I promised a friend’s mother that I’d protect her cooch.
Not just her cooch, though—all cooches.
Just days after the Women’s March in Philadelphia, I was taking a mindful walk to meet my husband before continuing home.
I got halfway there when the phone rang. It was a friend’s mother.
“I need you to do something for me,” she said. “I have a cause, and you’re a young, active social worker in a major city.”
She explained to me the story of providing support to a coworker in the privacy of an office.
The coworker resumed dating long after a divorce, and in discussing her plans to have sex with a partner, my friend’s mother encouraged her to do so safely: to use condoms and to get tested for sexually transmitted infections, reminding her that she’s not too old to suffer the consequences of unsafe sex.
My friend’s mother proclaimed, “Protect the cooch,” which then spiraled into an inside joke, which then morphed into an advocacy mission.
While this concept is not new, her approach to the matter was refreshingly organic.
This woman—who asked to remain anonymous—lives in a rural area of a different state than me.
Feeling forced into silence by the constraints of small-town conservatism, she said, “I can’t see this through. I’m passionate, but I’m a school teacher. I can’t go public with this.”
After about an hour-long conversation on how the mission of this campaign was born, I texted my husband, rubbed my tight, left hip, and summarized the request.
He looked at me, smiled, and simply said, “I’m in.”
By the time I got home to my tree-lined, quiet street in West Philadelphia, I received an email from this lady with the description of her mission.
“Everyone should value vaginas, for they’re not replaceable. This special place offers great pleasure and therein lies the treasure of the female body. It should be looked at as our own temple because it’s the lifeline for all that exists.
Women are confronted with a multitude of health related issues, many preventable and curable if proper care is taken. It’s time to empower women and men of all ages and backgrounds to protect the cooch!
By visiting our doctors annually and practicing safe sex, we’ll have a vagina that can provide pleasure to us and our partners as a way of saying thank you.”
I stand by this, and so I responded to her, “I’ll protect the cooch.”
I was drawn to supporting my friend’s mom for two reasons.
First, I contracted high-risk HPV from my rapist, as well as an unwanted pregnancy which culminated in my third abortion.
And yes, my husband and I understand the risk in disclosing this information publicly during the current political climate—which is why we’re doing this anyway.
I later had the grueling and terrifying conversation with my husband about our decision to forgo using condoms, knowing he was going to contract high-risk HPV if he hadn’t done so already.
Our decision was made carefully under the direction of multiple health care providers, mainly because little is known about high-risk HPV in men. We were steadily becoming more inclined to wanting to have children, with a preference for having our own biological children if we could.
I don’t know what I would’ve done without Planned Parenthood and without physicians dedicated to women’s health and sexual empowerment.
I wish I’d had the tools necessary to have made safer choices.
I wish I’d had access to more information, to more women sharing their wisdom.
Second, I agreed to spread the message of safe sex and preventive reproductive health practices because I worked as a health educator and an HIV-prevention research assistant.
Now, I’m a medical geriatric case manager, a sex and relational therapist, an advocate, and a feminist with a sexual trauma history and a healing reproductive health system.
I have the privilege of helping individuals discover the ways in which they can achieve sexual empowerment and liberation by helping them understand their boundaries, needs, and desires as they pertain to their own safety and satisfaction—and the safety and satisfaction of their partners.
While we cultivate and honor our sexual awareness—and our sexuality for that matter—let’s commit to protecting the cooch by sharing the following information with friends and family.
Protecting the Cooch 101
I always encourage my female clients to:
1. Protect vaginal pH balance without douching or using harsh soaps or cleansers on the vulva or in the vagina, because reducing its acidity could cause bacterial infections.
2. Have regular gynecological examinations, which should always include screenings for sexually transmitted infections.
3. Treat infections as soon as they arise, with the most common being yeast, bacterial vaginitis, trichomoniasis, and urinary tract infections.
4. Use water-based lubrication to prevent vaginal chafing, tearing, and condom deterioration.
5. Stick with cotton-based underwear, or don’t wear any at all, to reduce moisture that could lead to bacterial infections.
I always encourage all my clients to:
1. Use condoms.
2. Change condoms when switching from vaginal, anal, and oral sex to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria.
3. Openly discuss all sex practices with doctors.
4. Maintain a balanced and nutritious diet.
5. Thoroughly clean and sanitize sex toys.
While sex should be calibrated to meet our needs, desires, fantasies, and wants without judgement, sex must always be consensual and collaborative.
Remember, consent can be withdrawn at any time.
Just like my friend’s mother, a woman should never be ashamed to discuss in detail her health or her body. She should not be silenced because she feels embarrassed—or worse, feels afraid of ridicule or consequence for doing so.
Most importantly, no person should be penalized for their sexuality, especially in the cases when sex is used as a violent weapon.
I may like my sex like my almond-milk chai lattes—dirty.
But I also practice what I preach, and my husband and I always engage in what I call the four pillars of safe and satisfying sex: consent, communication, trust, and health.
With that, join me in protecting the cooch.
Author: Genevieve Gellert-Ilg
Editor: Travis May