Could You Draw Your Vulva?
As homework for a women's sexuality workshop, I instructed each woman to come to the next class with a drawn representation of her vulva. The silence was deafening. From the group's facial expressions, I gathered a feeling of, "You not only want me to draw my private parts but then I am supposed to bring my illustration to the workshop to show everyone? That's a little too bizarre for me. Thanks, but I'll pass."
Sensing the dread, I asked the group, "How would you feel if I had requested you draw your right hand?"
I then added, "What is the difference between drawing one part of your body like your hand and drawing another part of your body? Your vulva is simply one part of your body."
The group was still not convinced and a few vocalized their distaste for the exercise. Of course the story ends happily. Every woman came to the next class with her picture and an account of how this small exercise was a life-changing experience. Why? Most of my participants did not realize how they shut down that area of their body. They all agreed that this disconnect from their vulva significantly impacted their sexuality.
Women in general have a pretty twisted sense of body image. Those insecurities are personified when it comes to their vulvas.
My own pre-sex expert introduction to this idea came when The Vagina Monologues took Canada by storm. I remember reading the show's program and thinking it strange that each cast member not only named her vulva but also described what it would wear. One woman wrote her vulva 'Samantha' would wear a tiara and drink champagne.
I dismissed it as artsy-fartsy feminist theater and decided to get comfy because it was going to be a long evening. I am sure my slack mouth gaped during the entire performance. Young, old, fat, thin, pretty, and ugly women went on about their relationships with their vulvas. I was not so much shocked by the brazen display as I was saddened by my lack of openness.
At that time, I could not even say the word "vulva" out loud. The creator of The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler, wrote the play based on the idea that a woman's attitude towards her vulva is closely tied to her self-image. Ensler asks hypothetical questions about the identity and behavior of vaginas such as, "If your vagina could get dressed, what would it wear?" or "If your vagina could talk, what would it say?"
Ensler encourages women, symbolically and playfully, to express how they feel about their vulva. Naming my vulva? Asking what it would wear? Never had such a thing occurred to me.
Yet men have a very intimate relationship with their penises--many a penis has a name and its own distinct personality.
The late sexologist Mary Calderone, M.D., coined the phrase "a women's doughnut hole sensibility." What does that mean? Women have been trained over thousands of years to feel disgust about their vulvas. The way it looks, the way it smells and the fluids that come out are things women need to hide.
Unconsciously and subversively, it is easier for a woman to pretend that her vulva does not exist than to deal with all the shame and anxiety. Unfortunately, media play up on our crotch insecurities. I have lost count of how many subjective advertisements ask me if I am clean and hairless. Do I smell right? If not, I should immediately buy a lightly scented panty liner.
Ladies, your vulva is not some mystical wonderland you get to visit only while having sex. Your vulva is a part of your anatomy. You need to learn to treat it with respect and love.
What would it take for you to pull out a mirror, a pencil and paper to sketch your vulva? Maybe while you are at it, you can give her a name and decide what she would wear. Just like the ladies in my workshop, I can appreciate how the thought of this can be confrontational. I promise you: it is a worthwhile experience that can open some doors to your sexuality.