merannicuill

        Yeah, I could write paragraphs on ball smells, and an unproperly wiped back door. Hygiene is hygiene, regardless of sex of person; at the same time, manners are more important even than cleanliness. (At least a nice guy might want to shower with me, which will fix the problemโ€ฆ. hint hint )

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  12. Bravo! Well said.

    Now, can we please start with anatomy lessons for the legions who have taken to calling their vulvas vaginas? Did they not take biology in high school? Or sex ed? Or something? How can you make it to your teens and 20s without learning the proper names for your own body parts?

    I rant. I’m the daughter of an ob/gyn and was a medical editor for 15 years. This particular issue makes me crazy. Sorry. Carry on.

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