Warning: Naughty language ahead!
I have big inner labia. Not big like a flower, not big like a monster; but big.
They come out beyond my outer labia. They crease, curve, and fold.
The left labia is slightly bigger than the right labia. They are wrinkled and turn smokey-pink toward the outer edges. Sometimes they stick together. Sometimes they open at the bottom. They hang down like the channels of a waterfall.
I, like all women, have an infinitely complex relationship with my pussy.
It started when I first developed labia, before I even grew pubic hair. I was nine years old and getting into the shower when I touched myself between my legs to discover a different kind of skin. It was terrifying. I thought my insides had come out. It’s so uncomfortable even to write about.
I don’t know when the belief that there was something wrong with me snuck in. I cannot remember when it became so embedded that I couldn’t tell it didn’t belong to me. Perhaps it is swimming around in our collective unconscious and I simply adopted it as mine.
When I was 13 years old, a phone call with my mother lodged a fear of my own sex deep in me. My parents had divorced years before and I had chosen to live with my father over her. She spent what precious little time we had together trying to convince me that my dad was a nasty piece of work. It only served to make me hate her more. During this particular conversation, which stands out in my sexual history like a wound, or a crossroads, or something undefinable and defining, my mum began to fuss about whether I would ever be loved by a man.
Did I really want to show my boyfriends what lurked between my legs? She asked. Not all men are nice, Louisa. Some men will be cruel about what your vagina looks like. If you want to avoid being treated badly, maybe you should get that mole removed (I already had). Maybe you should get plastic surgery. I hear it’s cheap in Eastern Europe.
By the time I was 14, my vagina was a silent obsession. I poured hours away, trawling through images and diagrams, hoping to be shown one that looked like mine.
I searched online for someone who might tell me what was normal and what wasn’t. Without knowing it, I was looking for freedom from the burden of shame surrounding that raw bunch of nerve endings. Thousands of vagina photos and hundreds of question-and-answer threads later, I’d found nearly nothing but reams upon reams of “normal” vaginas—the same vagina I’d had when I was ten years old. There were no exposed labia, no plumpness, no texture, no wrinkles, no asymmetry, no hair. Again and again I came across neat, tidy, tucked in, hidden away.
At 16, I felt ready to sleep with a boyfriend for the first time, mostly just eager to get it done with. It was the middle of the day, and I was on top of him, naked. And then, all of a sudden, before we’d even begun, his cock was flaccid and it was over. He said the reason he couldn’t get hard was because “he’d never seen one that hangs down like that.”
Abnormality was nailed to the deepest part of my body. It was my vile, stinking vagina. There was no escaping from it.
No matter how pretty my face was, or how nice my clothes were, I would always be plagued by this wretched piece of me. It was inescapable and infected everything I did. Throughout my adolescence I excused myself from intimate relationships out of terror that my partner would reject me because of it.
I felt shriveled, dry and worn, like an old woman.
I remember lying in bed awake after one of my obsessive Internet comparison binges. I was 19 and close to giving up. I recognized that learning to love my labia was the biggest challenge I would ever face. If I could overcome it, I could overcome anything. But I knew it was impossible. Before that flame of hope had fully formed within me, it flickered and died. I would never show anyone my vagina, and certainly not in the light. Not even my husband, I vowed.
But a half-flicker is good enough for God, and a few short months later I found myself in the heart of a sex-positive community that teaches Orgasmic Meditation (OM). This is a practice during which a “stroker” strokes a woman’s clitorus for fifteen minutes. It lives at the halfway point between sex and mindfulness. It is like yoga for your sex life.
Before the finger descends on the clit, the stroker performs what’s called a noticing step, during which he or she notices something value-neutral about the woman’s pussy and verbally describes it. For instance, “I notice there is a dark, wet crevice that runs down between your inner labia and opens up into a V shape toward the bottom.” This was pretty much my idea of what happens in hell.
It took me three months—during which time I lived in the community and worked with a coach to unburden myself—to spread my legs. I knew I was not normal. There was no shadow of a doubt in my mind that my pussy was ugly beyond measure.
In this time I started referring to my vagina as a pussy—something warm, sensual, animalistic—rather than using the scientific neutrality of “vagina.” And I watched the orgasm weirdos who were fast becoming my friends OMing four or more times a day, and glowing.
