Earlier today I was sitting in the Apple shop fixing my iphone when I saw a link to an article about Vaginas (we should be calling them vulvas and this is a common mistake both people and media make. The vagina is the opening, the vulva is the entire area and when we are referring to this beautiful female body organ in these situations, this is what we are referring too). I clicked on the link but as I was sitting in public, when I saw images of vulvas, I quickly clicked off out of fear of people seeing. But being the Sexologist that I am, I did however publish the link on both my professional and personal Facebook pages.
When I returned home, I was greeted by a comment telling me I had crossed the line with this post. I did have those thoughts that maybe sharing a link containing picture of vulvas was going to be too much for some people. When you are a Sexologist, you have a different level of normal to most others. But after I read the article, I only wish I could have shared this a million times more. Yes, the idea is controversial and not just pushing that boundary but jumping over it big time, but the message was strong and needed. Sometimes in order to get people to pay attention, we need to do something drastic.
A student magazine from the University of Sydney, Honi Soit published the cover of their magazine with pictures of female student’s vulvas with the editor stating the intention was to allow women to see their bodies in a non-sexualised way. She states that, “We are tired of vaginas being either artificially sexualised (see: porn) or stigmatised (see: censorship and airbrushing). We are tired of being pressured to be sexual, and then being shamed for being sexual. She also goes on to discuss how women are not exposed to “normal” vagins and therefore not comfortable with their own.
The editor continues with her argument stating that, “We believe that the fact that more than 1200 Australian women a year get labioplasty is a symptom of a serious problem. How can society both refuse to look at our body part, call it offensive, and then demand it look a certain way?”
The front cover was supposed to be images of vulvas with black bars over the labia and openings. However, due to a printing error, these black bars were slightly transparent and the vulvas were more visible then what was intended. After being on stands for a few hours yesterday afternoon, the copies were seized by lawyers and destroyed because publishing pictures of vulvas is a criminals offence under section 578 of the Crimes Act and punishable by up to 12 months in prison. (I’m a bright shade of red as I’m writing this).
I own a book called ‘The Big Book of Vulvas’ and earlier this year during a dinner party, the book popped out to say hello. As some of my females guests were looking at the picture, I heard comment such as “ oh gross”, “ look at that one” and “that’s so disgusting”. I was so upset that someone could say this about a picture of a vulva. But I realized I am in a very different position. Thanks to my job and education I have been exposed to images of all types of vulvas and I see each one as unique and beautiful. But most people are only exposed to theses doctored images which are meant to portray the “perfect” vulva so I shouldn’t be so shocked that my guests might have had these negative thoughts.
I recently was sent a book called ‘Vagina 101’ which contains 216 picture of women’s vulvas with their personal opinions and thoughts on the opposite page. This is one way we can accept differences in everyone’s bodies, by seeing time and time again images of real women and not ones that are doctored or touched up. I urge you all to purchase a copy of this book (and maybe even a calendar too) and look through it as many times as possible and show as many people as possible. Isn’t it about time we accepted what was normal, which is the fact that we are all different.
I do a talk which I will be doing again next week at Macquarie University for their Sexual Wellness Week, called “how to make your vulva happy.” In my talk are slide after slide of images of all different vulvas, as I believe that most people don’t get the opportunity to see this. My aim in this talk is not to offend people but to normalize a part of the female body that should not be feared or have shame placed upon it, but like the rest of the female body be worshiped for it’s uniqueness and the amazing feelings it gives us. (After seeing this article today I am now going to be adding a lot more images into this presentation – because I can!).
Last year we had the vagina commercial, where a naked but covered girl uttered the words vagina and vaginal discharge to promote a panty liner. This also copped criticism with calls to pull the add or move it to a later time on TV. What messages do we keep sending to a younger generation when we make these statements or ask for this material to be removed? Why should time after time, women’s anatomy have shame placed on it? Yes the photos in this magazine were extreme, but even just saying the word vagina on TV comes under fire these days.
The media coverage of this incident has not been entirely positive. It’s great that the message is out there and this is being spoken about, but so many people are discussing this with negative language and using words such as offensive, naughty and confrontational.These are words we use to describe violence, ill acts towards another human being or for a child who is playing up or doing something wrong, these should not be words attached to female’s natural and normal body parts.
What was the topping on the cake was what happened next on Facebook. I received a notification and both my personal and professional page are blocked for 24 hours (aren’t I happy my blog is a free space). This sent me into overdrive for a few reasons 1) I have posted images before relating to articles that were of penises, bums and boobs and nothing was done. 2) The attitudes of Facebook that this content is possibly “offensive” or needs to be hidden is the exact attitude the purpose of these images were meant to fight against and 3) I’m now on a watch list and need to be careful what I post and will probably have to read the terms and conditions tonight ( Oi vei).
When we have so much support around positive body image, why should it stop at our waist? Why can’t we include the entire body and help females and even males love themselves a little bit more, including their genitals and understand that every one is unique and beautiful for that. In media and especially magazines, we attempt to display all different body types and present more than that stereotypical 1% that is glorified as the ideal perfect. Why can’t we do the same with vulvas too?
Today was a reminder of why I am in this line of work and also how conservative our society really is. But situations like these only encourage me to continue this work and help change people’s views on sexuality and especially vulvas.
Now as this is not FB and as I have been reminded today, my own space to do what I want. I’m going to leave with those beautiful images from the magazine. These are the exact images that saw the magazine seized and destroyed and my Facebook blocked. If you are offended by these or think they are gross, challenge yourself as to why.
And to the editors of the Hon Soit and the owners of those amazing vulvas, you have my 100% support and I think you are all amazing for standing up for such a worthwhile cause.