Have you looked at your vulva recently? If you don't have a vulva and you're sexually involved with someone who has one, have you looked at their vulva recently?
Note: I'm going to be using both non-binary and clinical terms in this article because not everyone who has a vulva is a woman, some women don't have vulvas, some people have naughty bits that are a combination of the two most common genital structures, or something that looks like neither structure. Gender and bodies are complicated, but I'm going to be talking in simplified and general terms in order to keep this brief.
Now that that's out of the way, let's take a look at vulvas and why they deserve some attention.
Vulvas, being generally tucked away and mostly not visible to the person they're built into, are not the easiest to see, whereas penises are right out there in the open. The internal nature of the vulva, the term used to describe the entire apparatus, includes the internal and external clitoris, labia minora and majora, vaginal canal, and urethral opening. The shame we often feel around the sexualized parts of our body often means that those of us who have vulvas, like myself, may not have even considered looking at them. Some of us have a natural curiosity and take a look when we're young, but many don't have that urge.
Reasons to Look at Your Vulva
So, why should you look at your vulva, your partner's vulva, or both? Here are a few reasons:
- It's interesting! I personally think my vulva looks like a little hooded mage, but I might have played too much "Dungeons and Dragons" in my time.
- Checking out our bodies helps us understand what we look like, and how things work. You can see what your clitoris looks like, your labia, and all that good stuff. They all look different when you're aroused versus when you're not aroused, at different points in your life, and at different points in your menstrual cycle (if you have one). The changes can be not only interesting to note, but important for your health. Which brings us to the next reason...
- If you regularly look at your vulva, you'll get an idea of what's normal and what's not. This can mean everything from color to discharge. It's important to note that speculums aren't just for medical play. You can also observe the health of the cervix and vaginal canal.
Our Vulvas Are Different
As I mentioned above, humans, especially those with vulvas who are generally assigned and socialized as female, carry a lot of stigma and shame around our sexuality and bodies. The act of looking at our vulvas, exploring them, seeing what feels good and interesting, and then being able to communicate better about how our bodies are set up and feel pleasure to other people flies in the face of that shame. It says, "My body is not shameful. My body is capable of feeling things with pleasure. My body is beautiful."
While you're looking, it is important to remember that we all have very different bodies and different vulvas. We're all different colors, shapes, and sizes. There is nothing wrong with any way that your body may be; whether you have a tucked in labia, a fleshy labia, a fat mons pubis, a skinny mon pubis, a tiny hidden clitoris, or one that's large and in charge - your body is amazing. Many people also feel shame about how their vulvas smell, and the discharge present either when aroused or just normally. It is normal for your vulva to smell like something and have discharge, and for that look and smell to change throughout the month and during the different hormonal stages in life. The only time you should be concerned if something is suddenly drastically different from your normal. (Read an ode to the female anatomy in Your Vagina Isn't Ugly, It Just Looks That Way.)
Body Shame, Vulvas, and Orgasms
I have encountered in my past self and in many others this desire to avoid looking at, feeling, or interacting with one's vulva. I remember how it felt. I worried that if I looked, I'd find something revolting or wrong. Now that I work as a sex educator, I've talked with a lot of people who feel that similar shame and are unaware of the structure of their bodies. Often, the same people who report never having had an orgasm are also unfamiliar with how their body is set up.
While orgasm is not the be-all end all for everyone, and not everyone likes how they feel, I have personally found that becoming more familiar with my body and how it works has relieved a lot of discomfort, frustration, and shame I felt. It helped me feel more like my body and I are working together rather than against one another. Although you might feel differently, I'd recommend giving it a try.
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