For my first time I chose an experienced practitioner who had seen hundreds of pussies before mine. Still, I was convinced that mine would be different. The moment arrived for the noticing step and I held my breath; he noticed something about the shape of my labia and the texture of my hair. I wondered whether he could feel the heat of shame burning off me like a furnace. Most of my sexual experience leading up to this had been in the dark, under the covers, and here I was in the middle of the day, with the lights on and my legs wide open, and someone staring at the thing I hated most about myself. And then the noticing step was over. He didn’t say anything good or bad about it. I didn’t want someone to cover up their embarrassment for me with false praise and he didn’t try to.
So I did this practice every day for two years and listened as people described my pussy in shapes, sizes, colors, textures, gradients. I got waxed, I let it grow, I shaved, I grew back stubble… I thought the cycle was complete.
I was freer than I could ever have imagined myself to be. I could take a compliment about my pussy. I even began to consider the idea that it was beautiful, the same way nature is fascinating because of its nuances. I did a nude photo shoot while a female friend stimulated me with her fingers, using coconut oil as lubricant, and I saw the photos after.
I thought how my pussy emulated a sea creature, alive and rounded like a clam shell. I thought how alive and pulsing she was; so raw, hyper-real. Here was this fleshy, gorgeous animal with an entire life of her own. She breathed and spoke to me. She was art.
I was actually excited to show people my pussy when I got into bed with them. I knew they’d love her. How couldn’t they? She had so much personality, just like me. She was complex, just like me. She was bold and defied expectations of what a woman should and shouldn’t be—just like me. She was damn feminine, and I guess the girl within me just had to grow up so as not be so terrified of her.
I recalled something I’d read when I was fifteen and obsessively searching “what’s wrong with me?” online: a woman on some or other thread had commented, “Boys get turned on by boobs, men get turned on by labia.” This suddenly called to me. Then, two men consecutively told me I had the prettiest pussy they’d ever seen.
I believed them. It wasn’t yet fully true for me but I could see that it was true for them. They were amazed by her. So was I. Maybe my poison was a great gift after all. Maybe I would come to cherish this thing that had scarred me, that had been a scar on me. Maybe what the dancers said wasn’t true, that having big labia wasn’t “hanging ham,” and maybe labiaplasty wasn’t something I would get as soon as I had the money.
I thought I was free.
And then I practiced Orgasmic Meditation with a guy who had never done it before; he was brand new.
I told him, “Notice something about my pussy,” and he said, “You have big labia.”
Grief struck and for a moment I couldn’t breath. In my two years of practice, no one had ever been so unskillful as to say that to me. Who the fuck did this guy think he was? You can’t just say that to a woman; did he have any idea how much we try to shut ourselves up into the tiniest child-like boxes, did he know how we starve ourselves, shave ourselves, shame ourselves into being petite?
The self-hate that ravaged my mind in my teenage years surfaced like it had just been yesterday, and I nearly got up and left.
Then I laughed at how far I’d come.
I no longer believed there was anything wrong with me. I no longer believed that vaginas are inherently gross.
Relief came over me and I knew I was free; the circle was complete. What was started was finished. It took me around the world, in and out of numerous relationships, in and out of a sex community, lights off to lights on, and landed me back exactly where I started—with big labia.
Nothing had changed except everything had. I had run screaming from the devil between my legs and finally found myself smacked in the face with the thing I feared most.
The fear was the same but I was different, and I was no longer ruled by that fear.
Later I called my mother. We hardly ever speak but I have grown to love her; she too is a wild woman tortured by society’s expectations. We had never, ever talked about that conversation we’d had seven years before and I thought she had forgotten about it entirely. I asked, “Do you remember that time when I was younger, when you told me that no man would ever love my vagina?” And she responded cautiously, guiltily, calculating each word: “Yes, Louisa. There isn’t a day goes by that I don’t regret it.”
I could barely believe the words. I thanked her for the experience and told her I forgave her, and said that she could let it go now.
I’m not going to tell you that big is beautiful. Big is just big. Wide is just wide. Hanging is just hanging. It doesn’t help to have your pussy described like a flower. Detached metaphors are almost as harmful as cruel comparisons, and they’re certainly equally dishonest.
Our relationships to the body, and particularly with what we call imperfections, correlate directly with our relationships to women. Covert misogyny is presiding over our society; it’s web-trapping men and women alike.
When we talk about this shame we release it—by seeing that it isn’t personal. It’s a statement about the culture, not you.
Your pussy cannot be anything other than exactly how nature carved her out for you. The same nature that grew the Amazon forest, and put the planets into orbit, made your lips and your hole and your clitorus and your labia and your pubic hair.
And she wants to be discovered.
Author: Jane West
Editor: Sarah Kolkka