12 Nov 2018
Is my vulva good enough?
Long? Juicy? Small? Hairy? Put the word ‘too’ in front of these words and they become criticisms. Leave it out, though, and we see differences as things to celebrate.
When it comes to vulvas and vaginas, we believe there’s no room for passing negative judgement. Every single one (including yours) is wonderful.
So why do some women feel bad about their vulva? In 2016 there was a 45% year-on-year increase in labiaplasty operations (cosmetic surgery on the labia).
By looking at vulvas in a more real way, we want every woman to see that they are normal, and perfect. Because perfection is a perception, rather than a look, shape or smell.
The lowdown on your down below
Face it: facts can be boring. Biology lessons might have taught you the correct names for the major sex organs, but do you ever remember being told that the clitoris is key to one of the best, cost-free thrills?
Nina Brochmann and Ellen Støkken are two medical students breathing new life into the oldest of subject matters. Having spent a lot of time working in sexual health clinics, they realised there was a serious lack of relatable knowledge about female genitals. There was a gap to fill, if you like, so they started writing their book The Wonder Down Under.
In it, they tackle everything from hymen myths (not every girl bleeds when she loses her virginity), discharge and blood (what certain smells can indicate) and ‘typical’ labia length (answer: there isn’t one).
They talk about the Norwegian term ‘discomus’ - disco-fanny being the equally good English translation - to describe the crotch area after a busy day. Reading it is like sitting in a room with two wise friends who like a joke, but never make vaginas a laughing stock.
Straightforward talk like this encourages women to get to know the most intimate part of their body, from the pleasure of orgasm to the pain of PMS. It’s books like this that help us see that ‘perfect’ and ‘normal’ come in all forms.
The perfect lips – and why they don’t exist
Press pause during a porn film and you’d think that all mons pubis (the cushiony bit above your pubic bone) should be almost flat; that outer lips should be big enough to hide the inner lips (but not too fleshy); that the whole of the genital area should be hairless, smooth and pleasantly pink. But if we start to think about vulvas in the real world, very few (if any) are like that.
If people have problems changing their perception of ‘perfection’ to include difference and imperfection, that’s not surprising. Unless you’re a gynaecologist or regularly hang out on nudist beaches, chances are you don’t face a sea of vaginas on a daily basis. Add the fact that female genitalia is not up there on the list of hot dinner-party topics and you’ve got a problem - the fact that many women deal with vagina anxiety on their own.
Bad names (fishy, flappy, loose, for example) create shame, and women bear the brunt of this by feeling low, rather than good, about the wondrous place between their legs. Self-love comes with acceptance, so it’s time we all re-examined the meaning of ‘perfect’ and ‘normal’ by looking at what’s real.
Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who’s got the best vulva of them all?
You, of course. Because it’s yours and you’ll only ever have one, so it’s time to show it some love. Putting a mirror between your legs might not sound like the best use of a spare ten minutes, but it’s the easiest way of getting familiar with all your bits.
Are your inner lips longer than your outer ones? Does your clitoris ‘button’ on the upper part of your vulva go harder when you touch it? Is the skin inside your inner lips sticky or slick?
There’s no right or wrong when it comes to how you should look or feel. Getting to know your normal takes time, but it’s a great way of growing more confident in your own skin. Once you can confidently judge that you’re all right down there, you’ll notice when something changes, and whether this is OK or needs checking out by the doctor.
Vulva art is a thing - and we like it
We’re not, of course, talking about labias holding a brush between their lips and painting (although it’s been done), but vulvas being truthfully represented in art. Ten years ago, Jamie McCartney created the Great Wall of Vagina out of the casts of 400 different women’s labia. He was concerned about the rise in labiaplasty, and wanted to do something positive in response: to show women that when it comes to vulvas, each one is unique, and each one is amazing.
Similarly, Hilde Atalanta started up @the.vulva.gallery on Instagram to highlight the beauty in difference. Her paintings and sketches of vulvas (created from photos that women send in to her) are a celebration of the vulva in all of its forms.
Can the person sitting next to me smell my vagina?
Believe it or not, many women worry about this. But chances are, even if you are a little whiffy sometimes it’s very unlikely that someone will think “Hmmm. That woman’s fanny STINKS.”
There’s no such thing as a typical vagina smell, because there’s no such thing as a typical vagina. Somebody has tried to bottle the scent (ha) but judging by the reviews on Amazon, it’s not gone down well at all.
It seems that women’s anxiety about the way they smell can affect all sorts of things, from asking for what they want in bed (some admit to not allowing a guy or girl to go down on them because they think they smell too bad) to missing out on crucial sexual health checkups, because they’re worried the doc will be repulsed by the pong.
Remember, doctors have been trained to look inside vaginas and have felt, smelt and seen everything on the spectrum. Your health is your wealth, so if you think something’s wrong, visit the doctor, and if you’ve got a smear appointment, show up.
Opinions aren’t facts
A gynaecologist got shamed in the press for dumping her boyfriend after he said she had a smelly vagina. She wrote a kick-ass response called ‘My vagina is terrific. Your opinion about it is not’ advising women that: “... if you have a medical concern, see a doctor… If someone speaks to you about your body with anything but kindness and concern, it is he who has a problem.”
Of course, it doesn’t take a lover to bring you down. Your inner voice can be your worst critic, and while the odd moment of self-doubt is normal, you should try to talk out your insecurities with a good friend so you avoid beating yourself up.
Be your vulva’s biggest fan
We want all women to feel confident to choose only what’s right for them. To never feel under pressure to change or conform simply to please someone else. To talk about vaginas and vulvas in the same way they talk about more visible parts of their body – in a healthy, unapologetic, open way.
Discovering your ‘normal’ is what matters most. Then you, rather than anyone else, can be the judge of how you look, smell, function and feel.