Of Vulvas and Vaginas. ~ Debra DeAngelo {Adult}

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When I saw the title, “Your Ugly Vagina is Normal & Gorgeous” on the elephant journal website, I had to click.

I was expecting some sort of exploration of vaginal concerns, and to read that many things that we worry about are actually normal.

Sadly, the well-written, thought-provoking and informative column wasn’t about the vagina at all. It was about the vulva. Yet, the word “vulva” appears nowhere in the column, nor does the writer, Tanya Lee Markul,  appear to be aware that there is a difference.

And she’s not alone.

She references a film, The Perfect Vagina, which focuses on the trend toward genital plastic surgery, because apparently someone has arbitrarily established a beauty standard for the vulva. Unless we’re all cookie-cutter copies, we should feel so ashamed that we’re willing to hand over thousands of dollars to a plastic surgeon so that he can reshape the perfectly natural shape of our genitalia.

Once he does, we can trot down to the local beauty salon to have all that nasty pubic hair waxed away. Well, not trot. Walk, probably. It might be a bit uncomfortable to trot with stitches down there.

Oh, one little thing: Markul mentions in her column that two possible side effects of this surgery to trim the inner labia to more aesthetic proportions (apparently it’s unfashionable to have visible inner labia these days) include decreased sensitivity and sexual dysfunction.

Oh. My. Goddess.

Trade trimmed labia for decreased sexual pleasure? Are you ladies insane? The inner labia are key to having a pleasurable sexual experience, and one of many routes to reliable, satisfactory orgasm.Why on earth would any sane woman make that trade?

Particularly when I suspect that most men probably really don’t give a shit about whether the inner labia are visible or not.

Most men are more interested in getting past the frilly entryway and continuing onward, and the really good ones, the keepers, are even more interested in getting you into a state where you can’t wait another moment to open the door. The truly talented ones, the vulva ninjas, if you will, know what to do with inner labia. And it’s not to point and say “ewww.”

Yet, I digress, having been distracted by the sheer idiocy of handicapping your own precious, wonderful genitalia in the interest of so-called beauty. Baby, if your parts do what they’re supposed to do, and help propel you to wonderful, rolling, rocking, grab-the-sheets orgasms, your genitalia is already gorgeous. Don’t change a thing.

Back to the woefully misunderstood vagina, however.

It’s clear to me that somewhere in the allegedly required sex education classes that are supposed to happen in middle school, right at about the age when children need to understand their equipment because their hormones are simmering and they may be enticed to use that equipment in the very near future, there has been a huge disconnect. I can’t even begin to enumerate all the times I’ve heard women say something about their vagina when they’re actually talking about their vulva.

It’s not that difficult, ladies.

The vagina is the passageway from the uterus. It’s the esophagus of your reproductive system. It’s where the baby travels to the world, and an excellent depository for the sperm that gets the baby there in the first place.

The vagina, like the labia, also plays a role in orgasm, but its main job is to allow babies and menstrual blood to escape, and to let sperm in.

The vulva is everything you see on the outside. You do not see your vagina on the outside, unless you have a prolapsed uterus and everything is hanging down through the opening like a big pink water balloon, in which case you aren’t going to see a plastic surgeon, you’re going to go straight to the hospital for gynecological surgery.

So, if the vagina is the esophagus, the vulva is the mouth. It’s the visible opening that allows things in and lets things out. Like a mouth, it has lips (“labia” is Latin for “lip”). No coincidence there.

So, unless your mouth is open, you don’t see your esophagus. Ditto for your vagina.

And while we’re talking about what we can and can’t see, what’s the deal with pubic hair? Why the disgust? Apparently to most under 40, there’s an obsession to keep the area hair-free.

Our vulvas have been pronounced unattractive unless they resemble that of a pre-pubescent 10-year-old. Why are we suddenly demanding that full-grown, sexually active women have the genitalia of a child? Is it because there’s a subconscious fear of full-grown, sexually active vulvas?

