It’s time to face up to our shocking lack of awareness of our own genitals. Do you know where your vagina is? What about your labia majora? (Sorry, “down there somewhere” doesn’t count.)
There’s absolutely no judgment here, ladies. If you’re not up to speed with all the parts of the female genitalia, you’re certainly not alone. A recent survey of young British women found that almost half of them couldn’t identify a vagina on a diagram. (FYI, what we commonly and mistakenly refer to as the vagina is actually the vulva, which is made up of several parts: the clitoris, the clitoral hood, the labia majora, the labia minora, the urethra and the vagina.)
This is wrong on so many levels. For starters, how can women be in control of their bodies if they don’t even know what all the parts of it are called? How is it even possible that we all can draw something resembling a penis, but we draw a blank when we’re asked to re-create a vulva? It says a lot about how much female genitalia is a taboo subject.
This isn’t our fault. Young girls should get to know their vulvae — and all it contains — whenever they learn about periods and sex. And women who didn’t do that as young girls should get up to speed, fast. Not only will it give you greater control over your own sexual and reproductive health (how can we know something is wrong if we are too scared to get to know what’s there?), but it may lead to greater sexual pleasure and will most definitely help us pass on that vital information to future generations of young women.
A good place to start is the “Vagina Dispatches” series from The Guardian. Part 1 kicks off with a giant homemade vulva that was taken onto the streets of New York City to test people’s knowledge of the female genitalia. Total genius. Seriously — watch the video, and in 14 minutes you’ll learn more about your vulva than you have in the past 20 years.
Isn’t this the ideal way to approach female genitalia in sex ed classes? An enormous vulva at the front of the class might be a little embarrassing at first, but isn’t it better to be embarrassed at 13 than embarrassed at 30 when you have to admit you don’t know your vagina from your vulva?
Of course, that’s only a starting point. Just as important as knowing what everything is called is knowing that when it comes to appearance, feel and smell, the lines are way more blurry. There’s no such thing as “normal” when it comes to female genitalia, and that’s one of the biggest lessons our young girls should be taught. They need to see realistic pictures of vulvae, which are very different from the hypersexualized versions in porn movies. We have to make it normal for teenage girls to voice their concerns about the length of their labia, which may go some way to halting the increasing numbers of teenage girls seeking genital cosmetic surgery.
Ladies, it’s time to get to know our vulvae.