February 16, 2014

That Glorious Vagina! ~ Janet Raftis

Vagina Not A Bad Word

Warning: naughty language ahead. 

Vagina. It’s amazing how much controversy this little word can create.

Summer’s Eve, the marketed queen of supposed feminine hygiene, creates items specifically for the vagina, yet even they can’t say the word in a commercial, either avoiding it altogether or most recently, referring to it as the “V”. Not only that, but the mere reference to the product as being for the vagina causes the man in the television ad to break out into a mental litany of hyper-masculinized imaginary activity.

A few years ago, politicians were politicizing and legislating it while proposing that the actual word not be used in any of the proceedings. What I really love though is the fact that the outrage over using an anatomical word in a discussion regarding said anatomy, always brings about a surge in the use of the word. I had never seen vagina plastered on so many posters or web-sites as I did during that time, and I have certainly seen a lot of vagina in my life.

So why is it that we still struggle so much to use it in an empowering sense?

Summer’s Eve is a company that built its reputation on purportedly making the vagina a more inviting place to be (though I am the first to loudly scream that the last thing the vagina needs is Summer’s Eve), yet at most they can merely allude to it. The stigmas surrounding the use of the word have led me to wonder, what about vagina is so repulsive to anyone. It is that vaginas are a part of the birthing process or is it that they are a part of the elimination process? Is it because they are capable of giving us so much pleasure or is it because the pleasure of the vagina is so extraordinary?

It’s not that I’ve always had this amazing relationship with my vagina; we’ve had many trials and tribulations. When I first discovered its remarkable capacity for pleasure, I was certain I was doing something wrong, and so my first covert love affair began, one that would be followed by many other secret trysts pillowed in shame and fear.

Not long thereafter, my vagina discovered the pleasures endowed upon it by others, though at a way too young age for it to understand how to cope with the intense and wide range of emotions associated with the sexual act. By the time my vagina was raped, it was already retreating into itself, certain that the shame of being a woman was its curse.

This violence against my vagina, both from without and within created a rift in my spirit’s psyche that was too intense to acknowledge, and so began years of fear and disassociation.

Sex became this weird action of floating away from my body, watching from above as tears rolled down my face. My vagina refused to respond, but that didn’t matter. I didn’t matter. I was a victim of my vagina.

What was it that men wanted from it anyway? What was so important about it, that so many failed to notice that I wasn’t even attached to it? I don’t want to be too harsh on the men from my past; in all honesty, they most likely didn’t know what was going on. In many cases, I pretended to be present, and I made cute little noises during sex while I stared at the ceiling fan or yanked on my cuticles behind their backs. I felt that I had to protect the man’s experience of sex—make sure that it was good for him, even though with every act of intercourse, I betrayed myself a little more.

I dealt with my fear of vulnerability around sex by pretending to be open about it. I feigned independence and liberation. I was a strong woman, damn it! I laughed at sex; I used it indiscriminately at times. If I wanted to fuck someone, by God, I was going to fuck that person. I mean, why not? If men could do it, well, so could I.

What I didn’t realize was that all of this violence against my vagina was creating violence against myself.

I hated myself. I was ugly, stupid, selfish, a liar, you name it. You just wanted me for my vagina and so my vagina got good at being wanted while my heart became more and more afraid of being cared for or, God forbid, loved. My hips became the border between these two dueling entities in my body: violence and fear. Alcohol and drugs became the lubrication I needed to be able to step into that realm and for years I don’t think that I ever once had sex sober. If I did, I don’t remember it; I must not have been there.

I completely misunderstood sex, and maybe that was in part because, as a society, we are afraid to use words like vagina and penis in an empowering way (the other side to this coin would be the constant stream of media that objectifies women for their anatomy).

The references we do make with regards to them tend to be demoralizing and harmful: pussy, cunt, cock, dick…How are we supposed to develop a loving relationship with our anatomy if we can’t speak of it with love? Pussy has become the emblem of the weak and cunt that of the cruel, while a cock or a dick is a man that takes what he wants despite the feelings of the other person involved. Where do most women really fit into all of this? Why must I continue to be told that my anatomy—that with which I identify myself as a woman—is shameful?

We teach women to not get raped. We can’t flaunt our sexuality or wear short skirts. We can’t flirt. We can’t pretend that there might be a vagina capable of providing pleasure underneath that little dress of ours. It’s funny that we don’t teach men not to rape. I mean, men get to take what they want, right? And it’s up to us, “the weak sex”, to fight them off.

Men (not all, but many) trespass against our vaginas all day long every day, and then we can’t even say the word in a political forum? We can’t use it in a commercial that alleges to have its best interest in mind? All these people want to politicize and legislate and market my vagina and my entire reproductive system but the actual word itself is too shameful to be uttered?

It has taken me years to heal, and I am not even all the way there yet.

I still hurt despite the fact that I have put years and years of effort into the process. I will tell you this, though: I finally, finally, love my vagina. We are having a really great time together these days, and I am not going to allow anyone to tell me that it is a shameful part of my body.

I celebrate my vagina, and the worldwide panoply of vaginas in their gorgeous array of sizes, shapes, and shades.


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Assistant Editor: Cami Krueger / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: elephant journal archives

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Janet Raftis