May is National Masturbation Month. What a perfect time to give some serious thought to our vaginas, clitorises and labia (and penises and testicles), and ponder their beauty and uniqueness and explore how they give us pleasure.

I’m thinking about body parts for a couple of reasons. It’s what my work is mostly all about for one, but I’m reading the biography of Georgia O’Keeffe. She’s famous for her oversized flowers and their erotic details. According to biographer Roxana Robinson, O’Keeffe wasn’t intentionally adding erotic touches to her paintings. She was painting what she saw and felt as she studied the flowers. Throughout her career, she would deny that any similarity to female anatomy was intentional, although undoubtedly she was connecting to the feminine form on some level.

Many flowers do have centers that look very similar to the vulva and clitoris. The lovely, wavy labia are uniquely feminine. It might be said that the appearance of the iris, the lovely ruffled peony, and some daffodils are not all that different from the female form either. Just like flowers, our genitalia are part of nature - they serve a function and they "adorn" our bodies.

Why Can't We See Our Bodies As Natural and Beautiful?

Why is it that we get all modest and uptight talking about our body parts? Guys tend to worship their penises (a slight exaggeration), but women? We become embarrassed. We deodorize, hide, cut, bleach, and distort our body parts to make them more "sanitized," prettier in some way. Some of us have never touched - or even looked at - our genitals. Some of us spend money to have our labia surgically altered to make them look more like those neat, pre-puberty vulvas and labia we see in porn. How sad is that? It grieves me as a woman and the grandmother of two young girls to see how our obsession with the female body has affected one of its more beautiful and sacred parts. We are meant to vary in size and color, shape and placement - just as no two flowers are alike in nature. Each is unique - and uniquely beautiful. (Read more in Your Vagina Isn't Ugly - It Just Looks That Way.)

I don’t know the answer to America’s unhealthy obsession with the female body. I’m not sure there is one answer that would shift our cultural thinking about the female body and women in general. It is worth talking and thinking about though.

Talking About Sexuality Openly and Without Shame

For me, part of the demystifying and humanizing of the body is to talk about our sexuality. I talk about body parts openly and without shame. I taught my granddaughter to spell vagina when she asked! Why not? She has one. I engage in conversations with women and men about our sexuality, our bodies, and all that goes along with being in relationships with each other.

At least here on Kinkly, I’m preaching to the choir. Yet many adults in midlife and older stages of life aren’t terribly comfortable with discussing their bodies or sexuality. Imagine the impact on your sex life if you can’t really talk about your body. Layers of shame, built up over years, keep women from learning all they could about their anatomy. The same thing keeps men from asking questions and exploring to become more acquainted with their lovers’ anatomy as well. It’s a huge disconnect that creates problems that go far beyond the bedroom.

That’s why writing about sex during May, International Masturbation Month, is so important. By the way, I prefer the term "self-pleasure" because it lacks the ick-factor and accurately describes the practice. Being able to talk widely about the benefits of self-pleasure for a whole month is pretty awesome.

So… let’s help you get more comfortable with the idea of discussing not just masturbation, but also sex in general.

Feeling a little squeamish about this whole topic?

  • Go buy some irises; they’re in bloom right now. See how they resemble the vulva? O’Keeffe was only painting what she saw in nature - but thank heavens for us she did that.
  • Practice using anatomically correct terms. Don’t teach your children or your grandchildren to use words like "hoo-haa" or "pee-pee." There’s no shame in using the correct terms.
  • Get to know your body. Learn to touch, stroke and feel your penis, your clitoris, your labia, or your testicles in a new way: Slowly, intentionally and with lots of lovely lubrication.
  • Be glad you have body parts that can give so much pleasure at the slightest touch. It’s really kind of miraculous when you think about it.
  • Are you wondering if your labia are “normal”? Take a look at the Great Wall of Vagina, Jamie McCarthy’s art project. We are all normal in our differences. Penises vary widely as well, of course. Size, girth, angle, coloration - we are all made differently. That’s where the wonder and pleasure lies.

Happy May. Go find some free time and give yourself a little self-pleasure.