Too threatening? Too bossy? Too demanding? Maybe. However, the men (and women) who relish that challenge are the ones you want for bed buddies anyway. Now things are getting spicy. Me, I want the partner who embraces the challenge, not the one that cowers in fear.

Compare our culture’s squeamishness over the vulva, and shocking ignorance about it, to the Hindu culture, where the vulva is known as the yoni, a thing of beauty and feminine power, and associated with the Goddess Shakti. And the altars and artwork celebrating this physical representation of feminine power… they do not have trimmed inner labia. Our culture could learn a thing or two or ten thousand from the Hindu culture on the natural beauty of the female form.

So, ladies, I beseech you. Analyze your motivations about a) disparaging the wonderful, natural, perfect, pleasure-giving vulva that you have and b) considering letting a human sculpt your genitalia into a more acceptable form, all in the name of beauty.

Who are you trying to please? If it’s your sexual partner, he or she is the thing you need to trim away from your life, not your inner labia.

And, for God’s sake, learn the correct name for your own body parts. If you’re old enough to use them, you’re old enough to know what they’re called.

Yes, your vagina is normal and gorgeous. But unless you have a hand-mirror and a speculum, you won’t know that. Your vulva is also normal and gorgeous, as unique as a blossom or a thumbprint, and or a Georgia O’Keefe painting. Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t.

Debra DeAngelo has been a weekly columnist for more than 20 years, nationally syndicated at one time, before the collapse of print journalism several years back. She has multiple state and national awards for writing columns, and is the co-creator, co-editor and CEO of the iPinion Syndicate. She has also served as a column writing judge for the California Newspaper Publishers Association’s Better Newspapers Contest for 19 years.



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anonymous Nov 2, 2013 12:32am

Dear Goddess…thank you SO much for this. Its insane we don't know more about our bodies (as a culture) and sad, to me, to think we'd alter it to look different and take a change we'd also alter our sensation!!

anonymous May 21, 2013 12:35pm

it's an equally interesting and startling article, which was fantastically written, but I wonder how many people who are appalled/horrified by the thought of labiaplasty have the same reactions to other forms of body modification. I think to call it mutilation as Tamara did draws immediate parallel with FGM, a not wholly dissimilar procedure albeit with wholly dissimilar motivations, and this is a mistake. As a species, we seem to have a desire to modify our own bodies, be that through tatau, piercing, colouring, cutting, stretching or trimming our ears, noses, hair, foreheads, foreskins, feet, necks, nipples, clits, labia and every other part; We always have done. The difference is that ancestrally these procedures have often been carried out at very young ages by those in authority, whereas labiaplasty is a considered choice and should be respected as such. If you are a woman who dislikes the idea of the popular sense female of beauty being largely governed by the whims and fancies of males, first question whether you shave under your arms.

    anonymous Jan 9, 2014 4:52pm

    I think there's a HUGE difference to shaving under your arms and having your labia snipped to meet some imaginary and artificial standard of vulva beauty. Shaving is not a mutilation – and the results are easily reversed.

anonymous Mar 2, 2013 4:26pm

Go girl! Women who mutilate themselves are insane! Is there a psychological diagnosis for these people? Ahhhhh!

    anonymous Jan 9, 2014 4:53pm

    There should be…. under the umbrella of "self hatred."

anonymous Dec 21, 2012 6:35am

THANK YOU! One of my number one pet peeves that I believe speaks to a lot of internallized sexism.

    anonymous Jan 17, 2013 6:35pm

    Thanks for the feedback! 🙂

anonymous Nov 5, 2012 10:43am

[…] Update: Of Vulvas and Vaginas. ~ Debra DeAngelo {Adult} […]

anonymous Oct 21, 2012 8:52am

[…] Of Vulvas and Vaginas. ~ Debra DeAngelo {Adult} […]

anonymous Oct 13, 2012 12:51pm

Informative and straightforward. Love the writers style and sense of humor.

anonymous Oct 11, 2012 10:53am

Excellent! As always i am laughing and thinking at what you wrote!