Over the last few months, The YES YES Company has been helping to create a safe space for discussion and education on sex and intimate wellbeing. This week we're exploring the female anatomy, so what better guests to have on our blog to challenge our misconceptions around our vulvas, than the fabulous 'muff busters' at the Vagina Museum...
Down there, privates, lady garden, the parts that must not be named… the bits between our legs are so terrifying, it’s a struggle to even properly identify it. And in a world where the vulva is constantly euphemised, myths abound. That’s why we made the Vagina Museum! A museum is a place communities use to preserve history, write social narratives and celebrate culture. To fight the stigma of the gynaecological anatomy, it felt only right to build a place where anyone could walk in and honour this fantastic part of the body.
A 2019 YouGov poll found that 45% of women couldn’t identify the vaginal opening on a diagram of the vulva. (Although it also found that 69% of men could identify the clitoris, which brings me joy on multiple levels). This huge gap in our society’s common understanding of this fabulous area of the body meant that before we could have complex exhibitions about the vagina and vulva, we first had to be able to name it.
Vagina vs VulvaSo what even is the difference between the vagina and vulva? The vulva is all the bits on the outside - the lips (or labia), the clitoris, the opening to the vagina and the urethra (pee hole). The vagina is the tube where penises/fingers/dildos/tampons go in, and babies/blood/queefs come out. Language has evolved, in the way it always does, to expand the definition of vagina to include the vulva in common parlance. A major driver of this is the patriarchy and heteronormativity - the vagina is usually the end goal of a straight man’s penis adventures, so it’s the part the patriarchy focuses on, i.e. the part that gives men pleasure. When we call it a vulva, and by extension include the clitoris and labia, we recognise that a happy vulva is just as important. But to be perfectly honest, if you’re even talking about vaginas and vulvas, and you accidentally call it the wrong thing, I’m still happy you’re just having the conversation. Go you!
What Other Myths Can We Debunk?
The Clitoris - it extends internally past the little button on the outside into two branches that ‘hug’ the vagina. We’ve known about this since at least the 1840s, but it was largely ignored. In the 70s the Boston Women’s Collective brought it back into the light with their seminal book “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and it wasn’t til 1998 that the first peer reviewed study was done on the internal clitoris by Australian surgeon Helen O’Connell.
Virginity - social construct! Absolutely nothing biologically changes before and after something enters your vagina for the first time.
Menstrual blood - not dirty or toxic! Menstruation is a completely normal and natural process. But it shouldn’t be too painful! It takes on average 7.5 years to get an endometriosis diagnosis - don’t let society normalise our discomfort and pain.
Written by Florence Schechter, The Vagina Museum